Every other Tuesday Mr. King is carried into a clinic wrapped in his mother’s warm arms to receive the health care he needs.
Twice a month, the chihuahua is pampered like royalty at the St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic — for free.
He is oblivious to the fact that his owner, Larneice Williams, is unemployed, disabled and lacks the economic means to provide him with health insurance.
St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic provides homeless, low-income and recently unemployed pet owners in Alachua County with free primary, non-emergency veterinary care for their companions.
One of the co-founders of the pet clinic and the University of Florida’s outgoing First Lady, Chris Machen said she has seen a difference in many pets as soon as they walk through the clinic’s doors.
“As soon as we start to feed them good food, within several weeks they have gained weight and their fur is better,” Machen said.
The majority of the pet food the clinic gives away to homeless or needy animals is donated from a manufacturer in Tampa. However, with colder weather approaching, food and medicine are not the only items these homeless pets will need.
Homeless shelters do not allow pets inside unless they are registered as service dogs, forcing pet owners and their pets to have to stay outside and endure all kinds of weather.
However, Machen said the clinic is collecting blankets, jackets and similar clothing to keep the homeless and their pets warm.
Dale Kaplan-Stein, a veterinarian and co-founder of the St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic, said she has never heard of any other place that provides this type of care for needy pets.
“This is the only program that I know of in the country,” she said. “I would like to be disproven because I would like to know there are more places where care like this is given to pets who otherwise wouldn’t get it.”
Kaplan-Stein said over the past nine years, she has noticed a trend in the lack of health care education in pet owners.
“When I asked them what is the average life of their pets, dogs in this case, most of them would say three years,” Kaplan-Stein said. “They were surprised to learn that dogs can live to 15 years.”
Kaplan-Stein said this is mainly because they do not have access to professionals who can educate them on how to take care of their animals.
One of the clinic’s primary goals is to educate people through counseling on the importance of nutrition, daily care, and the monthly necessities pets require.
Williams said she started coming to the St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic seven years ago. Before Mr. King, she had a dog named Laila, who she would bring into the clinic after she became unemployed. She said she is thankful for the St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic staff, who are lending a hand during a her financial difficulties.
“As long as I was able to work and take care of her, I did,” Williams said. “You know, it’s really expensive. So when you find someone that can do the same thing when you don’t have your job anymore and you are disabled…I am grateful.”
“He gets his shots, paws clipped, love and care every time he comes here. If he needs medication, they make sure he has it,” she said. “This whole team here loves Mr. King, and Mr. King loves them too.”
St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic provides medical care to animals every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon. The clinic is located at 501 SE 2nd St. You can contact them at 352-372-4959 or at www.stfrancispetcare.org.