It’s a terrible choice: feed your child, or feed your dog?
It’s a question one national animal welfare group wants no one in Liberty City, Miami – considered to be one of the most impoverished areas in the state – to ever ask again.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals broke ground recently on the site of its first Community Veterinary Clinic, opening mid-2019, which will offer partially and fully subsidized vet services to county residents and their pets.
The ASPCA matched Miami-Dade County’s $2 million contribution to build the facility and will continue to fund the clinic for at least the next decade, if not longer. This means all services – spay/neuter surgeries, checkups and other routine procedures – will be nearly free for everyone who comes in.
It’s a revolutionary approach to creating a more nuanced definition of what constitutes animal cruelty, the ASPCA said.
Keandra Simmons, Commander of the Miami Police Department, said poverty is not a good indication of whether a person is a good pet owner. Simmons has served on the police force for 14 years and said people in Liberty City are often faced with making difficult choices because they lack resources.
ASPCA CEO Matt Bershadker agrees with Simmons and said poverty forces animal lovers to reconsider what cruelty looks like.
“Is the animal suffering because this pet owner is literally making decisions between feeding their kids, paying their rent and feeding their dog? That’s a very different situation than the guy who picks up his girlfriend’s cat and throws it out the window into traffic,” he said. “When an animal is suffering because people don’t have means, that’s a different story. And if there truly is a commitment to try and care for that animal, we help that individual bridge that gap.”
Bershadker said the project faced almost no opposition.
“Surprisingly, everywhere we’ve tried to do this, people are pretty excited because they understand that when you’re helping pets, you’re helping people, too,” he said.
The ASPCA funds other spay/neuter and mobile clinics nationwide, but the Florida clinic is unique because of all the services it will provide. For now, the facility will only treat dogs and cats, but Bershadker said treating feathered critters might be on the table in the future.
Simmons said she hopes that once the clinic is operational it will offer opportunities for local kids to volunteer their free time to earn service hours and to learn about animal health. She also said there is a large elderly population in the area that will appreciate how accessible the clinic is.
There is a bus stop right in front of what will be the facility’s front door. The clinic will also have a community outreach program to involve residents and hire staff from the area as much as possible.
“I know the importance of having that loved one, having the animal as a comfort. (Animals are) a comfort to the kids, and the area has unfortunately been stricken with a lot of violence so having these different resources to care for the animals can be a bonus to the community overall,” Simmons said.