More area animals find loving homes

Bob and Sandy Bingman, of the Village of Collier, with their newly adopted dog Max, an Australian cattle dog.

Bob and Sandra Bingman weren’t expecting to fill out adoption papers on the spot, but when they met rescue dog Max, they knew he was the one. “We were looking but we weren’t anxious, but we saw him and we really thought he would fit our home,” said Bob, of the Village of Collier. The couple adopted Max during a monthly meet-and-greet hosted by YOUR Humane Society SPCA at Lake Miona Recreation Center. Now the 5-year-old Australian cattle dog is happy in his new home, as are many rescue pets in Marion, Sumter and Lake counties. “He’s great,” Bob said. “He’s probably one of the best dogs we’ve had as far as a rescue. He reacts to commands. He’s very smart.”

Lake, Sumter and Marion County animal adoptions have increased in the last 5 to 10 years, according to shelter data.

In just three years, Lake County Animal Shelter has doubled its adoption numbers while maintaining the number of animals it takes in.

In the last decade, Marion County Animal Services has reduced the number of animals it takes in by more than half while adopting out the same number of animals. In 10 years, the Humane Society of Marion County has doubled its adoptions.

YOUR Humane Society SPCA in Lake Panasoffkee continues to increase its adoptions as its animal intake rises. In the last 21 months, Sumter County Animal Services has worked to increase its adoption numbers by offering adoptions on-site and transferring animals to humane society organizations.

Thanks to adoption promotions, community outreach and education, focus on spay and neuter programs and efforts to increase live-release rates at multiple shelters, more and more animals are finding their forever homes.

And to celebrate National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, several shelters are offering specials until the end of October to get even more animals adopted.

Marion County Animal Shelter is now running a promotion in which all dogs are only $10.

Lake County Animal Shelter is promoting its “If it’s fixed, it’s free” adoption specials throughout the month. All spayed and neutered cats and dogs are free in honor of the occasion.

YOUR Humane Society SPCA is offering dog adoptions at $50 and puppies at $100. There are no discounts on purebreds.

All shelter pets come spayed or neutered, fully vaccinated, vetted and microchipped. Marion County Animal Shelter also includes a county license. Promotions continue throughout October.

Promotions like this are part of what helped change shelter images and helped adoption numbers soar.

Adoption Success In Lake

In three years, Lake County Animal Shelter has doubled its adoptions by changing its image and connecting with the public.

In 2015, Lake had 6,633 incoming animals and 2,900 were adopted. This is compared to the 6,591 taken in and 4,252 adoptions in 2018, according to shelter data.

So far in 2019, there have been 4,990 animals taken in and 2,990 adoptions.

Since the county resumed responsibility for the shelter’s operations in January 2017, the shelter has worked toward a no-kill status of a 90% live-release rate or higher, and it has maintained 95%.

The number of animal euthanasia procedures at the shelter has been reduced, as well. In 2015, there were 1,935, compared to 181 in 2018.

There have been 121 euthanasias so far in 2019, according to shelter data.

Live-release numbers include transfers, returns to owner and returns to the field, in addition to adoptions, Shelter Director Whitney Boylston said.

The animal shelter relies on its marketing to personify the shelter as an ideal place to go for a new pet, adoption specials and off-site events to help increase adoptions, Boylston said.

The shelter revamped its adoption procedure to provide better matches between humans and pets and staff members and volunteers have gotten to know the animals better in order to promote them to the public.

“In general, when your shelter is more successful, the public is more apt to come and visit,” Boylston said. “Whereas in the past, the shelter was seen as a sad place to come, folks are really considering the shelter as a place to find a new family member. The atmosphere is much more positive.”

Lake has also seen success with its Operation Community Caturday, a community trap-neuter-vaccinate-release initiative for feral cats.

The goal is to sterilize 600  feral cats each year. The shelter started the initiative in 2018 and has sterilized 694 this fiscal year, from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019, Boylston said.

The shelter reduces the number of adopted pets that are returned by helping owners find alternatives, by offering free resources during hardship or encouraging the owner to find a new home for the pet before resorting to bringing it back to the shelter.

“Anything we can do to help keep animals out of the shelter we are trying to do, however there has been no significant reduction in our intake,” Boylston said. “We’re just serving our animals in a different way.”

Sumter Shelters Continue Progress

YOUR Humane Society SPCA in Lake Panasoffkee continues to get more animals adopted than it did the year before.

In 2015, the shelter took in 321 animals, including 205 transfers coming from other shelters. This nearly tripled in 2018, when there were 903 animals taken in, including 374 transfers, according to national data found on Shelter Animals Count.

In 2015, the shelter had 287 total live outcomes (which can be adoptions and returns), including 30 transfers to other shelters, compared to the 753 total live outcomes, including 147 transfers in 2018.

YOUR Humane Society executive director Joe Sprague said the humane society continues with a steady stream of adoptions through its many adoption specials and promotions.

Once a month, shelter volunteers take dogs to recreation centers in The Villages for meet-and-greets.

Some of the shelter’s adoptable cats can be found at Petco and PetSmart in Lady Lake. The humane society tries to include its animals in special events around the community, such as letting kittens and cats roam during its recent kitty bingo fundraiser held at Wildwood Community Center.

“We’re doing more than we have in the past,” Sprague said. “Anytime we can tie in animals to a special event, that helps us increase adoptions.”

In the last 21 months, nearby Sumter County Animal Services has operated under a new goal spearheaded by the board of county commissioners to operate the shelter with a 90% or higher live-release rate.

