Growing up in Riverview, Ian Hallett never stepped into the Hillsborough County Animal Shelter. He was in college when he went inside a shelter for the first time.
Not too many years later, he watched Hurricane Katrina refugees pile into Austin, Texas, with the pets they had risked their lives to protect. That's when his future became clear.
Today he is two months into the job as the new director of Animal Services for Hillsborough County, filled with ideas on how to save more animals, touting the need for sterilizing pets and convincing people to register their dogs and cats.
At 35, Hallett is quick to admit there are many people in his field with a more experience. But he is confident he is up to the task.
And he has some goals in mind.
"My biggest goal is to get more foot traffic in here," said Hallett, a graduate of the International Baccalaureate program at Hillsborough High School. "There is always a push to keep animals at a shelter longer, but if you have only the same number of people coming through the door, it won't help."
Many people are not aware of the location of the shelter on Falkenburg Road, just north of State Road 60. "They either think we're the Humane Society or don't realize they can adopt animals from here."
Secondly, he would like to increase the number of registered pets in the county. Estimates based on a national model put the number of dogs and cats in Hillsborough County at about 600,000. But only 25 percent of them are registered, Hallett said.
"That is an important source of revenue for the shelter that helps get animals back home or into homes and keeps our officers on the roads," he said. "I think if more people knew that, they'd be more than willing to pay the $20 registration fee."
Third, he said, the shelter needs to be open seven days a week. It was cut back to six days a week to save taxpayers' money. But, it turns out, the move saved little money because most of the shelter's support staff has to work seven days to care for the animals.
Halldtt said he hopes to keep the shelter open all week beginning in the fall.
The new director saidhe also would like to do a better job of marketing the shelter, so people know where it is and realize 20,000 animals a year come in and so many more should be going to homes, instead of being euthanized.
About 65 percent of the animals that come in don't leave. In Austin, the city was able to save 90 percent of its animals, he said.
Abigail Smith, chief of animal services for the Austin Animal Center, said she believes Hallett is right for the top job.
One of his real strengths is that he works well with people, both staff and volunteers, Smith said. "He could have a really productive and positive conversation with anybody." He gave the volunteers the respect and the voice they deserve," she said.
"He'll do a great job," Smith said.
Hallett, who was not looking to leave Austin, believes coming home to Hillsborough County was his destiny. He was here visiting his father in the hospital the day the job was posted on the county's website.