Hillsborough County Animal Services shelter criticized for suffering pets

TAMPA - Dr. Isabelle Roese calls her resignation letter a last resort.

"The shelter is now overcrowded," she read from the letter.  "The health of the population is declining. The staff has been stretched excessively."

After more than 12 years with Hillsborough County Animal Services, Dr. Roese admits her 13th year grew unbearable. She remembers days when she did nothing but write prescriptions for antibiotics.

The number of animals has increased to the point of overcrowding.  Having once separated new admissions from animals that arrived days before in order to reduce the spread of disease, Dr. Roese noticed animals were placed anywhere staff could find a spot.

Sometimes, she said, animals with known aggressive behavior were adopted.

Slowly, she watched her colleagues withdraw, scared for their jobs if they voiced any criticism.

"The stress level became too high, and I saw the disease level increase.  I figured, at this point, I'd be one of the stronger voices to speak," she said. "Sadly, I had to make the decision of leaving. That's not what I wanted to do. This was really the career I wanted to be in."

It got too hard to look at animals like "Jarvis," a 4-month-old black Labrador mix adopted in late June.

Just two days after driving away from the Hillsborough County Animal Shelter, Jarvis landed in the emergency room with a deadly lung infection. A veterinarian removed two lobes in order to save his life.

His medical care cost more than $5,000.

"It's emotionally gut-wrenching, wondering day-by-day, hour-by-hour, if he's even OK," explained Michelle Black. "He wasn't able to breathe when he was trying to lay down flat."

Even since Ian Hallett took over as director of Hillsborough County Animal Services more than a year ago, he has remained vocal about his plans to move the shelter in the direction of "no kill" policies, reducing the number of cases of euthanasia while increasing the number of adoptions.

In a Year-In-Review memorandum, Hallett defends progress his administration has made over the last year, including 2,000 more animals adopted than years prior.

"The plan represents a major shift in strategy and operations at the shelter that will result in many more animals saved as well as numerous lessons along the way," Hallett writes.

Hallett admits an increase in sick animals, but blames it on an increase in animals overall.

Dr. Roese believes he's done it all at the expense of health and safety, while isolating employees and volunteers by ignoring their opinions, pushing strategies without the resources or staffing to successfully implement them.

"I asked him personally, 'What is it?' And he said, 'I cannot trust any employee that I did not hire,'" she recounted. "He personally told me he couldn't trust any of us who were hired before him."

Concerned animal advocates have created a petition online, calling on county commissioners to "clean up animal services."  Find the petition at  http://www.change.org/petitions/hillsborough-county-commissioners-clean-up-animal-services.


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