Before the gymnasium doors were even opened at 9 a.m., a long and noisy line was already winding its way through the parking lot and down Cannon Street. Scattered down the line were large, fluffy golden retrievers, stout bulldogs, and Yorkshire terriers bundled up in knit sweaters. Most hugged close to their owners while taking in all the sights and smells around them.

On Saturday, Feb. 3, the Lewis and Clark Humane Society held its first low cost vaccine and microchip clinic. The clinic was held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Helena Indian Alliance and upwards of 300 people attended with their pets in tow.

According to Kelsee Dalton, development director for LCHS, the ultimate goal of the clinic was to provide vaccination services to people wanting to be responsible pet owners but who might otherwise be unable to afford the proper vaccinations.

“There’s a great need for this service right now,” said Dalton. “We’ve seen a recent increase in the number of animals coming to the shelter that haven’t received any vaccinations.”

Saturday’s clinic offered four different vaccines for cats and dogs. The rabies vaccine was available for both dogs and cats while feline distemper (FVRCP) was additionally available for cats and canine distemper (DA2PPV) and Bordatella (kennel cough) were available for dogs. The cost was $10 for one vaccination, $15 for two vaccinations and $25 for all three.

Dalton stressed the importance of owners getting their pets properly vaccinated not only for their benefit but for the health of all pets in the community.

“Diseases like kennel cough can spread like wildfire at places like the dog park,” said Dalton.

In addition to the vaccinations available Saturday, the LCHS also offered AKC microchips for $25.

No bigger than a grain of rice, a pet microchip is a radio-frequency identification transponder encased within a slender capsule. A microchip’s sole function is to store a unique ID number that is used to retrieve a pet owner’s contact information.

Dalton explained that the process of implanting microchips in dogs or cats is quick, easy, and virtually painless. Implantation is similar to a vaccine injection. The microchip is injected under the loose skin between the shoulder blades and only takes a few seconds.

Once a pet has been microchipped, the owners simply register their pet’s microchip which then connects the pet’s ID number to the owner’s name, phone number, and other vital information. Handheld microchip scanners found at veterinarian clinics and shelters can then be used to reconnect pets with their owners if they become lost.

“Microchips really help us and the pet out,” said Dalton. “They help us get animals back to their home when they come in as strays.”

“Getting your pet microchipped in case they get lost is almost a no-brainer,” said Dr. Marie Suthers, professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College and one of the assistants at Saturday’s clinic. “There’s some wonderful stories out there about pets being reunited with their owners thanks to microchips.”

According to AKC Reunite, the microchip program used at the clinic, pets with microchips are up to 20 times more likely to be reunited with their owners. And every animal that arrives at LCHS is immediately scanned to see if it is microchipped.

Saturday’s clinic was made possible by the efforts of several volunteers and three local veterinarians. On site assisting in administering vaccinations was Dr. Jillian Dougherty from the Animal Center Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Lindsay VanBrown of Montana Veterinary Acupuncture, and Dr. Marie Suthers, professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College.

Suthers shared that she volunteered for the clinic largely due to the close ties Carroll’s anthrozooology program has with LCHS. She explained that all of her students are required to log community service hours each year and many choose to help at LCHS. A total of 15 students accompanied Suthers to assist at the clinic on Saturday.

“They jumped at the chance to help,” said Suthers of the student volunteers.

Thanks to the volunteer efforts of LCHS, Carroll College, and local community members, hundreds of dogs and cats went home Saturday with the primary vaccination protection they need to stay healthy and happy.

“It’s extremely important to us to help keep the Helena animal population healthy,” said Dalton.