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Keeping Pets Healthy Keeps Families Together

Friday, October 30, 2015

Patients waiting in line at veterinary clinicWith contributions from PetSmart Charities Roving Reporter, Shannon Bowen

The scene is bleak in some areas of Los Angeles, where there are more homeless pets than any other city in America. Cats and dogs roam the streets — but, increasingly, they’re not alone.

In many neighborhoods, free pet clinics stand alongside those homeless pets.

Filling a neighborhood need

One of these clinics is operated by The Amanda Foundation, which also runs the only nonprofit veterinary hospital in Los Angeles.

The Amanda Foundation, like many animal welfare organizations across the country, has offered a mobile spay/neuter clinic for years. But they saw that their community needed more.

“People would come to our spay/neuter clinic with a need for veterinary services, and we wouldn’t be able to treat them there,” said Teri Austin, President of The Amanda Foundation. “We saw an opportunity to raise the bar for pet care while also preventing pets from being relinquished to shelters. One of the main reasons that people give up their pets is because of their medical needs, so we wanted to meet those needs in their neighborhoods.”

Rethinking the clinic

The Amanda Foundation began experimenting with “pop-up” wellness clinics for cats and dogs, where the team set up temporary, free clinics in well-known, accessible locations. The new initiative required innovative thinking — figuring out how to set up a dental exam table in a hallway and organize a group of 20 veterinary school volunteers, for example.

It also required specialized equipment, which the foundation was able to purchase thanks to a $120,000 PetSmart Charities™ grant. The grant initially covered the cost of a portable x-ray machine, but thanks to Teri’s keen negotiation skills, she was able to purchase both a top-of-the-line portable x-ray machine and a portable blood analyzer.

“Before, we would have had to send the patient back to our veterinary hospital for x-rays and bloodwork,” Teri said. “Having this equipment in the field is huge, because now we can come right to them. That puts less stress on the pet, costs us less money and requires less of my staff’s time.”

The pop-up clinics attract a wide variety of pet parents, each of whom is grateful for the opportunity to access pet care in an affordable, convenient way. Here are some of their stories.

 

 

Man filling out paperwork at veterinary clinic

 

Manuel received a voucher to attend the Amanda Foundation clinic when he recently took his cat in for a checkup. He was one of the first to arrive at the clinic, his 2 dogs in tow. Manuel, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, waited patiently while Coco, a spaniel mix, and Wolf, a husky mix, were examined. He wanted Wolf in particular to get a checkup because his back legs weren't working so well. "He's having trouble getting up the stairs," Manuel said. "And I want to get his ears checked."

 

Homeless dog in shopping cart

 

Jorge Hernandez arrived at the shelter pushing a shopping cart carrying all his worldly possessions — and his best friend, Tiger. Jorge had heard about the clinic in church, and he was grateful, because the brindle pit bull mix had an ear infection and needed a blood test. Tiger was 12 now, with gray whiskers, but he was only 3 months old when Jorge found him near Dodger Stadium. Tiger was running with a pack of dogs, but he was injured and couldn't keep up. "I told him he needed help and he should come with me," Jorge recalled, gently wiping clean Tiger's eyes. "He's been with me ever since."

 

Elderly couple hugging dog

 

Eight years ago, Hector Santacruz and Enedina Perez heard a dog crying in the street. They were used to the barking of strays, but this dog sounded different. "We knew she was ours when we heard her voice," Enedina said. They followed the cry and found a Chihuahua-terrier mix left alone in a nearby park. They named her Takumi, and they took her home. Eight years later, they can't imagine life without her. When they heard about a nearby clinic, they jumped at the chance for Takumi to see a vet. It's important to keep her healthy, Enedina explained. After all, "she protects us."

 

Dog getting x-ray with portable machine

 

When Maria's new dog Ozzie started going lame in one leg, she got nervous. When he stopped walking altogether, she didn't know what to do. A friend had given her Ozzie a month earlier when she could no longer care for him. Maria brought Ozzie to the clinic, desperate for help. Besides his inability to walk, he appeared to be in good health. "I really want to save him," she said. "If I need to I'll get him a little wheelchair." Technicians were able to begin their investigation into Ozzie's mysterious paralysis on the spot, using a portable x-ray machine donated by PetSmart Charities.

