A group called Save90 has formed recently in Hillsborough County with the goal of finding homes for 90 percent of the animals that end up at the county’s shelter.
The local project will gain momentum on Saturday, Feb. 4, when Nathan Winograd will make an appearance in South Tampa.
Winograd, who is the founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center and the inspiration for the local Save90 organization, will discuss his alternatives to animal euthanasia and the steps needed to become a no-kill community during an almost sold-out workshop at the Westshore Marriott.
Cities like San Francisco and Austin, TX, and most recently neighboring Manatee County, have already adopted a no-kill policy.
“Our goal is to stop the unnecessary killing of animals at the shelter,” said Linda Hamilton, who is one of the Save90 organizers and the executive director of the Animal Coalition of Tampa (ACT).
ACT is a nonprofit clinic that advocates spaying and neutering as a means to prevent the surrender and death of unwanted litters. Since opening its doors at 1719 W. Lemon St. in 2006, the clinic has offered affordable services as well as embracing the Hillsborough County Dog and Cat Spay/Neuter Program.
This low-cost voucher program allows low income folks to get their pets fixed for a co-pay of $10, which includes a spay or neuter surgery, rabies vaccine and registration tag.
Save90 says that spaying and neutering to keep the population down combined with volunteer foster families can lower the number of euthanized dogs and cats.
“Right now, we are saving only 38 percent of the animals,” said Hamilton, adding that 10 percent of dogs and cats at the shelter are not adoptable, either because they have terminal illnesses or because they are unable to interact with people due to psychological trauma.
Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan said that community involvement is a key factor for the implementation of a no-kill policy in the county.
“We’ve made improvements, but we still have a long way to go,” said Hagan. “We need to do everything we can to eliminate euthanasia whenever possible and look for alternatives.”
According to the District 5 commissioner, Hillsborough County Animal Services is already following many of the no-kill principles and it is heading toward the right direction.
Dennis McCullough, operation director at Hillsborough County Animal Services, said that Save90 has never approached the shelter.
“Every day, we do everything we can do to save as many animals as we can,” said McCullough. “But we can’t go out and put a gun to people’s heads and force them to adopt them.”
According to McCullough, the shelter has reduced euthanasia by 52 percent since 2007, and it implements various rescue strategies — from a pit bull rehabilitation program to a transition family program. But there are only 50 transitional families volunteering at the shelter and it is not enough.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said, adding that resources are insufficient. “I would love to see more volunteers here, I would love to see more donations here, I would love to have more transitional families.”
Animal Services says it also needs more shelter space. Only last week, it rescued 500 fighting roosters.
“We can’t say that we are full, we have to accept all animals,” said McCullough.
McCullough says that legislation has to change, also.
“So many people want to adopt a pit bull, but they can’t because of the restrictions when renting a home,” he said.
When asked if Hillsborough County Animal Services could learn from the folks in Manatee County, McCullough said that representatives from Manatee County recently visited the shelter in Tampa twice.
“They are coming to us to figure out how to do it,” he said. "We were glad to help."
Save90 meets at 6.30 p.m. every first Tuesday of the month at the Tampa Tribune building, 202 S. Parker St. For more information, visit save90.org.
If you would like to make a donation or volunteer with Hillsborough County Animal Services, call 813-744-5660 or visit hillsboroughcounty.org/animalservices.