By Jenny Upchurch | March 4, 2011
A free clinic for dogs and cats is opening in East Nashville — but the goal is improving people's health.
"The No. 1 thing I hear is, 'I always drive there because of the dogs. I don't take the stroller out because of the dogs. I have to drive to Shelby (park) to walk because of the dogs," says Jan Morrison of the Highland Heights Neighborhood Association.
"People always say dogs are the reason for their inactivity."
Dogs on the loose have been identified as a real barrier for people to get out and walk, bike or play, said Joe Pinilla of Metro Health Services.
So part of its $7.5 million in federal stimulus money to improve residents' health will fund free vet clinics through March 2012 in targeted areas. Nashville Humane Association got a PetSmart grant to fund the clinics, too.
"Spaying and neutering … reduces animals straying or chasing an animal in heat," said Pinilla, who is heading up the program for Metro Health. "The clinics also help us connect with residents to provide education on responsible pet ownership, leash laws, vet care and spaying and neutering."
Open house today
The first clinics will be in the 37027 ZIP code through March and April. There will be an open house at the clinic at the corner of Richardson Avenue and Dickerson Pike from 1-3 p.m. today.
Teachers often shoo away loose dogs from KIPP Academy on Douglas Avenue as they greet students or dismiss them. No one has been bitten, says school leader Randy Dowell. "It's an annoyance."
Stray dogs often hang around when kids play in their yards or parks. "You see a stray dog and Mom says, 'Come in,' and play is over," Morrison said.
Ben Jordan, who heads up Cleveland Park Neighborhood Association, says Animal Care & Control has improved the situation in the past year by doing enforcement sweeps to catch strays.
But on every street, he said, there is a dog that roams at will, barking at people and digging in yards and gardens.
"The one on our block we call Memphis," Jordan said. "The kids (at a house) have probably adopted him and feed him, but if something comes up that costs money, they say, 'That's not my dog.'
"Now instead of saying, 'You need to get him neutered, get him shots,' we can say, 'Let's take him to the clinic and get him taken care of and it won't cost you a thing.' It's an easy sell."
Highland Heights and Cleveland Park are distributing thousands of fliers to alert residents to the free clinics. There will be a storefront site at 8 Richardson Ave., at the corner of Dickerson Pike, and mobile clinics, at least through April.
The clinics will then move to the Antioch ZIP code, 37013, Pinilla said.
The east Nashville neighborhood associations want to continue free clinics a couple of weeks or weekends each fall and spring. They will look for contributions or grants like the PetSmart program.
Morrison believes the clinic will snowball. "I have a feeling it'll be a trickle at first, then once we get folks in and earn their trust, you'll see more come in. … a big bang now and then a couple times a year."
Contact Jenny Upchurch at 615-726-5970 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.