When the pandemic hit one year ago, the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter was forced to shut down its Healthy Pets For All (HPFA) program, which offered residents free pop-up veterinary clinics.
During the first months of the crisis, the shelter found ways to offer services any way it could, working with animal control officers and veterinary technicians in bringing services directly to vulnerable places, such as homeless encampments and senior communities.
Late last year, HPFA returned when Santa Cruz-based organization Housing Matters allowed it to set up in their parking lot for a pop-up clinic. And in February, they once again began holding regular clinics across the county, with the first two in Watsonville.
Erika Smart, program and development manager at the shelter, said that both of those clinics attracted more than 100 people—twice the amount pre-Covid. The first, held at Friends of the Watsonville Animal Shelter’s Spay and Neuter Clinic on Pennsylvania Drive, saw residents and their pets arriving before 10am, the line stretching around the block.
“We had never seen that before,” Smart said. “I’m still blown away that we were able to help that many people in just a few hours. It really showed me that the need is very high in Watsonville right now. Covid definitely created more of a need.”
Another event on March 22 at the East Lake Animal Clinic drew another 100 residents and their furry family members. In the coming months, more will be held at various locations throughout the county, including Felton on April 16, then back to Santa Cruz, midtown and some senior living facilities.
The next Watsonville clinic is scheduled for June 25.
HPFA began when local veterinarian Dr. Kelly DeBaene formed Santa Cruz Veterinarian Outreach. Eventually it partnered with the shelter, which helped the program fundraise and not have to be entirely dependent on donations. The program is mostly volunteer-led, including volunteer veterinarians, technicians and other qualified individuals.
A recent grant from PetsMart Charities will help HPFA with funding. Smart says that they do their best to help everyone who shows up at the clinics, but everything depends on funds and supplies. The clinics offer wellness exams, crucial vaccines, flea and tick medications, among other things.
“The typical cost for a basic veterinarian appointment is $100 to $200,” Smart explained. “With this program, we aim to provide that service for free.”
People must show proof of residence in Santa Cruz County to be eligible for the clinics. They should also fill out a basic form about any government benefits they are receiving, but no official documentation is required.
“We’re not requiring proof of those benefits or anything,” Smart said. “It’s more of a way to emphasize that these services are meant for low-income families.”
The Watsonville shelter on Airport Boulevard remains closed during Covid-19, but Smart says they hope to reopen in the coming months. Meanwhile, those who are looking to adopt or who have found a stray pet are required to go to the North County shelter at 1001 Rodriguez St., Santa Cruz, which is open daily 10am-6pm. The shelter also offers a Pet Food Pantry.
Smart says they hope to continue HPFA for as long as possible.
“I love this program. It’s something I really look forward to doing every time,” Smart said.
For a full schedule of clinics throughout Santa Cruz County and more information, visit scanimalshelter.org.