The Animal Coalition of Tampa is thrilled about getting a brand-new address.
After six years of caring for Tampa Bay’s community of pets and rescued feral cats at its vivid orange-painted location on Lemon Street, ACT has outgrown the small facility and is moving into a larger building just blocks away at 502 Gilchrist Street west of downtown Tampa.
Yet the good news has an unexpected downside.
Now that ACT is relocating and has committed to an expansive facility equipped to meet the needs of the pet community, they’ve learned that the air system in the pet holding rooms needs replacement. The extensive makeover needed to meet city code costs an unplanned $110,000.
The vision of ACT began in 1995 when Linda Hamilton, its executive director, rescued a feral cat she called Blackie. Knowing nothing of the feral population, she went door to door in her neighborhood.
“I knocked on my neighbors’ doors asking ‘is this your cat?’ and they all thought he was mine,” said Linda.
She and husband, Frank trapped the cat and took him to a vet where he was identified as feral.
That peaked the couples curiosity to find out more about the feral population. Interested in helping these animals, Linda, a cat lover, joined Saint Francis Animal Rescue and worked there until 2001.
“We did research before, but for six months in 2001, we did some serious national research and realized it was a national problem,” said Frank, ACT president. “At that time, roughly ten to twelve million animals were going into shelters and about eight million were being euthanized. But there were places that were making a difference. So we said how can we make a difference? We are not vets or a humane society, we are just two citizens – how can we make a difference?”
Inspired by a California feral cat coalition, in 2002 the couple gathered volunteer vets and organized monthly spay days. Their target initially was feral cats. The husband and wife team quickly discovered that the need far exceeded their expectations.
“Overpopulation kills more animals than all other diseases combined. Our little operation has done 10,400 cats in 10 and a half years,” said Frank. “And it’s all volunteers.”
In 2005, at an animal adoption event and a man asked the couple if they could do anything to help the Hillsborough County animal population, what would they do? They initially directed him to volunteer opportunities, but the man repeated the question.
“A light bulb went on,” said Frank. “We’d open a high volume, high quality, spay and neuter clinic. We wanted to offer low-cost, affordable, accessible animal help.”
With seed money provided, in 2006 the couple opened the 2,800 square foot Animal Coalition Spay Neuter Clinic, modeled on Humane Alliance in Ashville, North Carolina with one vet, one vet tech, an administrative person and Linda.
“They were just starting to expand and we were their ninth clinic to be under their expansion plan,” said Frank. “They now have over 100 clinics in the United States and Canada.”
Fast forward six years and ACT has continually expanded from offering affordable spay and neutering to providing cat and dog immunizations and dental care to specialized surgeries and pet flea control and medications.
“When we heard about the wonderful work that ACT did in the Tampa Bay area, we were amazed that there were no strings attached,” said Dorelle Raphael-Fishkin, whose dog was neutered through ACT. “They happily work with anyone who has a dog or cat that needs medical attention. Whenever we call, they are professional, and more importantly, caring both about the pet as well as the family of the pet. They always go above and beyond.”
Now with 49 full-time, part-time and contract employees, the building on Lemon Street can no longer fulfill its purpose. Between services at the clinic and monthly spay days, ACT has performed 62,000 surgeries.
“The running joke is if we hire one more person, we’d have to glue them to the ceiling,” teased Frank. “We have reached capacity.”
The goal was to be live on Aug. 5 in their new 9,900 square foot facility. Unfortunately, the air unit needed is custom-made and takes at least eight weeks to build.
To help offset the unexpected expense, ACT has begun a fun, yet inexpensive fundraising event, 10x10.
The goal of the 10x10 event is to have people gather ten friends to donate ten dollars each and those ten people share with ten of their friends across e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media in hopes of making the affordable fundraiser go viral.
“We really got hit in the gut with this cost,” Linda explained. “Our ultimate goal is raise the $110,000 needed to make the pet holding rooms a comfortable place for our cats and dogs.”
The 10x10 event contributors, fondly named ACTual Angels, will have their family, pet name and photo featured on a special web page that will introduce the new facility and showcase these generous sponsors.
In addition, artist Anna Hamilton, Murals for Mutts, Inc. is creating a beautiful mural as a fundraiser, ART for ACT on the outside walls of the new facility. A portion of $125 received to memorialize a deceased or living pet will return to the foundation. Already in a place of honor in the mural is Linda’s beloved cat Blackie.
“He’s the motivation behind the Animal Coalition,” said Linda, “Blackie opened up a whole new world for me. Without him, I would have never known about the need and the reality.”
To learn more about the Animal Coalition of Tampa, to volunteer or to donate, visit www.actampa.org or email email@example.com. To have your pet memorialized on ACT’s wall, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 727-902-1671.