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In a poor neighborhood, hundreds of pet owners show they care

Dr. Vincent Centonze, left, checks a dog Jan. 10 during the offer of free vaccinations and pet licenses at Sulphur Springs Park. Six hundred dogs and 100 cats were vaccinated.

Special to the Times

Dr. Vincent Centonze, left, checks a dog Jan. 10 during the offer of free vaccinations and pet licenses at Sulphur Springs Park. Six hundred dogs and 100 cats were vaccinated.


The 33604 ZIP code, which includes much of Sulphur Springs and Seminole Heights, gets the most calls to Hillsborough County Animal Services about stray, abandoned and neglected animals.

I've lived in this neighborhood for about 37 years, so I wasn't surprised when a rep from Animal Services told me this.

Lots of dogs live in this neighborhood, and too many dog owners don't take great care of their pets. I see dogs outside on the coldest days of winter and the hottest days of summer. I hear them bark for hours on end because they're bored and confined in small yards.

Many end up as strays. Just a few years ago, I'd see packs of stray dogs wandering around the neighborhood at night.

That all adds up to a lot of unhealthy animals who can spread disease to other animals and even to humans.

To combat the problem, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County Animal Services together offered free vaccinations and pet licenses this month for the first time. They staged the event in Sulphur Springs Park, the heart of their target area, but they plan to spread the effort to other parts of the county later, perhaps in March.

The response was overwhelming, with 600 dogs and about 100 cats receiving vaccines during the one-day event, said Sherry Silk, executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

Animal officials say that several reasons may speak to why the problem is so intense in the area. Primarily, pockets of low-income housing here indicate that some people can't afford veterinary care for their pets.

Ignorance is another factor. The seven veterinarians on hand at Sulphur Springs Park doled out as much advice to pet owners as vaccines for their animals.

"Some people just never think about veterinary care," said Marti Ryan, who works in community relations for Hillsborough County Animal Control. "They came with dental problems and skin conditions. One dog had a tumor. Our vets would sit down with them and tell them how important it was to get these things taken care of and they'd say, 'Oh, really?' "

The fact that so many people from the neighborhood came to the event shows that they really do care about their animals' well-being, Ryan said.

"Poor people love their pets just as much as rich people do," she said.

But people countywide are feeling the economic pinch, so it wasn't just low-income pet owners from the immediate neighborhood who showed up.

Angela Myers and her fiance, Richard Amburn, came from Town 'N Country with their dog, Tesla, and their cat, Ninja, who were due for annual vaccinations. They probably saved $40 to $50 per animal.

"At times like these, we're really appreciative," said Amburn, a software consultant. "We're planning to reciprocate by volunteering."

The event cost the Humane Society about $4,000.

It was the first time the Humane Society had offered free vaccinations, and officials had no idea that more than a handful of pet owners would show up.

But by the time Silk arrived at 8 a.m. Jan. 10 to prepare for the event — which was set to run from 10 a.m. until noon — about 35 pet owners were waiting. Some had been there since 5 a.m.

By noon, the Humane Society's veterinarians had run out of rabies and distemper vaccine and had to start turning people away.

Officials from the Humane Society and Animal Services, which was offering free pet licenses at the event, were thrilled with the turnout.

"I don't know what I was expecting," said Bill Armstrong, Animal Services director. "But I certainly wasn't expecting anything like this."

The immediate response of both organizations: We must do this again.

"We're definitely going to have another one," Silk said. "We just don't know when yet."

In a poor neighborhood, hundreds of pet owners show they care 01/22/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 9:25am]
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