This means 90% or more animals will leave the shelter through adoptions, transfers to other shelters or be returned to their owners, Commissioner Doug Gilpin said.

Animal services started with an 86.5% live-release rate in January 2018 and reached 96.3% by the end of the year, according to county animal services data. The facility started 2019 with 90.8%, fluctuated within the 80s and 90s, but kept numbers close to 90%, ending August at 90.7%.

These numbers do not include owner-requested euthanasia procedures.

Gilpin stressed animal services is working toward the 90% or higher goal and not the goal of becoming a no-kill shelter, which requires the numbers to be consistent for 12 consecutive months.

“At times we’re at 90% or higher. At times we’re under 90%, but our goal is to reach that threshold,” Gilpin said. “A no-kill shelter needs 90% or higher, but we don’t call ourselves a no-kill shelter, but a 90 percentage mark is our goal. We are not an animal shelter; we are an animal service. We are a function of county government.”

The board established the goal in January 2018 and in May 2019 decided to maintain the goal indefinitely.

Animal services is achieving its goal by conducting its own adoptions at the shelter, in addition to adopting out animals through partnerships with other humane organizations.

Sumter’s animal services partners with 53 Florida organizations for animal adoptions, but county officials decided to conduct on-site adoptions to give more animals a chance for a home, said assistant Sumter County administrator Stephen Kennedy.

Some rescue organizations accept only certain breeds, which left others at animal services, he said.

“It left certain situations where animals, especially larger breeds, were not as appealing for some of those centers and were more difficult to adopt out,” Kennedy said. “We felt by adopting directly, we were enhancing the community’s ability to adopt.”

The facility recently received a face lift thanks to a grassroots effort spearheaded by Gilpin and other county commissioners.

Through donations, community contractors that offered free or discounted services and a fundraiser auction of two of Gilpin’s guitars, animal services received a new concrete driveway, updates to its lighting and fan systems, new kennels, a play area and more.

“Through the kindness of donors and good work of our contracting community, we had a project that ended up between $400,000 - $500,000,” Gilpin said.

Other practices animal services has adopted to bring down intake numbers is its trap-neuter-vaccinate-release program for the community’s feral cats and its foster program in which animals who are sick or are too young for adoption are placed in community foster homes until they can be adopted, Kennedy said.

Animal services staff members visit potential foster homes to make sure animals are the right fit for a home.

Anyone interested in fostering can do so by calling the shelter at 352-689-4400 or fill out an application online at sumtercountyfl.gov/1175/animal-services.

Animal services is striving to grow its presence by attending more community events and speaking engagements, Kennedy said.

The shelter offers tours Thursday mornings for drop-ins, or visitors can call to see specific animals other days. As part of its recent updates, the shelter has a play area for pet meet-and-greets.

Adoptions are free and pets are microchipped with current vaccinations.

Fewer Animals In Marion Shelters

In the last 10 years, Marion County Animal Services has cut its intake numbers by more than half while maintaining its number of adoptions.

The shelter took in 14,659 animals during the 2008-09 fiscal year, compared to 5,795 in fiscal year 2018-19, according to shelter data.

Adoption rates were 2,618 in fiscal year 2008-09 and 2,485 in 2018-19.

Since 2018, the shelter has worked toward no-kill status, which requires a live-release rate of 90% for 12 consecutive months.

The shelter’s December 2018 and January 2019 reports revealed live-release ratings of 89.2 and 88.2%. The shelter has had a rate of 80% or higher every month since July.

However, Marion performed 9,870 euthanasia procedures in fiscal year 2008-09 compared to only 644 in fiscal year 2018-19.

Shelter staff worked with a team affiliated with the University of Florida in 2018 to perform a shelter assessment-reviewing operations, county ordinances and enforcement protocols and daily practices at the shelter.

The assessment was completed in May 2018, and several programs and practices have been put to use, including providing alternative options to owners thinking of returning their adopted pets.

Marion has enhanced its outreach efforts with a new barn cat program known as Working Whiskers, a shelter-neuter-return program for the community’s feral cats.

Feral cats needing shelter due to cruelty or abandonment can be brought in for placement in protective environments, such as local farms, rather than returning them to their original environments.

In addition, Marion staff members get involved in numerous community events, including at PetSmart in Lady Lake and the shelter’s Pack Walks program where community members can walk shelter dogs through designated parks, such as Silver Springs State Park.

Shelter staff also promote adoptable pets on social media and offer special adoption promotions.

In the past decade, the Humane Society of Marion County has managed to double its adoptions along with rising intake numbers.

In 2009, 1,256 animals entered the humane society and 1,120 were adopted compared to 2,661 animals taken in (including 211 dogs pulled from other shelters) and 2,739 adopted, according to shelter data.

So far this year, the humane society has taken in 2,261 animals, including 179 animals transferred in from other shelters, and had 2,219 animals adopted, according to shelter data.

The humane society has offered several promotion events and adoption deals to encourage adoptions.

The humane society does a lot of educational outreach events, including its Magic Bark Bus, which teaches humane animal education to students at Marion County schools, Tanner said.

The shelter partners with TLC PetSnip to offer free spay and neuter specials. The deal is offered to specific breeds at a time throughout the year.

Its primary focus is on community education and follow up, said Kirstin Tanner, social media and volunteer coordinator at the humane society. Volunteers check up on recently adopted animals to see if help is needed. The focus is to resolve any issues before they come up to decrease the possibility of owner surrender, Tanner said.

“We don’t focus on increasing adoptions but making the quality of the ones we do better,” Tanner said.

Staff writer Kristi Schweitzer can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5225, or kristi.schweitzer@thevillagesmedia.com.