TAMPA — Weekends at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay's shelter on Armenia Avenue see crowds crammed in the lobby. People with their dogs and cats wait for hours for reduced-cost spay and neuter services.
They are welcomed, but for years the Humane Society has struggled to accommodate the legions of pet owners who want to help prevent unwanted animals.
More than 10,000 pets were serviced last year, a growing number that pushed the 1,600-square-foot facility beyond its limits.
But starting next year, the Humane Society plans to be able to provide wellness services to twice that number of animals with the opening of its new Animal Health Center one block north of the shelter.
On Monday, construction crews took the first steps at taking down the vacant A.P. Boza Funeral Home, which will be the site of the new clinic.
"We have heard that people have had to turn their pets in to the Humane Society because they can't afford the cost of care for them," said Sherry Silk, the organization's executive director. "This is just another tool that the Humane Society has to reduce the number of unwanted animals. Rather than turning their pet in, they now have a place to go to get affordable health care."
As a full-service clinic, the new facility will provide not only spay and neuter services, but a full range of animal wellness checkups, vaccinations and surgery at a reduced cost. More pets will be able to receive treatment they need and fewer animals will be euthanized, Silk said.
The new, 10,493 square-foot health center at 3809 N Armenia Avenue is expected to open in fall 2012.
"The earlier we get started, the faster we can get it going," said Jody Brown, senior superintendent for AD Morgan, the construction firm.
Humane Society officials also anticipate that the new health center will be a catalyst for the creation of at least five to 10 jobs, from receptionists to veterinary technicians. The modern building design will also enhance the landscape of the West Tampa neighborhood, officials said.
The floor plan includes five pet examination rooms, a wellness clinic and laboratory, surgical rooms and a feral cat patio.
More than half of the $3.2 million price tag has already been paid for through gifts and pledges from donors, said Nancy McCall, the Humane Society's director of development.
A big chunk came from TalkFusion CEO Bob Reina, who stunned Humane Society leaders and supporters last May with a $250,000 check at the Tuxes & Tails pet fashion show. Live and silent auctions from the event brought the total to $400,000 and helped Reina secure naming rights to the new facility.
"The animal-loving public has been very good and very supportive of the project," Silk said.
The lobby of the building will be dedicated to Alexis Saunders, a local woman who succumbed to brain cancer in 2010. An animal lover, Saunders was known for rescuing unwanted or injured pets in her Tampa Heights neighborhood and bringing them to the Humane Society.