Charged with finding ways to reduce the number of animals euthanized at the Hillsborough County animal shelter, the newly created Animal Services Task Force will hold its first meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 6 p.m.
The meeting will be held in the 26th Floor Conference Rooms A and B at County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., in downtown Tampa.
Reacting to charges from animal welfare groups that Hillsborough County Animal Services is euthanizing too many dogs and cats at its facility at 440 N. Falkenburg Rd., Tampa, in May the Hillsborough County Commission called for the creation of the task force to study ways to reduce the number of euthanized animals.
Now, with a new Animal Services director, Ian Hallett, on the job, the task force is preparing to get down to work.
This new task force is made up of the current Animal Advisory Committee members and three members of the community, appointed by the Animal Advisory Committee. The advisory committee includes two members from the Hillsborough County Veterinarian Medical Society, one member of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay Board of Directors and an appointee by each county commissioner.
Among those currently serving on the committee are Riverview veterinarian Dr. Kimberly Tyson and Lithia resident Tim Golden, president of Hillsborough County Dog Fanciers.
At its Sept. 19 meeting the committee voted to appoint Karen Atwood, Amy Howland and Sharon Espinola to serve with the committee on the task force.
Commissioners want the task force to study no-kill ordinances in other municipalities and come up with a financially feasible plan for Hillsborough County.
While the county has reduced the number of euthanized animals by 52 percent since 2005, an estimated 14,500 animals of the 21,000 animals the county shelter takes in each year are still euthanized.
"There will always be a need for some animals to be euthanized because of illness and other reasons," said Commissioner Ken Hagan. "But I've yet to hear one person say the county shouldn't have the goal of reducing the euthanasia rate."
Thirty-four communities throughout the country have adopted a no-kill policy including Manatee and Broward counties. The commission charged the task force with looking at the policies of those communities and come up with a plan that Hillsborough County can implement.
It's an issue Hillsborough County's new director of Animal Services has tackled previously.
Before coming to Hillsborough County, he served as the deputy chief for Austin Animal Services in Texas where he developed a program to reduce animal euthanasia. When he took over the Austin facility, it has a 60 percent euthanasia rate. When he departed, more than 90 percent of the animals at the Austin facility were being saved.
The dilemma facing Hillsborough County is how to save more animals without increasing the cost of feeding and sheltering more unwanted dogs and cats.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner noted that other municipalities have accomplished this by implementing a more comprehensive spay and neuter program, working with animal rescue groups and educating the public on responsible pet ownership.
"To save more animals, it’s going to take an entire community, a more robust adoption program and a spay and neuter program," said Beckner. "Having a 65 percent euthanasia rate is dismal and we can certainly do better than that."
Hallett agreed, telling the advisory committee last month that he and his staff are totally behind efforts to reduce the number of euthanized animals.
He said he's already putting measures in place to reduce the kill rate.
"By fiscal year 2012, my goal is to hit a 70 percent live release rate," said Hallett.