 

Family with dogs at veterinary clinic

 

Brothers Gerson and Eli Rodriguez brought their family's 7 adopted dogs to the clinic — an impressive feat, given their size and energy level. "We started with just 2, but we kept finding dogs who needed homes," Gerson said. "Now every member of our family has a dog." Because the clinic was free, the brothers were able to make sure all 7 dogs received the care they needed.

 

Man kissing dog

 

Ishmael Johnson walked 2 miles in the early morning hours to make sure his dog Bowser, a corgi-shepherd mix, could get a checkup. Bowser is Ishmael's first dog, and he adopted him from the Ventura County Shelter in July because he liked Bowser’s energy. When Ishmael leaves for his job working concessions at the Hollywood Bowl, he leaves jazz music on for Bowser so he can jam. "Now it's both of us, not just me," Ishmael said. "Bowser just can't just go out and get a job — he gives me motivation to help take care of things."

 

Mom with box full of puppies

 

Eduardo and Susan Aguilar welcomed some new additions to their family recently: an unexpected litter of 7 puppies. Their dogs, Lucy and Lucky, were not fixed — but they never expected that Lucy would end up pregnant. The couple brought mom, dad and the babies to the clinic for examinations. Lucky was able to be fixed that day at the mobile clinic, but Lucy will need to come back when she's done nursing. Once the puppies are old enough, they'll return to the clinic to be fixed too.

 

Family holding dog

 

Wearing a "Princess" T-shirt, her hair in neat little plaits, Kimberly Segura looked very serious. "We brought Cookie here to keep her healthy," she said, hugging the 11-year-old cocker spaniel who sat in the lap of Kimberly’s uncle, Rogelio Martinez. Cookie had fleas in her ears, Kimberly explained, and they needed to get checked out. "We love her because she takes care of us," she said. "She protects us. When we go to sleep, she stays by the door." Added Rogelio, "Kimberly wants to be a vet because she loves animals."

 

little boy holding dog

 

When Esther Salas learned that her friend was going to give up her dog to a local shelter, she decided to step in. She brought Sandy, a 6-month-old puppy, home to her son Anthony — on his birthday of all days. "I wanted to do the right thing and save a life," Esther said. "But I already have 3 kids and we're low income. I've already clipped all the coupons. We wouldn't have been able to afford to bring Sandy to the vet without this clinic."

 

Man holding puppy

 

Gus Orozco, his wife Viridiana, and their son Jesse brought their petite terrier mix Trixie to the clinic for a checkup. The family had adopted her only a few months ago, but "we care about her well-being," Gus said. "She's like our daughter. We have to take care of her." Holding Trixie in his arms, Gus told Jesse, "You have to take care of your little sister!"

 

Family filing out paperwork at veterinary clinic

 

First came terrier mix Pequic, then Chihuahua mix Mia — both handed over to Ricardo Lopez and his wife Yesenia Fernandez by family friends. "Nobody wanted Pequic," Ricardo said of the brown and white pooch with the purple bow on his head. "We're the fourth family for Mia," added Yesenia. "We prevented her from going to the shelter." But Pequic has a hernia, and Mia might be facing a cancer diagnosis. Medication and treatment have become too expensive to bear, so the clinic is a gift. "We love it," Yesenia said.

 

Man posing with dog

 

Jorge Rabago lives in Northeast LA, so he knew about the animal shelter on nearby Lacy Street. But he had no reason to stop by until he became the proud owner of Maya, a 3-month-old shepherd mix. Looking for free or low-cost vaccinations for Maya, Jorge visited the shelter, where staff told him about the clinic. He put the date on his calendar and brought Maya in for her shots. "My family is low income and dogs are expensive," said Jorge. "They're like us — they need shots, they get sick too."

