Local animal services officials hope a free pet adoption program will help mitigate a significant reduction in shelter capacity caused by an extensive renovation project.
The Pinellas County Animal Services facility at 12450 Ulmerton Rd. in Largo will receive $3.5 million in much-needed upgrades. Exterior construction is underway, and the free adoption program began Monday morning.
Doug Brightwell, animal services director, said the building would receive a new roof, doors, windows and other storm-hardening features. Interior renovations will increase the quality of life for pets, but reduce overall capacity by two-thirds.
Brightwell noted that all dog housing areas would receive new kennels for the first time since 1995. “They need to be replaced,” he said.
“And then we’re getting air conditioning for the first time,” Brightwell added. “Our buildings, for the animals, have never been air-conditioned.”
He said the shelter is “very warm” during the summer despite efforts to mitigate the heat. Brightwell believes the air conditioning system will provide a dramatic improvement for staff and animals.
Exterior upgrades will strengthen the building to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. Brightwell said the facility must evacuate during major storms and called the added protection “tremendously comforting.”
The Penny for Pinellas sales tax is funding the year-long project. Interior renovations begin Dec. 13, and Brightwell expects that work to continue through August 2024.
“So, we’re trying to get as many dogs into foster and adoptive homes as possible before then,” he said. “Which is why we started our free adoption special … for the duration of the construction period.”
In 2022, the facility received 6,178 dogs and cats. Animal services staff found homes for 4,810.
Brightwell said the shelter can accommodate just over 300 canines and nearly 300 felines. It currently houses 179 dogs and can only hold 140 throughout the eight-month interior renovation process.
The agency requires residents interested in adoption to show identification. Brightwell said those with other pets must also provide rabies vaccination records.
“And then you can take the animal home the same day because all our animals are already fully sterilized, vaccinated and microchipped, and ready to go home,” he added.
In addition to waiving fees, adopters receive a care package that includes treats, food samples and toys. Brightwell said staffers try to ensure a person’s lifestyle and activity level aligns with the pet’s disposition.
He noted that the foster-to-adopt program provides a seven-day window for people to decide if the pet is a “good fit” for their household. Brightwell said most dogs are large mixed breeds, but the population changes frequently.
Animal Services officials also hope collaborative partnerships will help temporarily house pets throughout the project. Brightwell said those include other shelters, rescue organizations and commercial kennels.
However, he stressed that the goal is to find forever homes and foster families. Brightwell encouraged anyone interested to visit the facility, talk with staff and meet the animals.
“See if there’s one that’s a good match for you,” he said. “If you’re not sure, consider doing the foster-to-adopt for a few days to see how the fit is and see if it’s the right decision for you, before you finalize it.”