Pet adoptions on the rise

Thanks to a partnership, more homeless animals in Hillsborough are finding homes.

By Michael A. Mohammed
Published August 10, 2007

TAMPA - More people are choosing to adopt homeless pets in Hillsborough County, thanks in part to a partnership between Hillsborough County Animal Services and the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Over the past three months, adoptions have soared 51 percent over the same period last year, said Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan. And in the past six months, 37 percent more animals found a home than in the same six months in 2006.

Between February and July, 2,149 pets were adopted, compared to 1,563 during that time last year. Still, adoption lags far behind animals that are euthanized; 14,078 were killed in those six months in 2007, and 15,037 in 2006.

"It's like the old saying, when all the planets line up in the right direction, good things happen," said Bill Armstrong, the agency director.

Armstrong said that a canine distemper outbreak at the shelter last year highlighted several problems. The agency launched an effort to limit the spread of disease in the shelter, boost adoptions and overhaul its volunteer program.

An ongoing construction project has changed the shelter's layout to minimize the spread of disease, Armstrong said. That has led to healthier, more adoptable dogs and cats.

"An awful lot of animals that are most likely for adoption are cuddly and cute like kittens and puppies and are also the most susceptible to disease," Armstrong said.

A long-term volunteer program started nearly three months ago has brought an influx of mostly teenagers to clean cages, greet potential adopters at the door and bathe the animals.

"That's truly one of the keys in today's tight budget," Armstrong said. "The volunteers can really save us."

But the brightest spot for the shelter may be Mission: Orange, a collaboration with the ASPCA that provides the shelter with $600,000 in funding to boost its adoption rates and collaborate with private adoption agencies.

Under the program, private agencies like the Humane Society of Tampa Bay have increased the number of pets they take from the crowded county shelter.

Pinellas County Animal Services officials could not be reached Thursday. But the Humane Society of Pinellas, which does about 3,000 adoptions a year, has found homes for only about 80 percent of the number of pets it had adopted at this time last year, said Abigail Appleton, shelter manager.

Times staff writer Stephanie Garry contributed to this report. Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@sptimes com or (813) 226-3404.