St. Francis Pet Clinic will expand services to pets of people in need

When two veterinarians and an animal lover first began caring for pets one day a week in a somewhat chaotic closet-sized room at the St. Francis House homeless shelter in 2007, they weren’t sure what they were getting into.

Soon, they will be getting into a new building of their own that will allow St. Francis Pet Care to expand the services it offers to pet owners who are homeless, low income or veterans in supportive housing.

Chris Machen, who co-founded the clinic with veterinarians Dale Kaplan-Stein and Natalie Isaza, can’t wait.

“Never in a million years did I think we’d be where we are now. It was Dale’s idea and we tried to figure out how to even start it,” said Machen. “What I really wanted was a community feel. We’ve got it. So many of our clients have been with us for so long. We’ve seen them when they had to put one down and when they got a new one. It’s just been amazing.”

St. Francis Pet Care launched in September 2007. Kaplan-Stein is a private-practice veterinarian and Isaza is a UF College of Veterinary Medicine professor and director of the shelter medicine program.

The new building will be directly behind the homeless shelter, 413 S. Main St. The clinic is now in a nearby building to which it moved after the shelter said it needed the room in which the clinic operated.

It currently treats patients weekly on Tuesdays and is staffed by volunteers, including veterinary students. Hours will likely be expanded when the new building opens.

Monthly clinics are held at the SWAG Family Resource Center in southwest Gainesville and at Grace Marketplace/Dignity Village.

Services include exams, treatment, consultations, flea and tick prevention, vaccinations and microchipping.

St. Francis Pet Care treasurer Galey Gravenstein said the new building will be about 2,100 square feet. The main area will have six examination stations. The building will also have three private rooms — one of which will be primarily for cats and the other two for dogs that may be aggressive toward other dogs.

It will also have an operating room for spaying and neutering, which is required to be in the program, and other minor surgeries including dental work. Currently UF is paid by the clinic to spay and neuter pets.

“We started out with one client and now we have 800 pets and 600 people in the program. We are just coming out of the seams,” Gravenstein said. “We are hoping to get in by sometime in September. I cannot tell you how important this is. We need to expand hours.”

Isaza said the goal is to open it two or three days a week. That would give pet owners more flexibility on when to come and will be less stressful for pets and thier people.

Much of the design and construction will be donated by professionals — architect Joe Walker designed it, Robert Walpole of CHW engineered it and Charles Perry Partners will build it. Also the Florida Lawn and Nursery Growers Association is donating the landscape plan and irrigation, and Ridgway Truss has donated the trusses and installation.

PetSmart Charities made donations for the building and is outfitting one of the rooms.

Machen said the new building will have a different feel to it, but will be better. She added the clinic hopes the building will be in use everyday, possibly even for human health care.

Meanwhile, Isaza said the building will be worth the wait.

"It's an amazing thing. I remember when we started and it was in a back closet and now we are about to actually have our own building," Isaza said. "It's been 10 years but to get it is really good."