Seattle- Deep in the gritty heart of Pioneer Square under the long shadow of glassy black skyscrapers and steel construction cranes in this growing metropolitan city, the Doney Memorial Pet Clinic performs a unique service every second and fourth Saturday of the month.
Funded by donors, the clinic offers free pet supplies, basic veterinary care and armfuls of compassion for people and their pets caught in the grip of homelessness or extremely low incomes (under $850 a month).
Talk to anyone there and you’ll hear how pets save human lives.
One man, so depressed he was going to jump out a window, credits a cat for saving his life. Now, 16 years later, and still the proud owner of Miss Kitty, Joe no longer wants to kill himself. He explains, “I had somebody to talk too.”
Like so many others without permanent homes coming to the clinic Joe had found companionship, something he lacked in everyday life.
On June 25th, the lively line outside the clinic, held in a small room inside the Union Gospel Mission, stretched down the block and around the corner. Within a stones’ throw reach of the bustling crowds and relentless traffic eager to get sports arenas, over a hundred people stood waiting.
Like a page out of Dr. Seuss’ “Go Dog Go,” there were little dogs and big dogs. Sitting dogs, sleeping dogs and dying-to-run dogs. Cats of all shapes and colors were held in an assortment of pet carriers, backpacks, strollers and on leashes. And people of all ages and backgrounds conversed with one another sharing pet tales and hard knock stories of life on the street, in shelters, temporary housing or crashing with friends.
Four volunteer veterinarians and twenty other volunteers, seven of whom are clients, were on hand to help check on 52 pets.
On this day, a hundred pets got food to take home but the clinic could’ve used more. “We actually ran out of dry dog and canned cat food!” says Jenny Shultz, the food bank manager at the clinic.
Shultz estimates a lot of their clients are sleeping under underpasses or in tent cities. A lot are also staying in transitional housing.
While critics argue people who can’t take care of themselves shouldn’t own pets Shultz sees things differently. “These people love their pets. They wouldn’t wait outside, in the rain, cold or scorching heat, for hours on end to be seen by a vet if they didn’t love their pets. Just because they can’t take care of it, in the way that society has deemed appropriate, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have one. I’d rather help a low income or homeless person keep their pet than see that pet killed at a crowded shelter.”
A few animals had somewhat urgent injuries. A cat named Tuna Breath had swallowed a nylon toy and had a foot long thread coming out of its mouth. Pepper, a 9-year-old Staffordshire Terrier, had a severe skin condition over its whole body. The majority of pets however came in for general checkups.
Others like Gizmo come here “to get pampered for the day.” Rocker, who is currently living with a friend, says, “I don’t have much but if I can come here and get her spoiled, why not?”
Shultz says the clinic is starting to get an influx of people who don’t want to spay and neuter their pets. The veterinarians will see them the first time but requires pets to be spayed and neutered to see them again. The clinic will provide a free certificate to get their pet spayed or neutered at the Seattle Animal Shelter. Shultz estimates some of these owners want to sell the litters. “We’re having to turn them away,” she says.
“You can’t overlook the fact that the human/animal bond is measurable,” says Shultz. “Studies have proven it time and again. With homelessness comes mental illness and depression. Some of these people are able to stay clean, or sober, or just alive, because they’ve made a commitment to a pet; because they feel needed by this animal and don’t want to let it down. That’s something. There’s hope in that feeling, and maybe a way forward.”
Want to help? The clinic needs new or barely used pet collars, leashes, and canned dog and cat food. Volunteers are also needed to help out on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. http://doneyclinic.org/donate–get-involved.html
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