Carmen Lucena laid a purple towel across the examination table at Manatee County Animal Services as she prepared to examine a 3-month-old kitten.
“Really bad conjunctivitis in right eye,” Lucena said as she put antibiotic eye drops in the nameless kitten’s eye. “Two times a day for seven to 10 days.”
Before Sept. 7 when Lucena started as the first Animal Services veterinarian, animals had to be transported from the Palmetto shelter, 305 25th St. W., to receive veterinary care.
“It is really exciting for me because, of course, I’m making history here in Manatee County,” said Lucena, who has lived in Manatee County for 26 years. “It is exciting because also the staff is really motivated, and they have been wanting to have a veterinarian, and the goal is to assist these pets — dogs and cats — on a more efficient way and immediately when they become sick or injured.”
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The first vet based at Animal Services said equipment has yet to arrive to equip the surgery room and different medications will be ordered to provide “full operating veterinarian services.”
It is really exciting for me because of course, I’m making history here in Manatee County.
Carmen Lucena, Manatee County Animal Services vet
“Most of the medications are tablets or oral medications,” she said. “They are no injectable medications, and now that I am here we can order injectable medications that have a faster onset of action.”
Sarah Brown, Animal Services chief, said she couldn’t even express how excited she is to have an on-site vet.
“I am super excited because this gives us the ability to give our animals immediate care,” Brown said. “The additional care animals will receive is really exciting.”
Difference between shelter medicine and private practice
For Lucena, who was born in Puerto Rico and went to veterinary school at Ohio State University, the first week was spent adjusting to the routine because shelter medicine is different than the small-animal practice where she was previously.
“It is very different,” Lucena said. “I’m learning, getting to get familiarized with how they operate here. They are really motivated. They are happy to have a vet.”
At private practices, animals are typically well-taken care of, and vets see one pet at a time, Lucena said.
“Here at shelter medicine most of these dogs and cats are neglected,” she said. “They never have any veterinarian care. They have behavioral issues or they have been abandoned, so a lot of them come from different backgrounds so behavioral issues are a major factor because they are not used to being handled by a vet.”
With more than 300 animals at Animal Services, the sheer volume of animals that must been seen is also different in shelters, Lucena said.
“Instead of seeing, you know, a patient at a time, you are maybe having a bunch of patients,” she said. “The population, geographics, lack of preventative medicine, behavior issues, the risk of us getting communicable diseases is greater, and again you are not just treating one dog, you are treating a lot and then the economics also plays a factor. We have to use our resources more effectively.”
Maintaining a no-kill shelter
As a no-kill shelter, Animal Services is “booked to capacity,” Lucena said.
“We want to minimize that and expand the adoption rate to good homes,” she said.
While animals with severe medical issues or bad aggression may be humanely euthanized, adoptions must be promoted, Lucena said.
“Instead of killing a pet that might have adoptable probabilities, we like to have that pet have a chance to go to a good home,” she said.
Public education, as well as increasing the adoption rate, are priorities for Lucena.
“We are going to be more involved with the public in Manatee County to attract more adoptions, and basically public education. I like to have a good owner educated because no free dog or free cat is a free lunch,” she said. “With that comes ownership responsibility that many people don’t know or realize, so I think educating the public would be a good thing to help us accomplish our goal.”