A “Don’t miss us here in the outside kennels!!!!” sign hangs at Manatee County Animal Services pointing visitors to the outside kennels where dogs are normally not kept. Due to the severe overcrowding at the Palmetto shelter, however, dogs are being kept in both the outdoor kennels, as well as in the conference room.
In a shelter built for 80 animals, the census has consistently been around the 180 mark for the past month, which has put a strain on not only staff but also potential adopters coming to the shelter, 305 25th St. W., Palmetto.
“We are feeling it,” Manatee County Animal Services chief Sarah Brown said. “It is even stressful for adopters when they come in. Part of the problem, it is overwhelming.”
As a way to try to get the Palmetto shelter’s census closer to the 80 animals it was designed for, the second annual Adopt-a-Palooza will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, One Haben Blvd. Palmetto.
“For us, it is a great way for people to come out and adopt,” Brown said. “This gives them the ability to see these animals, give them their shining moment at a different venue. We are going to have a lot of great adoptable animals there.”
But the adoption event is only one step to helping address what Brown says is the shelter’s “beyond desperate situation right now.”
“There are so many different things that we want to roll out to do and right now it is just clean, feed, make sure they are getting out,” she said. “The above and beyond things that we really want to start working on, it is virtually impossible to do at this kind of capacity.”
Facility not designed for capacity
While the shelter received an influx of about 50 dogs after a law enforcement raid, the shelter had consistently already been overcrowded. Now that the shelter has custody of the dogs, they can begin to be adopted. As of Friday, there were 186 dogs and 140 cats at Animal Services.
“While our intake is around the same, that influx of 50 dogs when we were already at capacity has just put us really over the limit beyond really what we can do,” Brown said. “It has been very taxing on all of us, meaning the staff, the animals and even our partners that we are reaching out to on a regular basis.”
When the shelter was built, it certainly wasn’t built to sustain a 90 percent save rate, said Bob Smith, the county’s public safety director, who oversees MCAS.
“The capacity to do that would have to be a facility much larger than this,” he said. “In addition to a new location, this site and building aren’t what our community needs anymore, aren’t enough.”
The county has earmarked some potential funds toward “replacement, renovations and expansion of aging facilities and equipment,” through a proposed half-cent sales tax, which voters are being asked to approve this November. Slightly more than a $1 million over 15 years is proposed to go toward Animal Services.
“The goal would be a larger facility, whether it is an expansion of this facility or another facility somewhere else, but the end result would be larger than what we have with greater capacity,” Smith said.
But the greater capacity is not the solution, Smith said.
“We don’t want to be able to just hold more dogs,” he said. “We want to be able to adopt dogs out, have fewer dogs coming in, more dogs going out but the reality is we need more capacity.”
The shelter’s out-of-the way location could be contributing to the perpetual overcrowding, Brown said.
“Now that I am learning my way around this county, it is remote,” she said. “It is out of the public eye, which makes it more difficult for people to come out here and adopt because you have other shelters that are more centrally located that are easier to get to.”
Location is important for the Humane Society of Manatee County, which is right on 14th Street West in Bradenton, said Rick Yocum, the organization’s executive director.
“A lot of animal shelters across country are put in remote locations,” he said. “That is not unusual that shelters are put in a remote area of county or town. I think it is a benefit to us to be right in the middle of the community that we serve.”
On-site vet coming to Animal Services
By the end of August, the Palmetto shelter will have an on-site medical suite. The county is currently in the interview and recruitment process for an on-site veterinarian, which was a recommendation in the Matrix Report completed in February 2015.
Using the remaining funds from when the county commission in February 2015 approved spending an additional $311,000, a portion of the shelter will be renovated and turned into the medical suite.
“The veterinarian will have what resources we can provide here which will help obviously with the care of our animals but it will actually help us with our adoption process, too, because if we can do some level of spay, neuter and things like that here internally, it helps get animals ready for adoption much quicker,” Smith said.
In August, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will come in to the shelter to conduct training for both staff and volunteers, Brown said.
“Now it is going to be this whole customer service focus,” she said.
After Adopt-a-Palooza, there will also be more outreach events as way to get more people into the shelter, Brown said.
Community support crucial in being no-kill agency
While everyone loves the idea of no-kill and going toward a 90 percent save rate, Manatee County Animal Services can only do so much, Brown said.
“If other folks, other groups, other shelters, other adopters aren’t coming into the facility, it is going to get to the point where it will be virtually impossible for us to keep striving toward that so without their help, we can’t do it alone,” she said. “It is impossible for us to do it alone.”
The save rate at the Palmetto shelter has been averaging 89 percent this year, which is due to euthansizing animals with extreme medical issues and animals that aren’t safe for public safety reasons, Brown said.
“I’m proud of the numbers that we have right now but without continued help, it would be impossible to sustain,” she said.
The only way for Manatee County to accomplish the no-kill community effort is involving the entire community, Smith said.
When the animal community works together, it is always better for the animals, said Sue Kolze, with the nonprofit Animal Network.
“With our no-kill philosophy, we really need to get the animals out,” she said. “We need community support within the whole animal endeavor.”
In her nearly six months at the helm of Animal Services, the community has been supportive so far, Brown said.
“I’d love to see them come here into the shelter a lot more to adopt, but we are working on our transparency and I think we are working toward that even more so and I think people are pleased with that so they are a lot more willing to help out,” she said. “Some of the advocates that I never thought would be volunteering at our facility are volunteering because they are seeing positive changes here and they are feeling good about the direction and the transparency so we are seeing a lot of that.”
Colloaboration among animal welfare groups needs to take place on every front for the animals, Yocum said.
“If you have a group of agencies that all have things they excel on working together, that is the best situation to have for the animal population,” he said.
Over the past couple months, the collaboration in the community has grown, Yocum said.
“Right now it is a very good direction that Manatee County is moving in,” he said. “I think people expressed optimism rather than pessimism in the direction that the county is going in in providing services to animals. I think it is kind of reinvigorating people.”
2nd annual Adopt-a-Palooza
Where: Bradenton Area Convention Center, One Haben Blvd., Palmetto
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday Aug. 6
Adoption fee: All Manatee County Animal Services animals will be $5 plus the $15 county license fee
More information: More than 10 local rescues and animal welfare organizations will be participating in the pet adoption and expo-style event, which is free. Feld Entertainment’s Monster Mutt Truck and Bradentucky Bombers roller derby will also be at the event.