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Pet project finds a home

Pet Pal Rescue, a no-kill pet adoption service, will open a homey $1-million shelter in Midtown sometime in May.

Published May 1, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The cats will have 7-foot condos with a view. The dogs will have their own private doors to the world outside.

Windows and skylights will fill their rooms with sunshine. A special fenced-in area will be reserved for playtime. Life will be comfortable at the area's first facility for animals that otherwise might have to be euthanized at crowded pet shelters.

Pet Pal Rescue, a no-kill pet adoption service, expects to officially open its bright yellow $1-million building in mid May at 405 22nd St. S in Midtown. The shelter is designed to make the animals feel at home.

"I'm sure there will be some of them who don't want to leave," said Sandra Rawlins, founder of the unusual pet adoption service.

The new building will be the only animal shelter within St. Petersburg city limits, said Pet Pal executive director Jennifer McCraw. It will concentrate on one aspect of the animal overpopulation problem: sheltering and providing care to animals facing euthanasia in other shelters. For this reason, Pet Pal will not accept stray animals or those owned by private individuals.

The 4,600-square-foot facility will feature 20 kennels, where animals ready for adoption will stay. Another 12 rehabilitation kennels will house dogs that need extra care. Cats that need special attention will be treated in a separate rehabilitation room.

McCraw said she wanted to keep the building small so that she can work one-on-one with each animal. The shelter will house a maximum of 40 dogs and 30 cats.

The individual care and attention the animals receive will make them healthier and happier and more likely to be adopted as pets, McCraw said. Animals that are not caged for long periods of time are typically friendlier than those that spend their days in cages, she said.

The new facility is a dream-come-true for McCraw and Rawlins.

Rawlins started Pet Pal Rescue as an unofficial animal adoption service about 20 years ago in the Orlando area. At that time, she and a friend took in stray cats and dogs and found them homes. After a few years, in 1988, the organization was formalized when it received nonprofit status.

Now, after 17 years of working with animals, Rawlins decided it was time to pass the organization on to McCraw, who had been volunteering with Pet Pal for seven years in Orlando while she was a student at the University of Central Florida.

With the change in management came a change in location. McCraw settled the organization in her hometown of St. Petersburg, where it has been operating for about three years, using foster homes to care for the animals.

McCraw dreamed of building a shelter for the animals, but several people told her she would never be able to, she said. "It's such a huge accomplishment for me, for the animals and for that part of the area," she said. "It's going to be awesome."

Pet Pal has found homes for about 600 pets since it moved to St. Petersburg, McCraw said. She is reluctant to predict the number of animals that will find homes through her organization in the future, as the new shelter is changing the scope of the entire operation.

But she expects the number to be substantially higher than in the past when pets were made available for adoption only on Saturdays. At the new facility, pets will be available for adoption on a daily basis.

"This is going to be a total new ballgame," she said.

Donna Johnson, who is in charge of Pet Pal's marketing, said she hopes that with the new facility, the organization will be able to double the number of animals it successfully places in homes. But she said the organization has a lot of work ahead.

Until the building opens, Pet Pal is conducting adoptions by appointment. It relies on private donations and adoption fees to cover its operating costs, including a fundraiser that was planned for this weekend. Other donations come in the form of adoption fees. Adoption costs typically range from $150 to $200, McCraw said. The fees often do not cover the costs of surgeries or care needed before adoption.

The organization plans to conduct educational programs at area schools to educate students on being responsible pet owners and the importance of spaying and neutering pets to avoid overpopulation.

In special cases other animal facilities refer to Pet Pal. A couple of months ago, for example, a facility asked Pet Pal to find homes for 10 dachshund puppies and five mastiff puppies.

"We found homes for all of them," Johnson said.

For further information, go to the Pet Pal Web site:

Dee MacPherson is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

[Last modified April 30, 2005, 23:59:18]

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