TAMPA — When Linda and Frank Hamilton founded the Animal Coalition of Tampa in 2001, they had to either rent space for board meetings at $50 or $75 a pop or meet in someone's living room.
They opened a clinic on W Lemon Street in 2006, but the 2,800-square-foot building had one exam room, no waiting area and very little work space for the staff.
"As we grew, somebody took my desk," said Linda Hamilton, the coalition's executive director. "And then somebody took the desk I took and then it just kind of filled up from there until we had no place left."
She started working from home and crafting a new plan. They opened a 9,800-square-foot facility at 502 N Gilchrist Ave. on Oct. 8.
The clinic spayed and neutered 12,000 cats and dogs in 2011, and hopes to increase that number to 18,000 with the new space, said operations manager Terri Romano.
"We knew in our old facility that we were at maximum capacity and that we needed a big facility if we were going to grow and reach out into the community and help more animals," Romano said.
The new building has several waiting areas, three exam rooms, more office space and a new surgical suite for higher-risk procedures requiring a more sterile environment.
More exam rooms means more space for general wellness care. There is a shot clinic, with no appointment necessary, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday that includes heartworm testing.
More than 14,000 cats and dogs are euthanized in Hillsborough County each year. The coalition initially sought to decrease the number of animals ending up in shelters through low-cost spaying and neutering. The group has expanded to low-cost wellness care to help keep pets from ending up in shelters because their owners can't afford to care for them anymore.
Education is a big focus — helping people understand pets' basic needs, the differences between caring for dogs and cats, and what kind of food to buy. Now that the clinic has more space, the coalition is working on more community outreach and education.
"These are all happening and being organized as we speak," Hamilton said. "We're scrambling a bit, but it's a good scramble."
The coalition started offering its new conference room to other registered nonprofit groups to hold meetings for free. The nonprofits don't have to be devoted exclusively to helping animals.
"There are some people that are really trying to help the community," Hamilton said, "and animals are part of the community."
Fundraising and money made through the clinic services pays the rent. Much of the furniture — desks, cubicles and cages for the animals — has come from donations. The coalition is seeking more money for cages so it can take on even more animals. The folks here never want to say no, Hamilton said.
"Some people that come in with a bloody animal in their arms and they have no money, we can't tell them no," she said. "We know that we will find a way to do this because it's the right thing to do."
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3321.