ANTIOCH (KPIX 5) The SPCA says about 6.5 million animals end up in shelters every year in the U.S., and about a quarter of them are euthanized. But this week's Jefferson Award winner is trying to change those staggering numbers by keeping cats and dogs from ending up in local shelters.
At a monthly pet clinic, cats and dogs get a month's supply of donated food. Plus, they receive basic, free or low-cost, medical services at Furry Friends Pet Relief in Antioch. Veterinary technician Erin Piña founded the 4-year-old nonprofit for low income and homeless people in the East Bay.
So far, Furry Friends has served more than 3,000 dogs and cats belonging to more than 1,500 people in Contra Costa County and its neighboring communities.
"They stay in the homes where they are loved, and they have the basic medical needs to help them stay healthy," said Piña.
So cancer survivor Linda Nelson can focus on paying her medical bills and not have to worry about her pooches, Miss Lala and Jeremiah.
"It's compassion that you feel here," Nelson said.
And Mark Fox, who's homeless, can keep his 8-year-old dog, Baby. Mark says while he knows Baby cannot receive vaccinations while pregnant, he regularly receives free food from Piña. The food food helps him keep Baby healthy.
"She's gonna have little pups. I can't afford to pay for it all," Fox said.
"We definitely want to make sure the homeless people are able to keep their pets with them," Piña explained, "because sometimes it's the only thing they have left."
And that's why Piña documents their pet vaccinations.
"They can prove they have a rabies vaccine. That way their dog won't get impounded," she explained.
Outside of the clinic, Piña has rescued pets in emergencies. She worked in the burn unit at the Sonoma County Animal Shelter during last year's Santa Rosa fires. She also speaks to schools and community groups about proper animal care. And Piña organizes fundraisers like car shows to pay for Furry Friends services and supplies.
She inspires her volunteers, like vet tech Michelle Roi-Gaboda.
"She's a great vet tech, a good mother, a good friend, will do anything at the drop of a hat to help save an animal," Roi-Gaboda said.
And Pina is committed to the cause. She co-founded a previous pet rescue in 2012 that is still going strong and she assisted in co-founding yet another pet rescue in 2010. But it's Furry Friends that has captured Piña's time and heart. Piña and her volunteers also rescue pets if an owner is overwhelmed.
"We take in dogs from families that are over their limit in pets, or ones that reach out to us that may be going to the shelters," explained Piña. "We get all pets in the house fixed and rehome all but a select few that the family keeps. We put them in foster homes and do reference checks on new potential adopters, home inspections, multiple meet and greets with pets and family members to try and ensure that it's a forever home."
It's a big undertaking, and Piña says there are more animals that need homes than she can possibly help. So, pet population control has become an important part of Piña's mission.
The nonprofit refers people to a vet clinic in Tracy for spay and neutering. But transferring homeless animals can be problematic for owners, so Piña would like to get a specially equipped van. Volunteers would then be able to bring those services directly into low-income neighborhoods.
And since many of the services Furry Friends offers are low cost, or free, Piña is quick to point out Furry Friends depends entirely on donations to stay afloat. The organization always needs collars, leashes, and toys that are new or in very good condition. Food donations are also welcome, especially canned food, which Piña says can go fast.
And Piña also recognizes community access is important so Furry Friends is open most weekday afternoons from 1-5pm for non-veterinary services like free pet food, flea treatment, and spay and neuter appointments. Vaccinations for rabies are just $7. A nail trim or a de-worming is $10. And a microchip is just $15. Clients can choose to bundle all of these services for $58. And that is a bargain: most vets charge $40-$60 just for an office visit.
Furry Friends' next fundraiser will be on May 31 at the Bridgehead Cafe in Antioch. It's full spaghetti dinner.
So for supplying free food and basic medical needs to keep dogs and cats with their owners and out of East Bay shelters, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Erin Piña.
for more features.