Hillsborough commissioners should support animal shelter
Hillsborough County commissioners need to show their support for Animal Services Director Ian Hallett and his efforts to reduce the number of animals being euthanized at the county's animal shelter. No matter how well-meaning recent complaints about the shelter's operations may be, the policies and practices Hallett recently instituted appear to be getting the desired results, which is a reduction in the number of animals getting the needle. To pump the brakes on that progress would be a setback. Former shelter veterinarians complain that the new policies are overwhelming the shelter with animals, some of them sick and a danger to healthy animals being housed in the same area. They say the kennels are dirty and overcrowded. They question whether Hallett, who has been on the job for 13 months, is up to the task.Alarmed by those complaints, county commissioners want County Administrator Mike Merrill to explain what's happening at the shelter, which handles 20,000-plus animals a year. Merrill is standing behind Hallett, and behind the policies meant to get more animals adopted and fewer euthanized. Although we disagree with one of those policies - the release of neutered cats into colonies in remote areas - Hallett's efforts deserve support. He has extended the hold times for animals deemed worthy of adoption, and he has eliminated a policy of euthanizing sick animals upon arrival, giving them a second chance at life. Both those policies are contributing to the number of animals in the shelter on any given day, and they have resulted in sick animals being housed with healthy ones. That has led to conflicts with veterinarians and other staffers who have different ideas about how to run the facility. When two of the veterinarians left, the shelter found itself down to a single vet, leaving a backlog of animals needing treatment. Hallett recognizes that the county needs to find a way to quarantine sick animals, and he and Merrill say a separate area will be developed. They say the shelter will again be fully staffed with veterinarians starting this week. They have also looked outside the shelter for help, forming partnerships with Hillsborough Community College and the veterinary services unit at MacDill Air Force Base to provide veterinary technicians. All of these efforts are aimed at saving animals. And it's working. About 2,000 more animals were adopted or rescued compared to a year ago. No doubt, the former employees care deeply about the welfare of the animals. But it appears Hallett and Merrill recognize the validity of some of their complaints and are addressing them appropriately. Commissioners are expected to discuss the shelter at their meeting today. They should resist calls to meddle in its management, and instead reaffirm their support of the policies being enacted.