Animal lovers in Hillsborough County, Florida are sick and tired of a county shelter that is not doing its job. For months, volunteers have been going public about serious issues with the shelter, the biggest issue being that with the new shelter director, Scott Trebatoski, it’s all about the numbers and NOT about the welfare of the animals.
One of the ways that the shelter has stopped taking in dogs is by severely limiting “intake” hours. This week, News Channel 8 reported that a local veterinarian called the shelter asking that they pick up animals that had been abandoned in front of her office. The response? “According to Dr. Alence, the county’s response to her calls were slow and stunning. According to Dr. Alence, the person on the phone at Pet Resources told her to just let the animals out and let them go.”
In another piece by News Channel 8 (which should be commended for its coverage of this serious issue!), a resident told of a similar response when a dog wandered onto her property after the 4th of July fireworks. The shelter was completely unresponsive and told her that she could not bring the dog to the shelter until Monday, between 8:00 am and noon. When she told the shelter worker that she worked those hours, and said that if she couldn’t take the dog to the shelter, she’d be forced to let it go in the streets, they responded that she should do what she needed to do. There was no compassion for the lost dog. There was no concern about possible danger to the public (from dogs causing accidents by wandering in the streets). There was no humanity.
Someone leaving a review on Facebook wrote: “I found 2 lost dogs wandering together. I tried to bring them there and they refused to take them stating that they didn’t have the staff and only did that on certain days/times. They checked for microchips for me but were unable to do anything else. I was unable to keep them for more than a day due to the threat of eviction and I had to go to work in less than an hour leaving no time to bring them anywhere else. I begged and cried but they said absolutely not. I had to re-release them near where I found them on my way into work because I had no other options. Poor babies, I feel awful. Sorry, I thought it was an animal shelter? My mistake.”
With severely limited intake hours and a failure of animal control officers to pick up stray and lost dogs, the shelter has received fewer dogs. That looks great statistically. However if the shelter stopped taking in all dogs, they wouldn’t have to kill any. They could honestly report that they saved all the animals they took in. That is not the purpose of the shelter. It’s not about hiding the problem by leaving homeless animals on the street to starve, be abused, or get killed in traffic. It’s the purpose of the shelter to serve the community and its animals and provide a safe place for animals to live until they are either adopted or rescued.
The volunteers also claim that animals are being left in abusive situations. That would seem to be borne out by the recent seizure of three Yorkies who were covered in feces and urine (see original article here). The investigating officer wrote that:
…there were three dogs found in the home. The dogs were covered in feces and urine and appeared to be suffering from neglect. All dogs were left without food or water. Upon arrival of animal control, the three dogs located inside, and one dog located outside of the home were seized. The animal control officer on the scene advised a separate criminal investigation would be conducted based on the deplorable conditions the dogs were found in.”
Yet nothing happened. Actually, worse than nothing. Instead of keeping the abused dogs and getting them cleaned, fed and seen by a veterinarian, the dogs were returned to the owner. A note on the police file regarding the outcome stated: “3 Yorkies were give back to the owner <Jane Doe> per upper management. No order to provide care was implemented.” As a result of that incompetence, the state’s attorney was not able to continue with a cruelty investigation because the proof of the negligence/abuse had been returned to the perpetrator. By the order of the county shelter. Supreme incompetence, it would seem.
So Hillsborough County has a shelter that avoids at all costs taking in stray dogs, does not pick up stray or lost dogs, and returned abused dogs to the apparently abusive owner rather then keep them at the shelter. And the dogs the shelter does have can be adopted by anyone, regardless of whether that person has been convicted of animal abuse, dog fighting, or any other crime. While in theory there is a computer list of those not allowed to own animals in the county, the list is often out of date and incorrect. Amazingly, unbelievably, there is no application to complete to adopt a dog. Anyone with a driver’s license and a $20 bill can take as many dogs as he or she wants. No screening. No waitlist. No letter from landlord. And if someone dumps a senior dog and wants to adopt a puppy instead? Feel free!
It’s difficult to understand how a public shelter doesn’t have to take in any lost or stray dog that comes its way. That’s its purpose — to house the lost and unwanted animals of Hillsborough County. But somehow, that purpose has been lost behind the need of political hires to look good and show improvement — by any means necessary. A stray or lost animal found on a weekend needs the safety of a shelter just as much as those found Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:00 am and noon — the only hours during which the shelter will take in stray dogs.
Although this writer has emailed the shelter director several times in the past, he has not bothered to respond to even one email. Please feel free to email the Board of County Commissioners and share your views on how a shelter should be run. Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, visit this Facebook page to see a visual about the shelter and find a link to a petition that begs for change for the better for the unwanted animals of Hillsborough County, Florida.
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