Pinellas vet tech program helps shelter animals find homes
LARGO - Thousands of abandoned dogs and cats that will turn up this year at Pinellas County Animal Services are expected to be euthanized. Winston, a pit bull, won’t be one of them, even though he is slowly going blind. He’s going home with Aaron Railey, a student at St. Petersburg College’s School of Veterinary Technology, right next door. Cairo, another pit bull, and Elvis, a black Labrador, have avoided death sentences, too. They will be adopted out of the vet tech school by George Greenlee, an economics professor at the college, and Greenlee’s wife.Since the veterinary technology school opened last August, at 12376 Ulmerton Road,it has become yet another release valve for animals in need of homes. Thirty-seven animals originally deposited at animal services have been adopted directly from the school since it opened last summer, according to Richard Flora, dean of the school. He expects the numbers eventually to be 80 to 100 dogs and 60 cats. Last week, it was the number of animals in the county for whom homes cannot be found that was the topic of conversation, as a group of animal activists persuaded the County Commission to consider requiring pet owners to spay or neuter their cats and dogs. The proposal implicitly raises a question: How many unwanted animals that turn up at Animal Services are adopted, and how many die? And what efforts are made to find the animals homes? In 2012, 1,579 dogs were adopted, while 1,595 were euthanized, said Caroline Thomas, Animal Services’ director of veterinary services. The breakdown for cats: 3,228 adopted, 4,927 euthanized. Typically the animals not placed have behavioral problems – they’re too territorial about their food or a toy – or they have considerable health problems, such as a skin allergy, that a run-of-the mill pet owner can’t afford to address, Thomas said. A healthy dog that does not pose a public safety risk is not euthanized, said Maureen Freaney, the newly named Animal Services director. The staff will even make an effort to find the dog a temporary foster home if it begins to get a little cabin fever staying in its cage. Most of the dogs adopted are done so at Animal Services, with prospective pet owners walking in and picking one out, Thomas said. Rescue groups for particular breeds, such as Labradors, golden retrievers and poodles also help. Cats are typically adopted through a pet store partnership, with PetSmart, Petco and Animal House taking some felines off the county’s hands. The arrangement with the school of veterinary technology is a relatively new one. When the school was housed with the college’s other health-related programs in Pinellas Park, it didn’t bother taking in any animals from Animal Services because, among other things, the agency was too far away, Flora said. Now that it’s next door, the school takes ownership of dozens of prospective pets, with students learning through hands-on experience, Flora said. The ones the school gets are typically prescreened at Animal Services for behavioral and medical issues, he said. At the school, students learn how to clean their new charges’ teeth, take blood samples, X-ray them, catheterize them, socialize them and anesthetize them, Flora said. In fact, because of the hands-on training, the U.S. Department of Agriculture treats the school as if it were an animal research facility and inspects the establishment yearly. At any one time, there are 24 dogs on site and 24 cats, Flora said. Sometimes, if an animal has a considerable medical issue, one of the school’s five veterinarians addresses it before the animal is adopted. For instance, Elvis had inward-directed eyelashes that were scraping against his eyeballs; that issue was corrected before the Greenlees agreed to adopt him. After they are used for instruction, most of the animals are adopted directly from the school. There’s a rotating electronic sign outside advertising five animals to passing motorists, but many are adopted by instructors, students or staff members at the college.
Another 30 animals used at the school are returned to Animal Services, and those, too, are adopted, said Thomas.