Hillsborough Co. addresses health risks at animal shelter - WFLA News Channel 8

Hillsborough Co. addresses health risks at animal shelter

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The Hillsborough County Administrator called a news conference Wednesday to assure the public that the county animal shelter is safe.

"I want to make sure it's very clear that rumors of an outbreak of Parvo virus are unfounded," Mike Merrill said.

Merrill said from August 2012 to July 2013 there were 73 confirmed cases of Parvo compared to 133 cases in the same 12-month period a year ago. But 18 of this year's cases have come this month; compared to 26 in July last year.

"Our own statistics have shown that the Parvo virus is more prevalent in July," Merrill said. "We're looking to determine what preventative measures we can take - if any - to address this risk."

Some of those people who have been pushing for change at the shelter didn't feel satisfied by the administrator's statements.

"I really didn't hear any explanation as to why there's been no communication to the rescue community, the veterinarians, the staffs and volunteers who go into the shelter everyday," said Amy Howland, President of the non-profit group Dogma Pet Rescue. "Every shelter gets Parvo. The problem here is: It wasn't responded to; there were protocols that were not followed. Dogs were not euthanized humanely, timely. Dogs were left to sit in their kennels with Parvo."

Howland said it means a greater chance of spreading the virus and she believes that's what happened here.

"Dogs were moved from pen to pen, kennel-to-kennel, wing-to-wing and that's a huge problem," she said. "There's just been some really poor leadership, poor management, and it's just got to get better."

Her organization stopped taking in animals from the shelter last week.

"It's very sad. We helped a lot of dogs from there. Our best dogs have come from Hillsborough County Animal Services," she said adding that Hillsborough County once provided a "gold-standard" for other shelters. "I think County Administration took a department that was running fantastically and ruined it."

Merrill said he believes the attention at the shelter has come from those who "don't like the change in management."

"I think part of it is just a lack of information, judgments based on not having the full facts," Merrill said.

Still, he addressed concerns about lack of communication of a disease outbreak.

"We'll be reviewing our current processes, building and correcting those," he said.

Starting Thursday, a University of South Florida communications expert will be on-site to speak confidentially with staff.

"If there's a communication issue, if there's a training issue, we need to address it," Merrill said.

Experts from the USF will also do an independent inspection at the shelter.

One of the most noticeable changes for the public will come Monday when code enforcement will start taking on field operations normally handled by animal control officers. That's so shelter staff can focus on operations and animal health.

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