By Tamas Mondovics

In early August, Hillsborough County’s Pet Resource Center—formerly known as the County Animal Services—began a series of special, monthly adoption-celebrations dubbed, ‘First Saturday Celebration’ and is now proving not only quite successful, but a much-anticipated signature community event.

“The family-friendly series is held on the first Saturday of each month, and aims to save lives, while boosting community engagement,” said County Animal Shelter’s newly appointed Director, Scott Trebatoski, who formerly served as animal shelter division chief in Jacksonville.

Each month, the free event, held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the facility at 440 N. Falkenburg Rd. in Tampa, is coupled with back-to-school pet adoption specials, music, food, and expert lessons on pet care and training courtesy of the Hillsborough County Community College Vet Tech Club. Exhibitors include a pet portrait artist, and children win prizes for creating a portrait of a favorite shelter pet.  Adoption fees includes spaying/neutering, vaccinations, County license tag, micro-chip and free chip registration.

The adoption numbers speak for themselves as in September, shelter volunteers reportedly helped adopt out 29 dogs and 35 cats. The first Saturday of October proved to be even better, boasting of a total of 76 cats and dogs adopted.

The effort has achieved positive outcomes for nearly 300 homeless dogs and cats since August.

County officials are pleased with the program’s success so far as it helps build confidence in the function of the troubled agency, which in recent times has seen its share of issues prompting community wide concern over its operation.

Upon his appointment, Trebatoski wasted no time to acknowledge the need for change, which he voiced during a public meeting where he introduced key staff members and discussed recent policy changes, public access to shelter pets available for adoption, partnering with rescue groups, and the overall health of the shelter’s animal population.

“We had to refocus on what we were trying to accomplish, including better customer service, and building our volunteer and foster base and public trust,” Trebatoski said. “Residents were frustrated so we needed some calming first and, moving forward.”

It is safe to say that things are looking up for the department, which Trebatoski proudly emphasized including the increase of adopt-out or live release rate from 46 percent last year to 70 percent this year.

“We are doing very well and improving,” he said. “Our volunteer program is growing, and we have built a good relationship with our fosters. Now we just need to maintain the momentum and satisfy our communities.”

One of the recent changes at the shelter is an adjustment in turn-in times at the shelter, which was moved to the morning hours and will accept owner-surrendered pets and lost, stray or injured animals Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-12 Noon. Previously, the shelter had been accepting animals in the afternoons only, with owner-surrendered pet turn-ins limited to three days a week. The new change in turn-in hours is in response to customer feedback and suggestions that this service be offered earlier in the day.

A valid form of photo identification showing proof of Hillsborough County residency is required for anyone surrendering an animal. Individuals turning in pets are required to remain on-site during the process.

For more information, call 744-5660 or visit www.HillsboroughCounty.org/Pets.