All aboard for adoptions

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Animal Services bus will take pets to public

By Chris Van Ormer

INVERNESS — Shelter pets will get a free pass on a county transport bus to find new homes.


The bus recently was transferred from Citrus County Transit to Citrus County Animal Services as a mobile adoption center, following a request in September from Commissioner John “JJ” Kenney. The bus will take shelter pets to community events where residents will see them and possibly want to adopt them.

Dogs and cats — dogs especially — love to travel in vehicles. But giving pets a joyride is not the foremost reason for reassigning the bus. As part of the county commission’s newly adopted “Strive for Life” program, the bus will help expedite adoptions and thereby increase the numbers. The result will be fewer animals surrendered to the county shelter, hence fewer that will have to be euthanized because no one wants them.

Kelly Gill, the shelter’s volunteer outreach coordinator hired in October, explained how the bus will work.

“Currently, we are doing Pet Supermarket on Saturdays. I’d like to be able to expand that and go to local pet stores and to community events like the Canine Carnival,” Gill said. “It would be better for us to be able to bring a busload of dogs. It’s hard for us to have individual volunteers bringing one dog at a time. That makes it difficult for us to bring a lot of animals. This bus will enable us to do that, bring a lot more available animals at once to different events, rather than just one or two animals.”

Anyone who falls in love with an available animal at a community event and wants to adopt it still will need to go back to the animal shelter on Airport Road, Inverness, to complete arrangements. The dogs and cats will need final treatments from the shelter before they can be released.

“What has happened in the past when we have events is our volunteers will call and say, ‘I have a lady here who is interested in Spot. She is going to come preapproved. She’s already interacted with Spot. We think she would offer a great home for him.’ We start doing the paperwork. The volunteer brings the dog back. We get it all prepped up and the adopter takes the dog away,” Gill explained.

But the animals can’t use their bus until it has been refurbished for them. When the transportation department gave the bus to animal services, transportation staff thoughtfully took out the seats because the animals will ride to events in kennels that have been fixed to the floor. Installing the kennels will be the job for volunteers.

“It needs some updating and fixing up,” Gill said about the bus, which she will drive to events. “We need to start doing some fundraising for the kennels. The kennels are the first priority, really, because we could go to adoption events without it wrapped as long as we have it ready for the dogs and cats.”

Wrapping the bus means decorating the exterior to show it belongs to Animal Services and its effort to get more animals adopted.

“So far, we have $500 for the wrapping,” Gill said. “We’d like to have dogs and cats on the outside to show it’s from Animal Services and make it look new.”

Volunteers are needed to fix up and use the bus.

“We can’t live without volunteers,” Gill said. “Really. They do so much for us.”

Gill, who moved here in January from Osceola County, where she lived her whole life, was a volunteer coordinator for Osceola’s school district for 21 years. She was working as a clerk typist for Animal Services when the outreach volunteer coordinator position opened up and she was hired.

“Volunteers are so important everywhere,” Gill said. “A lot of them are unappreciated, but we couldn’t function without them.”

As part of her outreach program, Gill has chosen a canine ambassador for the shelter, Oreo, a Catahoula leopard hound mix, who will visit public facilities, such as schools, to raise awareness about the shelter.

“I want people to see an example of the type of animal we have,” Gill said. “People may think the dogs at the shelter are just strays and not well behaved. I’d like to take an example of a well-behaved dog.”

Gill wants more volunteers who can help out with everything from animal grooming to gardening to paperwork to laundry.
“Everybody’s valuable,” Gill said. “They all have special talents.”

By coordinating volunteers, doing outreach and driving the adoption bus, Gill fulfills several of the procedures in the county’s Strive for Life program, which includes:

* Working with nonprofit organizations to promote adoptions.

* Hiring a volunteer outreach coordinator to increase the level of volunteerism at the shelter and coordinate outreach activities in the community.

* Obtaining a mobile adoption unit to increase public awareness and raise adoption rates.

* Coordinating with local partners for the implementation of the feral cat trap, neuter and release program.

* Continuing to provide public education about the importance of spaying and neutering.

Gill said she looks forward to putting it all together: ”We’re so excited. It’s going to be great.”

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at 352-564-2916 or cvanormer@chronicleonline.com.