Inside Sarasota Animal Services with Kristen Little
The morning is relatively cool but it’s early. We are hours away from heat and the heavy humidity that hangs on the Florida afternoon air. Kristen Little has a long day ahead. The kennels are full of adoptable dogs, and it’s kitten season. As Foster/Volunteer Coordinator for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services the responsibilities of her job are as varied as a button collection.
In 2011, Kristen was a volunteer at the shelter, helping out by cleaning the cat room and soon got to know the staff. She quickly realized that this was a place she wanted to visit and often. Soon after she started volunteering, she found there was a new part-time position for a Foster/Volunteer Coordinator. She went through the application process and eventually was hired. The very first goals were to increase the core group of amazing volunteers at the shelter, enhance the already solid relationships with local animal rescue groups, and start a social media outreach to the local community. And thus, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services Facebook page was created. (www.facebook.com/SarasotaAnimalServices)
As of this writing, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services page has more than 3800 followers, who interact with the page, cross-post adoptables on Facebook and have become more involved with the shelter. Beyond embracing the virtual community, it was clear to Kristen and her supervisors, that more community members were engaged. And in doing that, a greater level of awareness could be achieved by highlighting the plight of homeless shelter animals in need of loving, forever homes.
Through word of mouth and social media, the volunteer pool grew. With more volunteer support, the shelter has been able to create more programs to help socialize the animals in their care. Now, the services for the adoptable animals have extended from a dog walking program and a kitten foster program to canine PlayGroup, Manners Class, Off-Site Cat Adoption program, DayMakers & more! All of these programs are currently run and staffed by the shelter’s dedicated volunteers. In addition to the hands-on work at the shelter, the dedicated volunteers are also organizing and attending events off-site as shelter representatives both with and without their adoptable canine companions. All to raise awareness of the wonderful adoptable animals in their own home town.
Local stores that are pet-centric, such as PetSmart & PetSupermarket to name a few have long been supportive of the shelter, and have been catalysts for the Off-Site Events program. However, over the last 2 years, the shelter has seen an increase in other types of businesses encouraging shelter volunteers and adoptable dogs at their locations. Businesses like Home Depot and Whole Foods are now participating regularly to help get pets into loving homes. Other venues have included Coldwell Banker, Eager Beaver & Evie’s on Bee Ridge. “Off-Site Events have been extremely important for meeting new adoptive families.” Kristen told us. It truly does take a community.
Twice a month you’ll find caring shelter volunteers and adoptable dogs at the Home Depot on Cattlemen and also Whole Foods. By housing adoptable cats & kittens at Petsmart, they get more exposure and are out of the shelter environment.
Although there is a bit of an economic upswing, the need for support of abandoned or stray pets has not subsided. Kristen explained “The very first step people should take – no matter where their pet comes from – is to ensure that their pets are spayed or neutered. This prevents accidental and unwanted litters. Preventing unwanted litters is a small step to address the overabundance of stray and abandoned animals in the shelter.”
Matching the right family to the right pet is a key piece of a quality adoption. Some dogs are great with kids, some not so much, while still others might do well with another dog or cat to play with. “We ask a lot of questions and offer suggestions about personalities and what would make the best fit for a particular family – the last thing we want is for a pet to be returned to the shelter. It can be heart-breaking for the family and the dog or cat.”
More and more, adopters are staying in touch with the shelter – after the adoption process. A special section on the Facebook page feature “Happy Tails”, pictures of dogs and cats in their new homes where they are cherished and taken care of. And that, Kristen told us – makes it all worthwhile.
To find out how you can help, get involved, be a dog walker or support the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services or email KLittle@scgov.net.