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  • Tara Crutchfield

SPCA Florida to Open New Surgery Center

Lakeland-based nonprofit SPCA Florida is abuzz with construction, renovations, and new programs to better care for the cats and dogs that come into their facility. According to SPCA Florida Executive Director Shelley Thayer, these improvements are made possible through community generosity and participation.

SPCA Florida is a nonprofit organization founded in 1979. This no-kill shelter “exists to eliminate animal suffering and to engage the entire community in the welfare and well-being of animals. We accomplish this by advancing model programs to promote the adoption of healthy animals, prevent dog and cat overpopulation, provide veterinary medical services for animals in the community, and keep animals in homes through relinquishment intervention strategies,” according to their mission statement.

Last year, SPCA Florida saved 4,282 lives and performed 4,523 spay/neuter surgeries. The nonprofit’s Annual Save Rate for dogs and cats combined has risen from 92% in 2019, 94% in 2020, to 96% in 2021.


April 9, 2022, was the end of a chapter for SPCA Florida. It marked the 30th and final Walk for the Animals, a fundraising event that raised over $90,000 this year. Though this was the final Walk for the Animals, the organization isn’t closing the book, just flipping the page to new programs.

Smokepoint Rock for Paws, another SPCA Florida fundraiser, is coming up this month on May 14. The event held at Nora Mayo Hall in Winter Haven will benefit one such new program, SPCA Florida’s Emergency Response Team, FL SARC. The event promises live music and a raffle with prizes from an electric guitar and amp package to a full-size complete drum kit and more.

FL SARC (Florida State Animal Rescue Coalition) is a ten-year old nonprofit brought onboard by SPCA Florida last year. The only FEMA-approved nonprofit volunteer training organization in the United States, FL SARC’s mission is dedicated to disaster mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery for emergencies involving companion animals. “Last year, we deployed three teams to Louisiana to help the animals there. We’ve also transported animals for other organizations to get them out of harm’s way,” said Thayer.

“The goal this year is to train another 450 people for boots on the ground training for these disasters,” said Thayer of their aim to train state volunteers along with 25 certified trainers in 2022.

Another of the nonprofit’s current efforts is SNAP (Spay-Neuter Assistance Program), which has the goal of spaying and neutering 3,350 community and personally owned cats. “This effort will reduce our county’s euthanasia rate by reducing unwanted births,” according to SPCA Florida’s 2021 Annual Report.

To meet this goal, SPCA Florida has a brand new surgery center under construction on the Adoption Center side of their complex. The project looks to be completed by mid-May.

“When I first got here, all the animals from the Adoption Center would go through our hospital. It didn’t leave very much room for the public,” said executive director Shelley Thayer. For the last two years, SPCA Adoption Center veterinary staff have been working out of a borrowed trailer to spay and neuter, performing surgeries on around 5,000 animals in the tiny space.

“Finally, we’re building our own surgery center in the adoption area so that we can do dental for the first time ever on all of our cats and dogs, and we can spay and neuter more animals than we’ve ever done before,” she said. “It frees up our trailer to help people with their personal pets to do free and low-cost spay and neuter.” Three donors have committed $500 each to wrap the trailer’s exterior with pictures of pets, similar to SPCA Florida’s transport vans. They need seven more donors.

“We’re really excited about being able to do both. Being able to help the public more than we have in the past, which also helps Animal Control with not so many animals coming in, and then people maybe not having the funds to get their animals spayed or neutered – this will be a blessing to them.”

Thayer praised SPCA Florida Adoption Center Veterinarian Dr. Robyn Barton, calling her a “godsend.” “She’s the best shelter vet I’ve ever met. We’re lucky to have her here in Polk County,” Thayer said. “She was determined to get them all done on this trailer, and she has.”

Barton’s efforts will soon be rewarded with the addition of the spacious new surgery center, complete with a prep area, two surgery tables overlooking large windows, a washer and dryer, a dentistry area, a pharmacy, and more.

With kitten and puppy season shortly upon them, SPCA Florida aims to mitigate unwanted litters by spaying and neutering as many animals as possible. “This opens a whole new world for our community,” Thayer said of the surgery center. “We’ll be able to save a couple more thousand cats and dogs a year because of it.”

“This is all through the generosity of people. It’s all donations,” said the SPCA Florida executive director. “You can see from the trailer, to this, how excited everybody is to be able to work in this space and how much more we’ll be able to do.” Additionally, SPCA Florida became a training center for Lincoln Memorial University and Ross University students in their final year of veterinarian training. Thayer noted that the organization is also working with Hillsborough Community College for CVT (Certified Veterinary Technician) training, students who will also be able to assist in the new surgery center.


Construction on the surgery center isn’t the only renovation set to take place (or already in motion) at the SPCA. Adjacent to the surgery center will be two new puppy pens and a “working cat” adoption pen. “Having a place for the puppies is important because when they’re little, their feet can’t touch the ground because they haven’t had all their vaccines. Having the puppy pens that we’re going to build out here will be great because they’ll be able to go outside and get fresh air and play,” said Thayer.

The nonprofit is soon to replace its flooring with poured epoxy and move its laundry facilities to a separate building outside to reduce the risk of a dryer fire. It will be adding industrial washers and dryers for the first time.

They recently refreshed their canine area with new grass and a widened walking trail. “We’ve been working with a group out of Tampa as their corporate project to help us clear our walking trail,” said Thayer. The trail is a loop through the woods (where it is considerably cooler), along which there are three pens to work on basic skills with adoptable pups. The same group helping to widen the trails, CAPTRUST, will be returning to help install benches around the area. “It’s projects like that – the community working together – that help make things nicer,” Thayer said.

SPCA Florida’s most significant need is financial support for medical care. Aside from that, the executive director would love to have a garden club to take care of lawn maintenance and keep the facility looking nice. Those looking to help SPCA Florida in their mission to save animals can sign up for a Doggie Date which often results in adoptions through their interactions around town, or consider shopping for your own dog or cat at their store. Located at the front of the Adoption Center, the store offers various toys, leashes, collars, pet clothes, treats, and the like at discounted prices — purchases from the store benefit SPCA Florida.

From those contributing to programs like SNAP and FL SARC, donating supplies and food and funds, to volunteers, Shelley Thayer says, “It’s everybody working together” that makes their mission possible.

SPCA Florida

5850 Brannen Rd S, Lakeland

(863) 646-7722

FB @SPCAFlorida

IG @spca_florida

Photography by Amy Sexson


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