The newly renovated Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa, Florida, has a lobby that is inviting. It is large, well air-conditioned, and filled with flat screen televisions that have pictures of cute dogs. There are rows and rows of cages filled with cats and kittens. There are computers on which people can look for pets to adopt. Volunteers are there to answer questions.
According to the ladies at Rescue Me Tampa, the volunteer group that finds homes for hundreds of the dogs at the shelter through their Facebook page with over 30,000 followers, the shelter is doing some things right.
One long-time volunteer, Jess Yingst, talked animatedly about the Feast for Furries that brings the community into the shelter every Thanksgiving from 8:00 am to 12:00. It’s the one day of the year when no animals are killed, so on Thanksgiving, every living creature at the shelter is safe. The community brings all kinds of treats, toys, blankets, and love into the shelter. “Every dog gets a gravy bowl,” said Yingst, beaming. At least for that one day, they get pampered just a bit. The community participates by donating for the event and coming to help share the goodies. Even just the fact that this event raises awareness of the shelter residents makes this event worthwhile and valuable.
Another initiative that is very helpful to the shelter dogs is the playgroup activity. Brad Hansen, who ran the playgroups, took immense pride in knowing the dogs at the shelter and making sure that all dogs had a chance at playgroup (unless they are known to be dog-aggressive). He is expert at handling dogs, and his notes and information helped the shelter know which dogs would do well in a home with other dogs and which dogs are more selective. Hansen has saved dogs from death by putting them in playgroup. In fact, the volunteers mentioned one dog who was at a high risk of euthanasia. Hansen put the dog in a playgroup where the dog proved that he was good with other dogs, and that bought the dog a few more days to get adopted. Just getting the dogs out to play and run around helps greatly with keeping their spirits up. Dogs need social interactions, and staying in a kennel, day in and day out, is not healthy for any dog. So kudos to HCPRC for their doggy playgroup run by Brad Hansen!
Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center is an open access county shelter. They are often filled with dogs and cats and, like most county shelters, run out of space when not enough animals are adopted and too many animals are picked up as strays or surrendered by owners. They are lucky to have many wonderful kennel workers who love the dogs and try to make their stay as painless as possible.
Next steps for the shelter?
Fans for the unbearably hot kennels. Almost all of the kennels where the dogs are housed have no air conditioning. In the Florida summer heat and humidity, many of the dogs were lying down, panting, lethargic. The volunteers working to photograph the dogs so that they could be networked were sweating profusely. There is only one large fan for a whole wing of dogs, and small overhead fans for the aisles which are basically useless, and some of which aren’t in working condition. One large, handsome German shepherd must have been horribly uncomfortable in the humid air with no hint of a breeze at his end of the kennel. (Local businesses have been contacted to see if they will donate large fans to the shelter to help with this problem. It’s to be hoped that soon the dogs will be more comfortable with more fans available. Update will be posted.)
While the lobby was lovely, there was no information about the importance of spaying and neutering pets. Nor was there information about low-cost spaying and neutering services. Spaying and neutering is a vital part of getting the homeless animal problem under control. Yet this shelter doesn’t seem to inform the public about this at all. A Florida rescuer pointed out that usually, when spaying/neutering a dog, the shelter will require a rabies vaccine — which is great — but which also requires that the owner fill out a certificate with an address. Undocumented and homeless people do not want to do this or cannot do this. That means that their pets remain intact instead of being sterilized, thus contributing to the overpopulation problem. Is there a way around this? Shelters need to think of creative solutions to this problem.
A huge help in finding rescue and adopters for the shelter dogs has historically been the Rescue Me Tampa (RMT) volunteers and their Facebook page. Now, however, the shelter has installed new software for tracking dogs and keeping information. The volunteers used to have a volunteer login to the software so they could see which dogs were urgent (on the euthanasia list), which dogs were healthy or heartworm positive, which dogs got along with other dogs in playgroup. That information is vital in order that RMT be able to network the dogs with the correct information they need to share. The shelter needs to find a way to get volunteers this important information. Without it, they simply can’t be effective at saving dogs.
Working together with volunteers, Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center has shown that they can help as many animals as possible. This shelter management also appears to be more accepting of critical comments than many other shelters. At least one Florida shelter fires volunteers who point out that dogs are killed for space or who are at all critical about shelter policies.
Keep up the good work, Hillsborough County.
Feel free to contact me with positive or interesting stories about local animal shelters at PamelaOKramer@gmail.com.