New Year's is a time when families gather to celebrate the past before turning their eyes to the future. Almost half of families include a dog or cat, so it is fitting that we take a retrospective look at Manatee County's pet population and the county's 2014 journey to No Kill.
The year was a transformational year for the No Kill community in Manatee County. The movement began in 2011 and three years later, it continued to inspire passionate animal lovers who devoted their time and talents to helping homeless pets.
One of the most emotionally charged challenges facing No Kill in 2014 was the issue of euthanasia. Nobody in the rescue community ever wants to put an animal to sleep, but medical issues often force hard choices. This is especially true in Manatee County's shelter due to its "open admission" mandate. As the name indicates, open admission means that the county must admit all pets that are picked up, regardless of breed, medical condition or age.
Due to many issues, including the lack of a medical facility, limited space, personnel, and budget constrains, the shelter is not equipped to deal with some of these challenges. Instead, like other shelters across the country, they must rely on rescue groups to step in and take these pets if they are to survive.
In 2014, in response to this critical need, a new rescue group, Forget-Me-Not, sprung up with the express mission of saving dogs that Manatee County Animal Services could not care for. They spent the year rehabilitating and rehoming these dogs, while fundraising to support their nonprofit.
Another nonprofit, Animal Network, continued to save lives as well, and their donated funds paid for over 160 heartworm treatments for shelter dogs who would otherwise be euthanized.
County government took a hard look at their own efforts in 2014 and personnel changes were made at MCAS to revise their policies and procedures while the county commissioned a study to evaluate and recommend further improvements.
Another pressing issue in 2014 was the persistent, unregulated and often careless breeding of cats and dogs. Mandatory spay/neuter remained controversial and compelling arguments were made on either side of the debate.
The Humane Society of Manatee County and ARC (Animal Rescue Coalition) provided ample opportunities for voluntary compliance and made no-cost and low-cost spay and neuter services available. These efforts were supplemented by Animal Service officers who were the "boots on the ground" handing out flyers that advertised these services in targeted neighborhoods.
Careless breeding led to a steady flow of homeless kittens flooding the shelters and rescues in 2014, but happily Manatee County did not have to euthanize cats for space. Trap, neuter and release (TNR) programs spearheaded by dedicated groups like Gulf Shore Animal League continued to prevent unwanted litters in free roaming cat populations.
Businesses, sports teams, local theater groups, nonprofits, media -- 2014 brought out champions of the No Kill movement who resolved to either "play" or "pay." Businesses of all sizes joined the adoption efforts, sponsored fundraisers and community events and offered in-kind services more than ever before.
Social media was a big help in 2014, and rescue groups and shelters found creative ways to encourage people to "Opt to Adopt." The new Adoptable Mascot Program (adoptablemascotprogram.com) offered free networking opportunity and cross promotion thrived, allowing compassionate companies to reach new audiences, specifically the diverse pet lover demographic.
Education was key in 2014 and many shelters and rescues, including Bishop Animal Shelter, held adoption events that doubled as education fairs. Rescue groups like Moonracer, Canine Castaways and Underdog Rescue used their fundraisers to encourage responsible pet ownership. Committees formed to bring this education to after-school programs through the county and METV shot a pilot of "To The Rescue: A Journey to No Kill," which will be released soon.
Admittedly, there are many challenges ahead in 2015 as Manatee United 4 Pets continues to try to fit the many pieces of the sustainable No Kill puzzle together. There are many issues to discuss that could aid the journey, including increased enforcement of license tag requirements, mandatory microchipping, providing a parttime veterinarian for the county shelter and requiring breeder licenses. I am confident that these options will be reviewed and Manatee County will continue to take a progressive and determined path to No Kill.
As we look back, one thing is clear. In 2014, the intrinsic rewards reaped by everyone who got to literally save the life of a rescue pet by volunteering, fostering, donating, or adopting made their own year more memorable. United, we can save even more lives in 2015.
Debra Starr, is the Animal Network's marketing and public relations director.