St. Catherine of Siena hosts free vaccine clinic

LANCASTER—A healthier future is in the cards for 248 lucky cats and dogs whose owners brought them to a free vaccination clinic offered July 8 at St. Catherine of Siena Church.

The clinic was part of an effort to have more pets in the area vaccinated after a distemper outbreak struck dogs at the Lancaster County Animal Shelter back in April. That shelter was temporarily shut down and the dogs had to be quarantined. Thankfully all recovered.

Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease that strikes the gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous system in dogs. If not treated, it is often fatal.

The clinic was sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States.

“The distemper outbreak at the shelter really showed how important it is for pets to be vaccinated,” said Kim Kelly, director of the South Carolina chapter of the U.S. Humane Society.

“We knew there was a problem in the community so we wanted to organize the clinic for people whose pets had not been vaccinated for whatever reason,” she said.

Kelly said free clinics like the one held at St. Catherine are vital for people who either have trouble affording vaccines for their pets or finding transportation to vet offices.

The church was suggested as an option because of its central location in Lancaster, and Father Javier Heredia, parish administrator, gave his permission.

The office manager, Janet Sciulli, set to work organizing volunteers to help out with the clinic, which was originally supposed to run from noon to 2:30 p.m. So many people turned out that it ended up lasting until 4:30 p.m., Kelly said.

“One of the greatest indications of how great the need was for this service is that many people willingly stood in line for hours in the heat,” she said.

Dr. Greg Brown, a veterinarian from Columbia, offered his services for free. Dogs were vaccinated for rabies and distemper, and cats received vaccines for rabies and feline panleukopenia, a disease with symptoms similar to distemper.

Sciulli said the vet not only provided the vaccinations, but also performed deworming and other treatments that some of the pets needed. A couple of dogs became overheated while waiting outside and Brown also took care of them.

The clinic drew pet owners of all ages, ranging from families with small children to senior citizens. Some people brought one animal, others brought several.

Sciulli said parish volunteers worked hard to keep things organized and running smoothly, handing out water to people and their pets when the heat was too much.

“Some of the people that came with their animals also helped out with everything from crowd control to parking,” she said. “Everybody stepped up and made it a nice smooth day. I definitely think it helped fill a need in the community, and it also helped boost St. Catherine of Siena’s presence in the community.”

Kelly urges people who need help paying for vaccinations for their pets to contact their local animal shelters or rescue organizations to learn about other free clinics that might be going on in their areas or services that offer pet health care for a reduced price.

Photo provided: A couple waits in line with their dog at St. Catherine of Siena Church.