WATERVILLE — Dogs and cats and their owners took over the American Legion Hall Saturday for a free pet wellness clinic put on as part of a program aimed at helping low-income residents keep their animals healthy.

Dozens of dogs of every size, shape and color waited next to cats inside of animal crates stacked on one another on the floor of the hall.

Lisa Smith needed help to bring in crates carrying her three house cats, Smoky, Gandalf and Shadow. Her cats aren’t up to date on their shots, and even though they don’t go outside her Burleigh Street apartment, Smith is concerned that one of the bats that occasionally gets into the building could infect her pets with rabies.

“That’s the only thing I really worry about,” Smith said.

Like others at the clinic, Smith said she has a hard time coming up with the money to keep her cats up to date on their shots or get regular check-ups at a vet. She is disabled and relies on Social Security payments to make ends meet, she said. Just scheduling a visit to the veterinary office costs $45, and after shots and other treatments, she’s looking at at least $90 per cat, more than she can afford. As a result, some of her cats haven’t had their required shots for years.

The Humane Society Waterville Area, along with partners including the Topsham-based Community Spay-Neuter Clinic, are working to help pet owners like Smith through the Poeple-Animals Together, or PAT, project funded through a grant from PetSmart Charities.

The year-long program will provide up to 500 free spay-neuter surgeries and other health services to residents in Waterville’s poorest neighborhoods. Organizers know that as much as people love their pets, their animals have never been spayed or neutered, and some may never have been to a veterinarian’s office. That leaves the city with an overpopulation problem, especially with cats and kittens. But it can also mean that the beloved family pet isn’t getting the healthcare it needs.

The PAT program is modeled on a strategy introduced by the Humane Society of the United States, where volunteers get out into lower-income communities to connect with pet owners and help them get health care for their animals.

An hour after the clinic opened Saturday morning, veterinarians Elizabeth Stone and Matthew Townsend were already hard at work doling out rabies and distemper vaccines and flea and parasite treatments to pets from a station near the entrance. A long line of pets and their owners snaked along the wall, and the air was filled with barks, whines and panting from the dozens of dogs and some mewling cats peering out from the doors of their crates.

PAT outreach coordinator Joann Brizendine said that by the end of the clinic at 3 p.m., the vets had seen more than 100 pets, and 45 people had signed up to have their pets taken to the Topsham spay-neuter clinic Stone runs.

“I think it was a very good turnout,” Brizendine said. The group had only six weeks to let pet owners know about the event and asked business owners to help them out handing out fliers to pet owners. PAT is planning another clinic in the spring, Brizendine added.

Tammy Hardy, of King Street, in the South End, waited in line with her two pugs, Abbi and Blaze, on Saturday morning. Hardy said she works hard to keep her dogs healthy and up to date on their shots, but money is tight and it can be a struggle to pay for things like worm and flea treatments.

“We have to save for a while to make sure they have their shots, but they are our babies and we love them, and we do what we have to do,” Hardy said.

Having access to a free health clinic was “a godsend,” Hardy said. She knows plenty of friends and neighbors who also have trouble paying for pet health.

“They don’t want to get rid of their animals because they love them,” Hardy said.

“I couldn’t live without my animals. I’d go crazy,” she added.

The name of the program, People-Animals Together, has been corrected in this story.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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