From its parklike campus on aptly named Dogpatch Lane in Land O’ Lakes, Pasco Animal Services aims to keep dogs and cats with owners who might struggle to provide for them. It finds homes for potential pets who have been lost or surrendered, and make the end of life easier for those canine and felines whose human companions can’t afford private veterinary care.
It takes a small army at the only government-operated animal shelter in the county.
Bridget Mire, education and outreach coordinator, said that the animal shelter, one of many services offered by Pasco County Animal Services, both offers services that residents may be unaware of and, conversely, doesn’t provide some that people may assume it does.
For one thing, the shelter provides refuge and adoption only for cats and dogs. Rabbits, gerbils, reptiles, birds and other pets need to be cared for by private veterinarians and, if needed, placed for rehoming with rescue groups that specialize in those animals.
For another, it does not accept healthy adult cats from households. Those who need a new home for their healthy adult cats need to find them a new home privately.
Additionally, Mire told the Suncoast News, many “strays” are actually cats just roaming around their neighborhoods; they will likely find their way home. And removing actual strays doesn’t rid a neighborhood of annoying cats, as others will just move in. She said trapping, neutering, and vaccinating the stray cats, and then returning them to their neighborhood — and the neutering and vaccinating are services the county does provide — is the better option.
“Cats are territorial,” she said. “If we return them, they will protect that territory and keep other cats from encroaching,” she said. And maybe prevent some other problems.
“A few years ago, a mobile home park had us take all of the stray cats from the park,” she recalled.
“Then later on, they called and said the park was being overrun by rats, and they wanted the cats back.”
Dogs present different issues, but Mire said the county discourages people from immediately bringing in a lost dog that wanders into their purview.
“We encourage people to keep the dog in the area in which it was found, because most dogs are lost within a mile of their home, often in the same neighborhood. And because we’re the only government shelter in the whole county, we’re the only one that is taking in strays. So if somebody lives out in Hudson, they might not have any clue that their dog is here. It’s better to keep them in the neighborhood.”
Those animals that do wind up in the shelter, however, get a real chance at a happy new life. Mire says that the shelter has a greater than 90% adoption rate for animals in its care, all of whom receive veterinary care from full-time professional staff (two veterinarians as well as vet techs). Adult cats who had been strays or recovered from injury or illness tend to get adopted quickly, she said. Those who are initially skittish around people get to live in a “Feline Freedom Room” with climbing spaces and hidey holes, until they are ready to join a human companion.
Dogs, who make up the bulk of animals at the shelter, may take longer to find a forever home, but as they wait they receive attention, exercise, play time and more from a host of volunteers.
Much of that takes place in the many outdoor areas where dogs can play with toys or with one another if they are so inclined, interact with humans if they are so inclined, or just hang around in the shade.
“We have dog walkers,” Mire said. “Volunteers get one-on-one time with them. We also run play groups out of here. Some dogs don’t like other dogs, but most of them do, so we put them in play groups. We try to match them by their play style — some are super rough and like to wrestle. Others are more mellow, just want to wander around.
“We get to know their play styles so we can have a good match.”
One fenced-in area is a “no toy zone.”
“Some dogs don’t like to share their toys, so we don’t make them,” Mire said. “We don’t want to set our pets up for failure. We want them to succeed.” So, she added, they try to keep the animals in their comfort zone, although as many adapt to what is initially a stressful shelter environment, they relax and a lot of the prickly behavior dissipates.
Allowing dogs to spend time with one another and with human volunteers allows shelter staff to observe their temperaments and thus match them with the right adopters, she said.
And the shelter tries to make adopting as easy as possible, Mire added. The only qualifications are that a person is over age 18 and doesn’t have a history of animal cruelty. All adopted animals are spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and fees can be adjusted, for example, for senior citizen adopters, for special needs animals, or on certain days.
Aside from adoption, the shelter offers an array of services designed to keep pets with those who may not have the financial means to keep them safe and healthy. These include low-cost spaying and neutering, and vaccinations for low-income households that meet guidelines — these are provided by partner veterinarians — and referrals to partner veterinary clinics for low-cost medical care. People who can’t afford food for their pets can also drop in to the shelter for bags of pet food. And, when the inevitable happens, the shelter provides humane euthanasia, and cremation if desired, at an affordable rate.
In addition, in special circumstances, the shelter will provide emergency medical care and/or boarding services for up to two weeks for pets when their human’s only other option would be to surrender them or have them euthanized.
“It’s not for people who can but just don’t want to pay for boarding or treating their pet,” Mire said, “but for people who have no other option. Like if they are going to the hospital and they have no place to put their pet and no money for boarding, so their only option would be to surrender the pet to the shelter.
“We want to keep families together.”
Mire gave the example of a man whose wife had died and who was homeless. He worked at a gas station and would tie his dog up outside while he worked. An accident led to the dog having a broken leg, and a vet told the owner that his only option was to have the dog destroyed.
“This dog was all he had,” Mire said. Veterinarians at the shelter treated the dog and he was reunited with his owner.
For more information or to volunteer, visit pascocountyfl.net/175/Pets-and-Animals.