MANATEE -- A new animal shelter and better staffing are among recommendations for Manatee County's troubled Animal Services Division, according to a new report.
The 99-page report, slated for review Tuesday by the Manatee County Commission, suggested a new, longer-term animal shelter be constructed and a veterinarian added to the division's staff.
"There are serious deficiencies in the existing shelter that impact operations, including most notably inadequate space for all animals received and layout issues that impact the ability to effectively isolate sick and infectious animals," according to the report.
The $53,000 report produced by the Matrix Consulting Group of Edwardsville, Ill., also recommended changes to the agreement with local rescue groups caring for shelter animals to ensure an appropriate standard of care.
County officials should also conduct pre-approval inspections of rescue group facilities and annual inspections thereafter, according to the report.
None of the recommendations surprised Bill Hutchison, animal services interim chief, who said the consultants had "absolutely nailed the major issues for the county."
"I think they hit a home run with the key items they came up with," added Hutchison.
He said he estimated the cost of a new facility at $3 million to $6 million based on research done during his previous work with a dif
ferent organization at Lakewood Ranch.
The division's amended budget is $1.8 million, according to the report.
"It was very complete. I have no criticism," said County Commissioner Carol Whitmore of the operational audit. "It's nice to have somebody objective to look at it and take the emotion out of it -- what it'll take to save more animals."
The county shelter, 305 25th St. W., Palmetto, has 50 dog adoption kennels, 30 dog impound kennels and a free-range cat room that can accommodate approximately 30, according to the report.
Until recently, the county also operated a satellite adoption center in downtown Bradenton but it is temporarily closed.
In August, Hutchison was appointed interim chief after the previous chief, Kris Weiskopf, was transferred to another department. In November, Public Safety Director Ron Koper Jr., who oversaw the division, left county employment, and Laurie Feagans took over as interim director.
Other report findings:
The county should develop a foster care program for temporary placement of animals to relieve overcrowding at its shelter.
The staff "must strengthen the working relationships with all rescue groups."
Part of the difficulty stems from the 2011 adoption of a No Kill policy, which specified the county would stop killing healthy animals in its care under a formal resolution and plan approved by the commission.
"Kennel space is limited, especially in light of the No Kill policy," under which animals remain longer, the report said.
A common theme from a resident survey: They want the No Kill standard fully implemented, saying the shelter should not call itself No Kill until it actually is.
The county has significantly increased its "save rate" from 61 percent to 86.8 percent over three years, according to the report. A save rate of more than 90 percent is the typical benchmark for No Kill status.
"This is a significantly impressive achievement that has, in many cases, been overlooked, due to other negative situations that have garnered more public attention," according to the report.
County officials commissioned the audit after authorities filed multiple charges against owners of a private east Manatee animal sanctuary in connection with an animal cruelty case. The case against the owners of the private sanctuary, Napiers Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary, continues.
For years, the county sent animals to the private sanctuary despite clear warnings of poor sanitation and lack of food and water for animals, sheriff's office investigators concluded. However, they found insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against county employees.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031 or at email@example.com.