LARGO — Tens of thousands of animals become lost or homeless every year in Pinellas County, and in many cases there is no happy ending.
SPCA Tampa Bay wants to change that.
The agency announced a comprehensive plan Friday aimed at keeping pets with their families and returning lost ones to their homes.
"There's got to be a better way than we do it now," said Martha Boden, the agency's chief executive officer.
The plan has four main components:
• Opening a general practice veterinary clinic by year's end with payment plans and subsidized options so people won't have to give up pets because they can't afford health care. Also included: a high volume spay-neuter clinic that would be open to all regardless of ability to pay. The goal, Boden said, would be to perform at least 30 surgeries each day. The clinic would help reduce the animal population and reduce shelter stays because animals won't have to wait for surgery.
• Changing the system by which people give up their animals. Currently, pet owners who give up their animals just show up and drop them off. The SPCA wants those people to make appointments so a pet counselor can meet with them and find out why the owner is giving up the animal and provide advice or resources that could avoid the animal's surrender. The new system is scheduled to begin in April. The SPCA will still accept drop-offs.
• Creating a task force to study ways to more quickly and efficiently find and return lost animals to their homes.
• Holding three summits to discuss the problems faced when animals other than cats or dogs need help or homes. One summit will deal with farm animals, such as chickens, horses and pigs. A second with wildlife, such as birds. The third, with exotic species, such as snakes.
Boden said the initiatives are designed to have full collaboration from other rescue groups, such as Pinellas County Animal Services and the Pinellas Humane Society, as well as those who are interested in helping animals.
"This comprehensive, coordinated approach will improve the quality of life and outlook for all animals in the Tampa Bay community, and especially the tens of thousands of pets facing homelessness each year," Boden said.
The SPCA, Animal Services, the Humane Society and Pet Pal Animal Shelter agreed last year to trade data on the number of animals that came through their facilities.
That's the first time, Boden said, Pinellas animal activists have been able to get a handle on the scope of pet homelessness.
Roughly 27,360 animals passed through those four agencies in the 2012 calendar year — about 80 animals a day, she said.
The announcement comes weeks after the SPCA's resources were strained by two separate incidents.
In one case, the SPCA and Animal Services took possession of chickens, ducks, pheasants and pig from a Clearwater couple who were accused of misdemeanor animal abuse charges.
Days before that the SPCA had taken in nearly 300 animals that included hedgehogs, snakes, lizards, gerbils, finches and several dozen rats from an Oldsmar couple accused of animal abuse.
Not only did the seizures strain resources, the SPCA did not have the proper facilities to house the animals.
The pig — and six other stray pigs the agency got last fall — stayed in dog runs for weeks because there was no place for them, Boden said.
The SPCA is not alone. None of the animal rescue agencies in the county have the complete facilities to house and care for some of the animals that get into the system.
The long-term goal is to have a more cohesive system to make sure all animals can get care.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.