No-kill animal shelter nears first anniversary

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PALMETTO - A year ago this week, Manatee County Animal Services came up with an innovative plan: within 12 months, no healthy adoptable dog or cat coming into animal services would be killed simply because no home could be found for it.

With the announcement that within a year they would become the first no-kill shelter in the state -- and do it without any additional tax money -- a lot of people said it couldn't be done.

As they approach the first anniversary of that pledge, animal services division chief Kristopher Weiskopf says they're coming close. For the month of December they expect to have a 91% save rate. "For the last fiscal year, our combined collective save rate was a 56%. So far, as of the end of September of this year, we're at a 76% save rate, collectively. So to increase a 20% save rate is outstanding."

Manatee County Animal Services takes in about 5,000 animals a year, so that means the lives of 1,000 dogs and cats have been saved so far because of this program.

Weiskopf credits it all to groups of volunteers who stepped up to help. "One is Picture Me Adopted group. It’s a group of professional photographers who come in and take our photographs of our dogs and cats."

Another group comes in to train the dogs in acceptable behavior -- with one group specializing in working with pit bulls. "The group itself is called the pit crew; they come in and work with the pit bulls and give them some special needed attention because that is our largest group of animals on the adoptions side."

Manatee County commissioner Carol Whitmore is deeply involved in making Manatee County a no-kill county. She helps round up volunteers. "I put 2 email blasts out and got 100 volunteers to come to animal services to wash 52 dogs."

Now they do it monthly. And when a dog is reaching the end of its stay at animals services and may soon face euthanization, Whitmore has a list of 500 people who signed up to help. "If I send that out, the animal tends to get always adopted like in a week."

Manatee County Animal Services has 200 dogs and cats waiting for adoption at the moment. You can check them out online, or come in to the adoption center on Manatee Avenue or to the shelter to find the one that's right for you.

At the adoption center on Manatee Avenue, many nearby workers from the courthouse, the school board, and Manatee County volunteer their lunch hours to walk the dogs and give them some friendly attention.