A Better City for Pets…Officially – Key West Awarded Animal Friendly Designation - A dog wearing a red hat and looking at the camera - French Bulldog
Nick Doll’s colorful pet portraits show pets at their best. Get yours on September 14. NICK DOLL/Contributed

Welcomed by a cacophony of woofs and howls, Mayor Johnston stepped into the Key West SPCA building on Friday, August 9 to accept the Mars Petcare Program Better Cities Award. The designation, which recognizes communities making exceptional efforts to accommodate pet owners, is not given lightly. To date, only 25 cities have earned the distinction.

Johnston, joined by Commissioners Greg Davila, Mary Lou Hoover, Sam Kaufman and Clayton Lopez, thanked the entire city for its hard work on the issue, which she recognizes as an intentional effort. “We plan and legislate to be a pet friendly city,” said Johnston, “I, as mayor, and all of the commissioners that are with us today certainly commit to enhancing Key West as pet friendly city. We love our pets. We commit to you, we are going to do more and more as the years go on.”

Of course, Key West has already started down a positive path. With the completion of the Truman Waterfront Park, renovation projects in other parks, and the creation of two dedicated dog parks, the city is providing plenty of romping stomping ground for its canine friends. In terms of policy efforts, Johnston referenced the construction of 103 work force housing units being built just down the street from the shelter on College Road. Those units carry an important marker of equitable housing—they will all be pet-friendly. 

The Better Cities for Pets program evaluates cities based on four categories—shelters, homes, businesses, and parks. Johnston spoke about homes and parks while standing in the gorgeous new SPCA shelter. The only category left was pet-friendly businesses, which on this island, nearly goes without saying. It’s a fair bet that most residents have downed a cold beer next to a dog perched on a bar stool or found a cat lazing in a store in Old Town. Key West’s businesses, shelters, parks and homes show the city’s love for animals.

To contradict the Beatles (though sacrilegious!), love isn’t all you need. A city needs money in order to execute socially responsible policy. Jubi Arriola-Headley, who thanked the city on behalf of The United States Conference of Mayors, acknowledged the importance of awards such as this to a city like Key West, which faces socio-economic issues such as a shortage of affordable housing and a heightened cost of living. 

US Conference of Mayors representative Jubi Arriola-Headley, Commissioner Sam Kaufman, Mars Petcare representative Mercedes, Mayor Teri Johnston, Commissioner Clayton Lopez, Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover and Commissioner Greg Davila accept the Better City for Pets Award. ERIN STOVER SICKMEN/Keys Weekly

“In evaluating dozens of cities, we look to see where is the best bang for our buck,” he said. “The judges were impressed with the notion that someone would try to underwrite the costs of important and innovative services for people who have pets. Affordability is a real issue. We want to help people at all income levels keep their pets and care for their pets.” 

One of the programs Arriola-Headley alluded to is the FKSPCA Spay and Neuter Clinic, which is 100% donor funded. The clinic ensures that every adopted animal is altered before going home, making an exponential difference for years to come. The clinic doesn’t end with shelter pets though. Community members may bring their animals, or feral cats, for low (or no) cost surgeries. The SPCA also offers behavior counseling, emergency pet boarding for individuals confronted with hospitalization or domestic abuse situations, and end of life services—a wealth of assistance for any community member who may need an extra hand to keep their pet happy and healthy.

In addition to awards like Better Cities, the FKSPCA is also an innovative fundraising machine. Each month there are local ‘yappy hours’, where Key Westers can support the shelter for the cost of a drink. On August 17th, both the Key West and Marathon campuses have planned a Clear the Shelter event. The goal is straightforward, albeit ambitious. Find a home for every pet. In order to make that happen, the campuses are waiving all adoption fees. It’s the perfect day to make a new lifetime friend. Those not in the position to adopt though can still enjoy kids’ activities, door prizes and ‘Kiss-A-Bull’ Booths, where shelter favorites spend their day trading sloppy smooches for donations. 

Next month offers what is arguably the year’s best named event, the 5th annual Spayghetti and No Balls Dinner at La Trattoria Oceanside. Tickets to the multi course Italian dinner (with vegetarian option) benefits the Clinic Fund and include a welcome drink, live entertainment, a silent auction and 50/50 raffle. The Dogwood Foundation has also come on board for the Clinic, offering a $50,000 match for the month of September, essentially doubling any donation made at the dinner. 

The FKSPCA has mastered the art of providing something for everybody. For those who can’t adopt or don’t do carbs (who are you people?!), there’s another creative way to give in the coming months. Local photographer Nick Doll has been donating his time providing professional photographs of shelter dogs. In September, he ups the ante by offering Photos for Fido, a pet portrait shoot that contributes every dime to the FKSPCA. Pet owners can bring in their best friends for the glamour treatment they deserve. Doll will set colorful backdrops and work through his memory cards to catch the perfect image. A $50 donation gets a professional photo session, where Fido gets to feel like Beyoncé, and a finished product of 10 edited, high quality files of the fashionista at their colorful best.

It’s not hard to remember why we need to give back to the animals in our community. Mayor Johnston stressed the importance of pets, “remembering what pets do for us— they reduce loneliness and isolation and reduce depression and anxiety. In a community that’s considered a party town, it’s really important that we have pets. We have one of the highest suicide rates of a community our size, so it’s one of the things we take very seriously. It’s also one of the only ways that many of us get any exercise all day long. I roll out of the door at about 4:30 a.m., and believe me, those few blocks walks are about all I get.” 

While fundraisers and mayoral speeches rightly tout the elements of housing, shelter, health and safety as being of the utmost importance for pets, it’s important to retain the fun quotient. Of course, Key West proves once again that enjoyment lands near the top of the pet priority list. Beyond the upcoming fundraisers, Mayor Johnston reminded those gathered at the award ceremony to come out for events like the New Year’s Dachshund Parade (and Chihuahua takeover) and the upcoming Fantasy Fest Pet Masquerade, which, during a week of debaucherous events, thankfully features only minimal (animal) nudity.

This attendee perks up as Mayor Teri Johnston thanks Mars Petcare, the FKSPCA and the City of Key West for its support in making the island a “Better City for Pets.” ERIN STOVER SICKMEN/Keys Weekly

Upcoming FKSPCA Events

Spayghetti and No Balls Dinner
La Trattoria Oceanside
3593 S Roosevelt Blvd
Wednesday, September 18
6:00—9:30 p.m.
$75 donation

Photos for Fido
Key West SPCA
5711 College Rd
Saturday, September 14
10:00 a.m.—2:00 p.m.
[email protected] or 305-294-4857 for appt
$50 donation

Clear the Shelters
FKSPCA Key West: 5711 College Rd
FKSPCA Marathon: 10550 Aviation Blvd
Saturday, August 17
10:00 a.m. — 6:00p.m.
all adoption fees waived

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