Santa Claus has elves to help him, and firefighters have Dalmatians in the firehouse as team players. So who does Central Pasco Veterinary Care have?
They have Vern Richardson.
“I love animals. I’m a dog lover. I’ve had them for years,” he said.
But Richardson’s pug, Thor, isn’t the only animal that benefits from his fondness for pets. And now he’s being recognized for it.
Richardson, who actually plays Santa Claus at Central Pasco Veterinary Care’s fundraisers, won the 2013 Pasco Hernando Veterinary Medical Association Dalmatian Award, given to local residents who go above and beyond with their efforts to help veterinarians in their area. Award winners are recognized as special contributors, volunteering their time for charitable causes and community service projects.
In Richardson’s case, he poses with his red suit (just a costume) and white beard (it’s real) with four-legged friends in the “Pet Photos with Santa Day” project. The annual event, organized by Dr. Jo Ann Daniels and her staff, raises money to purchase pet oxygen masks for local fire trucks when they provide aid to furry victims as well as humans.
Daniels, the medical association’s vice president, nominated Richardson for the award and was happy that her regular helper for the past four years has finally been recognized for his work.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a wonderful person who volunteers his time, and who has the same philosophy as ours — trying to give back to the community, supporting veterinarians and supporting veterinary medicine,” Daniels said.
This past year, the photos enabled Daniels to provide five sets of masks for fire trucks. Each set of oxygen masks has three different sizes, allowing fire rescue personnel to help a variety of pets when the need arises. Daniels also provides training on how to use them.
And the masks are used. Just a few months ago, first responders were able to resuscitate a cat thanks to the special equipment.
“These pet oxygen masks have already saved lives in the community, and (Richardson) has been a big part of that,” she said.
Helping save the lives of beloved pets might be a new experience for Richardson, but posing for photos as Santa Claus is a familiar one. He used to work in malls in South Florida before settling in Land O’ Lakes. Having pets on his lap is different than posing with humans, and he prefers his current job to his old one.
“I think dogs are easier to handle than children,” he said with a jolly laugh.
While Thor lives a comfortable, carefree life in Richardson’s care, he knows many animals don’t enjoy those luxuries. That’s why he often donates a 50-poung bag of dog food when he goes shopping to stock up on his own supplies.
Like many animal lovers, Richardson said it bothers him to hear about pets that aren’t being cared for properly, and it motivates him to help make sure they have an opportunity to live healthier, happier lives.
“Every time I see some story about an abused animal, I just cringe,” he said. “It just amazes me that people can do that. Whatever we can do to help out these animals, especially if they’re homeless or abandoned or sick, I’m good with that.”
While Richardson was both appreciative and surprised when he found out he was the Dalmatian Award recipient, Daniels said he’s been a rare and valuable find for a veterinarian.
“He’s just really special,” she said. “He’s just been really generous over the years in his volunteerism and his generosity toward helping animals.”