Pet shelter changing way animal owners think

Out of sight, out of mind.

Pat Mulieri wasn’t part of the decision that built Pasco County’s animal shelter well off the beaten path inside the Lake Patience community and behind Oakstead Elementary School, but there are times she wishes she was.

Adult cats have some of the hardest times being adopted, since kittens are in such high demand. Last year, more than 800 cats came to the shelter, but less than 75 percent found homes. (Michael Hinman/Staff Photo)

Adult cats have some of the hardest times being adopted, since kittens are in such high demand. Last year, more than 800 cats came to the shelter, but less than 75 percent found homes. (Michael Hinman/Staff Photo)

The shelter is 2 miles off Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, requiring a little bit of navigation along Lake Patience Road to Dogpatch Lane. Locals know exactly where to go when they need to deliver a pet, or adopt one, but the thousands of new residents calling Pasco home each year are surprised to learn Pasco even has such a facility, and that sometimes makes it difficult to get the word out.

“I came to this shelter years ago when I had lost a pet,” Mulieri, a 20-year member of the county commission, said. “My husband didn’t lock the screen door for our two little dogs. One came back, and the other didn’t.”

What Mulieri found at the shelter, however, was something she was not ready for.

“They let me in with the place closed, when they only had one building out here, and that’s when I saw the dead cats,” Mulieri said. “They had killed so many cats a day, and I didn’t even realize it. I couldn’t come back.”

It would actually take years for Mulieri to return, but when she did, she was there to stay. Now Mulieri is a common face around the halls of the shelter’s administrative offices, and has been a major proponent in helping to build the shelter’s profile, and find homes for hundreds of pets each month.

Promoting the shelter and finding ways to attract adopting families has fallen on the shoulders of Andrea Ciesluk, the assistant education coordinator at Pasco County Animal Services. Ciesluk joined the staff there earlier this year, and almost immediately, the shelter was getting noticed.

“We want to advertise and get the word out so that people know who we are and where we are,” she said. “That’s not as easy as it sounds.”

Ciesluk is doing it using a much different approach than what the shelter has done in the past. While animal services have typically worked with newspapers, television and radio to spread the word about the shelter’s needs, Ciesluk is reaching deep into the business community to find corporate partners willing to lend a hand — even if it’s simply through a new way of promoting events and specials the shelter has on a monthly basis.

“What we are doing is getting new businesses and local businesses to sponsor an animal,” she said. “In return, every time we post that animal’s picture, people will see their involvement too.”

Those businesses also have helped to reduce adoption fees for many families who might want to take a dog or cat home, but balk when they find out how much they have to pay in order to do it. Business donations, Mulieri said, have helped reduce those costs to as low as $20.

“That’s neutering and spaying, immunization and microchipping all in the same package,” Mulieri said. “That’s the best buy in town, and it’s the only way we’re going to cut down on euthanizing.”

In 2011, less than 40 percent of the animals boarded at the shelter left it alive. But in 2012, the live release rate grew to 55 percent, and last year, had reached 81 percent.

The shelter’s goal is to find homes for 90 percent of the dogs and cats brought through its doors, Mulieri said, but it’s going to require more work than just adoption specials.

“You’ll never be able to adopt them all out, and you’ll never be able to cut down on the pet population until you change people’s ideas,” Mulieri said.

Despite animal overpopulation, many families with pets shy away from spaying or neutering, feeling their pets need to have litters. A typical cat can have up to six kittens in a litter and can have three litters a year. That means one cat couple and their offspring, according to one animal group, can result in 420,000 more cats in seven years.

And it’s not easy to find them homes. Last year, the Pasco shelter put down 27 percent of the cats it received.

New shelter manager Mike Shumate realized that mindset needed to change. Before he arrived, qualifying families who fixed their cat or dog could send their bill to the county, and be reimbursed up to $40.

“That rarely covered those costs,” Mulieri said. “People couldn’t afford to do it, so they wouldn’t do it. And the number of animals coming into the shelter was just getting out of control.”

Instead, the goal is to partner with local veterinarians to offer discounts that would make such procedures affordable. On top of that, the shelter has partnered with Spay Pasco with the Trap Neuter Return program that allows for the trapping of feral cats that are then fixed for $10, and returned to their habitat.

“We need to do this,” Ciesluk said. “And we’re going to keep working to expand it even more.”

For more programs and specials at the shelter, visit PascoCountyFl.net/PAS.

Published October 29, 2014

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