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Free emergency veterinary care begins for Southwest Florida pet owners

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Mike Walcher
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People and their pets wait for emergency veterinary care at a clinic set up by the University of Florida. The free clinic is open seven days a week at Terry Park in Fort Myers.

About 20 people and their dogs and cats waited for care at Terry Park in Fort Myers.

Kim Alberto was worried about her nine-year-old Chihuahua mix, named Baby; Alberto said the dog has not been the same since Ian.

"Scratching, itchy, clingy. Normally she isn't at all," Alberto explained. Baby even scratched some of the fur off her back.

Alberto was getting help for Baby at an emergency treatment center, set up and staffed by veterinary services from the University of Florida.

Dr. Lawrence Garcia heads the emergency operation, which brings its own water and power.

"Oh I love it," Dr. Garcia said. "We have veterinary students who are here, seeing these needs in real life. They want to give back to the community, to help."

Dr. Garcia said some pets suffer from treatable allergies and other ailments after a big storm.

"A lot of times the storm kicks up pollens which cause allergies," he said. "We are seeing a lot of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, things along those lines."

Diane Luby is part of Southeast Beagle Rescue, and she brought Mulligan, who has heart problems.

"Seems like the storm exacerbated his symptoms," Luby said. "He lost the use of his back legs."

Luby appreciates the emergency service.

"I'm just grateful for an opinion," she said. "I don't want him to be in any pain. It is absolutely great what they are doing."

Dr. Garcia said his team knows the importance of pets in the lives of so many people.

"It is so rare that you see a dog in the backyard," he said. "They are in the bed! They are companions to people. They are family members. It's like their child."

The UF emergency vet clinic will be open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until local clinics can re-open.

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Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.