Left to right are Pet Resource Center director Scott Trebatoski, Ray Villegas, Hillsborough County Assistant Administrator Dexter Barge, Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

Hillsborough County recently celebrated a major milestone: the 100,000th pet saved at the Michael S. Merrill Pet Resource Center since Hillsborough County committed to improving the live-release rate at the shelter a decade ago.

In 2012, the euthanasia rate at the shelter, like at most public shelters throughout the country at that time, was painfully high. About 12,000 dogs and cats were euthanized that year, nearly two-thirds of the pets brought to the shelter.

Today, the Pet Resource Center’s live-release rate is above 90 percent, among the highest in the nation. Those figures are even more remarkable because the Pet Resource Center is the only open-admission shelter in Hillsborough County, meaning it accepts all dogs and cats regardless of age, medical condition or breed.

On October 21, county and shelter officials celebrated that accomplishment and recognized the local resident who adopted the 100,000th pet saved at the shelter since 2012.

Ray Villegas is the proud adoptive parent to Milo the dog, the 100,000th pet saved at the Pet Resource Center. “If you have the opportunity to love an animal and you have the capability, then please do because it saves a life and they add to your life,” said Villegas.

The policy changes began with a commitment to trust and rely upon people in the community — pet owners, veterinarians, rescue groups and many others — to band together to build a lifesaving community for pets. Among the policy and practical changes responsible for the dramatic improvement in live-release rates and accompanying drop in euthanasia are:

• The creation of a pet support team that works to help residents keep their pets rather than turning them over to the shelter. Team members can help resolve issues with pet behavior, provide food and other supplies and even help arrange medical care.

• Actively working with more than 300 pet rescue groups.

• Establishment of a foster program that allows residents to take pets home for as little as a week. The program helps clear shelter space and provides valuable information about the pets’ behaviors and personalities.

• Establishing pet-enrichment programs, such as dog play groups.

• Quickly spaying/neutering and evaluating pets.

• Allowing residents to view virtually all available dogs and cats at the shelter through an online kennel that includes photos, medical information and behavioral notes.

• A commitment to matching people with the right pet, which increases owner satisfaction and reduces return rates.

• Increasing the number and variety of medical issues that can be treated at the shelter.

For more information or to adopt a furry friend, please visit www.hcflgov.net/adopt.

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