SEBRING At Highlands County Animal Control, there aren’t just 96 new dog bowls and an indoor cat house, there’s a new attitude.
“Some very positive changes have been made,” said Pam Bradshaw, who has been volunteering at the shelter. “I do two days a week.”
Stainless steel bowls and pails were donated to the shelter, along with banners telling the public that dogs and cats can be adopted.
“It’s amazing that people still don’t know that we adopt animals from here,” Animal Control Director Darryl Scott said.
The county facilities department is adding insulation, electricity and air conditioning to a climate-controlled house for a dozen or more cats, Scott said. “Calling it a building is not proper. It’s really a shed from the health department. But we’re moving our nice, adoptable cats into that, to further separate them from the feral cats.
Feral cats arrive with respiratory diseases that spread to domestic cats.
In October, protesters showed up at the shelter with signs, many with photos of dogs and cats that appear neglected and malnourished.
The brothers and sisters of a white puppy, said Audrey Stansbury, who supplied many of the signs, froze to death in winter weather after they were born in a cage at the shelter on Haywood Taylor Boulevard, across from Sebring International Raceway.
Kelly Wielage of Fort Myers adopted Dodger, a 1 1/2-year-old blue heeler, in April 2011. "He weighed 21 pounds," she said, at his initial visit to a veterinarian. A year later, at his annual checkup, he weighed 55.”
Bradshaw was one of the protestors in front of Highlands County Government Center who complained that Scott wouldn’t allow volunteers.
Actually, that was a county policy, Scott said. “They wouldn’t allow me or anyone else to have volunteers.”
Now, Bradshaw and her mother, Gwen, are two of four volunteers.
“She’s one of the people protesting us,” Scott said. “Now she’s my best volunteer. She’s been good to her word. That woman can work. Pam washes out pens, Gwen does the laundry; they help out with the grunt work that frees up my other people to get other things done. We could use some more.”
Scott is still cautious about volunteers. “We’re moving with baby steps in the right direction. I don’t want 15 people out here to show up and start walking dogs. It’s for their safety. I don’t want them to get scratched or bit.”
Another volunteer arranged for the donation of pens. “We’ve been trapping chickens at the request of Highway Park residents, and Tom Crutchfield, who’s been a friend of Highlands County for a long time, donated a nice chicken pen.”
Other volunteers have been showing up with food, blankets and towels, Scott said. “In the winter time, we go through quite a bit. There are a lot of good people out there. A lot of people have stepped up. It’s been really nice.”
Recent visitors have told Scott, “’This ain’t nothing like they’re saying it is.’ And I’m going, ‘I know.’ The fact is, we’re still euthanizing animals, but not near the number we used to. We used to go to the landfill every few days. Now we go every week or two, and that’s not a full load. We adopted three dogs this morning.”
Judy Spiegel, president of the Humane Society of Highlands County, was another of Scott’s critics. Both admitted they still don’t get along personally, but that’s not relevant.
“I didn’t like a lot of things I saw over there,” Spiegel said. However, in the past year, she’s felt the spirit of détente.
“Criticizing doesn’t get you anywhere,” Spiegel said. “I’m thrilled that people have stepped up and are paying attention. I have not been there, and I need to go over there, but I have talked to volunteers. They’re bringing their cats inside. They’re getting more volunteers. I would like it better if their dogs were able to get walked – taken out of their cages on regular basis. Ours can go into a play yard. They need exercise and socialization. They need to interact with people more, walked on a leash. If they aren’t, when they do get to meet someone, they’re all hyper.”
From Scott’s view, his assistant, Aubre McAnally and Humane Society Shelter Manager Amanda Helton “get along great. They talk almost every day. Amanda called last week and they picked up two dogs we couldn’t find homes for.”