 

Family posing with adopted dog

 

Matthew Mejia held Valentina's leash with obvious pride. The teenager had been asking for a dog, then as luck would have it, his aunt told his mom, Bertha, about a beautiful copper-colored golden retriever whose owner was moving and could no longer care for her. Soon, Valentina became a member of the family. Matthew's aunt also told the family about the clinic, and they brought not only Valentina but their other dog, a Chihuahua named Maxine, who needed to get spayed. "It's great, because sometimes I can't afford [to take the dog to the vet]," Bertha said. "I thought, 'This is an opportunity.'"

 

Woman holding dog at veterinary clinic

 

Gladys Reyes brought Lucas, her 6-year-old Yorkie, to the clinic for a host of reasons. He had lesions on his skin and might have liver problems, she explained. Thanks to the clinic, she was able to get him the blood tests he needed. But it's really Lucas who helps Gladys, who suffers from crippling depression and cannot work. He puts her at ease and even travels with her when she visits her native Honduras. "He keeps me happy," she said, cradling the terrier in her arms.

 

Man holding dogs

 

Francisco Alvarado lives on the streets with his 2 best friends: DJ, a 7-year-old brindle pit bull mix, and Beauty, a 15-year-old Rottweiler mix. "I love them. They go with me everywhere," he said. "But I don't have the resources to pay for them." By chance, he spotted a flier for the clinic tacked to a telephone pole. He'd been worried about DJ, who was constantly scratching, and Beauty, who had an ear infection. He brought his faithful companions to the clinic to get them the care they needed.

 

Couple posing with dog

 

When a friend had 2 litters of pit bull puppies, Vanessa Reyes and Arthur Honore adopted 2 of the pups. Both gray and white, the couple named the boy Blue and the girl became Betty. Vanessa and Arthur needed to get Blue licensed, but they learned that the fee would be significantly higher because he wasn't fixed. So the couple brought the dogs to the clinic — Blue was already in the mobile spay/neuter clinic, and Betty was about to get a checkup and a flea treatment. "It helps us out because it's free," Vanessa said. "With 2 dogs that we saved, even with pet insurance, it's still expensive."

 

Woman posing with dog

 

Jessica Fernandez already had 2 dogs in her house. But when she found Daisy, a poodle mix, in the street with a badly broken left hind leg, she knew she had to take the dog home. Unable to afford treatment for Daisy, she saw a flier about the clinic and saw her chance to get Daisy the care she needed. "These clinics are helpful for people like me who can't afford it. I have 3 kids and 2 jobs," Jessica said. Still, "animals should be taken care of for life. They take care of us."

 

Woman holding dog

 

When Joyce Mitchell saw Shooter on TV, she knew she had to meet him. The brown, black and white Chihuahua was the featured adoptable pet on the local news. At 9 years old and in need of dental work, Shooter was in danger of being euthanized. "I thought we were kind of similar," Joyce said with a laugh. When she arrived at the North Central Animal Shelter to meet him, he ran right to her. Two years later, she brought him back to the shelter for the clinic. "He has allergies. I want to get it all checked out," she said, giving Shooter a kiss.

 

Friends posing with dogs

 

Friends Alessandra Reza and Claudia Parra brought their dogs to the clinic after an acquaintance told them about it on Instagram. The timing was perfect, as Alessandra's pit bull Daisy needed to get fixed and Claudia's husky-malamute mix Bronx needed a checkup. Alessandra laughed as Daisy rolled around on the cool floor. "I want to get everything done for her," she said.

Comments(1)

Faith A Benner

The stories here are heartwarming. We do not have anything close to a cheap or free clinic for animals here in Buffalo, NY. I have several feral cats that I care for. I can afford to feed them but, when they are sick I am unable to pay for their care. I am appalled at the prices the Vets charge. I could pay on time for their services but I have not found one who does not require the full cost paid up front. They will not even see the cats unless I have cash to give them. We are on Social Security and our budget is very tight. I love these cats and have cared for most of them since they were babies. Two of my cats I bottle raised because their mother disappeared when they were 6 days old. The last vet I tried to see with a sick cat told me to " take it to the SPCA if you don't want it to die". Can someone look into setting up a clinic here in Buffalo? Can I help in any way?

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