A little more than a year ago, SPCA Tampa Bay announced an ambitious initiative aimed at keeping pets together with their caregivers as a way of reducing the number of animals that end up in Pinellas County's animal shelters each year.
One goal was to open a low-cost veterinary practice in St. Petersburg with a high-volume spay-neuter clinic that would be open to all, regardless of ability to pay. That's still a bit down the road as SPCA officials continue to search for the right property.
But they've taken a step toward that bigger goal by opening a pet wellness clinic at their Largo headquarters.
"It is the first step toward the St. Pete clinic," SPCA chief executive officer Martha Boden said.
Unlike the lofty ambition of offering full-service veterinary care at the St. Petersburg clinic, the mission for the wellness clinic is more modest. The idea is to provide routine services all pets need — shots, deworming, and so forth. No surgery is offered.
Since its June 9 opening, the clinic has served 97 dogs, 47 cats and microchipped one rabbit, said Dr. Rizal Lopez, SPCA senior director for veterinary services. Most of the patients have come from near the shelter, although some have come from the Safety Harbor area. So far, the biggest request is for vaccinations — a rabies shot is $15. But the clinic is also dispensing heartworm and flea preventives and microchipping some animals.
Although the prices are low, the clinic is open to "virtually anybody" regardless of income or location, Lopez said.
In recent years, the SPCA has been accused of abandoning its primary mission of providing a place for stray and abandoned animals.
But Boden said that's not true. This initiative, she said, is in line with the larger goal of making sure animals have forever homes. The SPCA is trying to remove one of the reasons many animals are abandoned — the high cost of care. The theory is that, by making vet care more affordable, more pets will be able to remain with their owners, relieving shelters of the need to house them or euthanize because of the lack of space.
Last year, a total of 25,463 cats, dogs and other pets came into the county's four big shelters, the SPCA, Pinellas County Animal Services, the Humane Society and Pet Pal, according to county records. Of those, 1,810 were euthanized at their owners' request. Another 9,262 were euthanized at one of the shelters. (Pet Pal is a "no kill" shelter.)
"Our goal is to provide more accessible pet wellness care," Boden said. Making it easier for pets to stay in their homes is a benefit to all, she said.
She also rejected the notion that the wellness clinic and the full-service clinic planned for St. Petersburg will prove unpopular with local vets because of lower costs.
Community collaboration is part of the plan, she said. The SPCA will refer any injury, illness or disease to local vets. Clients who do not have a primary veterinary provider will be urged to get one and the SPCA will forward the animal's records to that vet. Records will also be forwarded to the appropriate vet for those who have a regular care specialist.
"We think it's very important that animals get appropriate care," Boden said.
Contact Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.