100,000 Pets Saved at Hillsborough County Shelter in Last Decade
When Ray Villegas visited the Michael S. Merrill Pet Resource Center to find a dog to adopt, he knew he would be adopting a new best friend. What he didn't know was that he would be representing the 100,000th pet saved at the center. That dog is Milo, and he and Ray, a schoolteacher from St. Petersburg, have become fast friends.
"They say he's a rescue, but I think he rescued us, too," Villegas said after just a few months with Milo in his home.
This 100,000th adoption was made possible due to a decision made back in 2012 by Hillsborough County to improve the live-release rate at the shelter. Today, the Pet Resource Center's live-release rate is above 90 percent, among the highest in the nation. Those figures are even more remarkable because the Pet Resource Center is the only open-admission shelter in Hillsborough County, meaning it accepts all dogs and cats regardless of age, medical condition, or breed.
The 100,000th adoption was celebrated on Oct. 21 at the Pet Resource Center with Milo walking down a red carpet and the viewing of a touching video of his new life and his new family.
Reaching 100,000 adoptions required numerous policy and practical changes at the shelter. These included:
• The creation of a pet support team that works to help residents keep their pets rather than turning them over to the shelter. Team members can help resolve issues with pet behavior, provide food and other supplies, and even help arrange medical care.
• Actively working with more than 300 pet rescue groups.
• Establishment of a foster program that allows residents to take pets home for as little as a week. The program helps clear shelter space and provides valuable information about the pet's behavior and personality, and many of the pets are adopted by the foster parents or their friends or families.The program helps clear shelter space and provides valuable information about the pet's behavior and personality, and many of the pets are adopted by the foster parents or their friends or families.
• Establishing pet-enrichment programs such as dog play groups.
• Expediting spaying/neutering procedures and evaluating pets so most dogs and cats can go home the same day people decide to adopt them.
• Allowing residents to view virtually all available dogs and cats at the shelter through an online kennel that includes photos, medical information, and behavioral notes.
• A commitment to matching people with the right pet, which increases owner satisfaction and reduces return rates.
• Increasing the number and variety of medical issues that can be treated at the shelter. Animals with ailments that almost automatically resulted in euthanasia a decade ago are now routinely treated at the shelter by veterinary staff and ultimately adopted.
"If you have the opportunity and the capability to love an animal, please do. It saves a life, and they add to your life," Villegas said. Milo seems to agree.