A dog named Leo inspired a Pinellas Park woman to start a nonprofit agency that is trying to save hundreds of animals from being killed. As it turns out, Leo might also save you money.
He's the inspiration behind SPOT (Stop Pet Overpopulation Together Tampa Bay), a low-cost spay and neuter clinic that is getting positive reviews from county officials.
Pamela Borres adopted Leo, a chow husky mix, from the Largo SPCA shelter in 2001. As a volunteer there, Borres learned that Leo was like thousands of other dogs that get passed up for adoption every year.
He was older, he was heavier than some at 90 pounds, and he was mixed breed.
"There's nothing wrong with them, and they just euthanize them anyway, just because they can't keep them forever," Borres said.
It broke her heart. Borres researched the subject, and was astounded by what is widely accepted in veterinary circles: the more pets that are spayed and neutered, the fewer that are euthanized.
Besides removing the ability to reproduce, spaying and neutering lower the risk of certain reproductive organ diseases and reduce animals' tendency to roam outside, experts say.
Borres began with a spay-neuter hotline in 2004, referring callers to others who could provide sterilizations. But she realized there was a need for more spay-neuter clinics in South Pinellas. Many people wanted to do the right thing by their animals, but couldn't afford it.
An international flight attendant who loves her day job but was looking for some meaningful volunteer work in her life, Borres took cues from the Humane Alliance, an Asheville, N.C., nonprofit agency that advocates for sterilizing cats and dogs.
She raised money for three years, and opened the clinic in March. Borres employs a veterinarian and support staff, but does not do any medical work herself.
Pinellas County Animal Services officials acknowledge that SPOT and other clinics like it are helping them keep more companion animals from being needlessly euthanized every year.
In Pinellas, there were 14,500 animals put down by the animal services agency in 2008, down slightly from 14,650 in 2006. The number of spays and neuters done by the county has increased steadily over the years, but dropped from almost 8,000 in 2007 to 5,700 last year because of a staff shortage, said Dr. Welch Agnew, director of the agency.
"I applaud them for opening up a spay and neuter clinic. It's something that we desperately need," said Agnew, who pointed out that the county has been able to decrease the animals at its shelters in that period.
In Hillsborough, where the Humane Society of Tampa Bay has been raising awareness about spay-neuter services for years, the trend is more clear.
In 2005, 29,872 animals were killed by euthanasia. Last year, 19,837 were. In that same period, the number of spay and neuters increased 156 percent, from 2,261 to 5,798, according to Hillsborough County Animal Services.
Relying on donations and keeping overhead costs low — her veterinary staff is her biggest expense — Borres is able to offer the procedures at $40 to $95.
A vet can charge hundreds of dollars for the procedure, depending on the weight of the animal. Pinellas County Animal Services charges between $20 and $40 for the surgeries, but only for dog owners on public assistance. And there's a waiting list into next year.
Borres gets about 125 visits a week. It's a colorful office, with an large portrait of Leo, who died of a liver tumor in 2007, on one wall. Borres has since befriended two more chow-mixes. She named one Leo, too.
Luis Perez can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2271.