Free clinic in Florida

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Dr. Dale Kaplan-Stein owns two private practices in Gainesville, Fla., and she also is a founder of the free St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic.

“Everybody in Gainesville was scared to death that this clinic would take from their hospitals,” she said. “I told veterinarians, I’m not going to let that happen. I’m not going to be seeing your clients who should be going to you.”

Dr. Kaplan-Stein worked with local animal advocate Chris Machen and Dr. Natalie Isaza, clinical associate professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida, to open the nonprofit clinic five years ago in conjunction with a homeless shelter, St. Francis House. Once a week, the clinic provides free veterinary services for the poor.

The clinic screens clients for economic eligibility. Dr. Kaplan-Stein said the clientele includes the homeless, the mentally ill, veterans, the elderly, families of very low income, and even former clients of her private practices who fell on hard times.

The St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic provides free veterinary services for the poor, one day a week out of a small building in Gainesville, Fla. (Courtesy of Dr. Dale Kaplan-Stein)

“The fact is poor people own pets,” Dr. Kaplan-Stein said. “So does that mean that pet shouldn’t get any care?”

Dr. Isaza, who is also president of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, brings veterinary students to the clinic to examine patients. The students also spay and neuter some of the patients back at the veterinary college.

Referring to the college’s regular patients, Dr. Isaza tells students: “What you see here at the vet school is just a tiny, tiny percentage of the actual animal-owning public. There are rural and poor areas in the South where animals never go to the veterinarian.”

St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic has had to screen out some clients who tried to take advantage of free veterinary services without being economically eligible, Dr. Isaza said. She said the clinic can’t keep up with the clients who do qualify, even though the clinic limits its clientele to a single county.