Animal lovers came to the building near downtown in twos and threes Monday to hug ACT founders Frank and Linda Hamilton and express condolences. An arsonist broke into the 10,000-square-building before sunrise Saturday and lit four fires. The blaze destroyed much of the inside of the building and killed three house cats — named Jazz, Mama and Boy.
A dog staying in the clinic overnight was found alive outside the building.
“We can rebuild the building, but we can’t replace the boys,” Frank Hamilton said, using the pet name he and the employees had for the cats, even though one was female.
Tampa police late Monday were interviewing a homeless man, 33-year-old Terrod Arrington, in connection with the arson and an assault on Linda Hamilton. Arrington caused a disturbance at the clinic April 15, police said, and he has an outstanding warrant in Maryland for aggravated assault.
Police had been seeking Arrington throughout the day and announced late Monday that they had taken him into custody after someone had called 911 and given police a location to find Arrington.
Hamilton said Arrington first came to the clinic April 14 saying his puppy was sick. Veterinary technicians inspected the animal and agreed he was sick, possibly with parvovirus.
Hamilton said the veterinarians working that day were busy spaying and neutering dogs and cats and could not attend to the dog immediately. The man left and took the dog with him.
The next day, the man brought the dog back and tied it to a post outside the clinic. He went inside and was given a form to fill out, Hamilton said. He left the dog tethered at the front of the building and walked away.
ACT employees saw the dog tied up and took it inside. Hamilton said one employee put the dog in her car and drove away, but later brought it back.
“She wanted to take him but she couldn’t do it,” Hamilton said. “So she brought it back and tied it up.”
While she was gone, the man returned demanding to know where his dog was. Linda Hamilton said she tried to calm him down but he shoved her against the wall. She called 911 and a police officer walked with her through the building looking for the dog. When they couldn’t find it, the man left.
Hamilton said somebody broke into the clinic that night and again on Wednesday. The fire was set Saturday.
ACT and the Silverback Peace Group are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.
The Tampa Fire Marshal’s Office valued the damage to the building and its contents at $200,000. Hamilton said he rents the building and he’s not sure if the owner will rebuild because of possible damage to the roof and air conditioning ducts.
Meantime, he’s looking at several buildings he knows are available to rent.
ACT is a low-cost spay, neuter and shot clinic. The agency performed 10,000 spay or neuter surgeries last year, Hamilton said, and saw another 15,000 animals for other health issues.
“We will rebuild because the mission is not complete,” he said.