Many of the nearly 7,000 homeless people in Washington, D.C., have pets that provide a sense of companionship, love and belonging. And those pets are often in need of veterinary care. That is why the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is hosting a 'pop-up' street clinic during its annual convention on Sunday, August 4 between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in Samuel Gompers Memorial Park.
Street clinics, or pop-up clinics, offer services such as basic examinations, rabies and core vaccinations, parasite control, microchipping when requested, and treatment of minor skin, eye, and ear problems. Medication is dispensed when needed. The veterinary care relies heavily on clinical skills and resourcefulness rather than technology. Diagnostic tests range from simple blood tests to free-catch urine dipsticks to running an ECG on an iPhone. For spays and neuters, and other surgeries, clients are referred to local veterinarians who donate or reduce the cost of in-office procedures.
"AVMA Cares is our opportunity to give back to the community hosting our convention," said Dr. John de Jong, AVMA president. "Our members love the opportunity to give back. Many of them bring their entire families with them to help. And our industry partners, Zoetis and Hills will be contributing as well through the donation of supplies and services to make this important event as successful as possible."
Prior to Sunday's event volunteers are assembling hygiene kits for local homeless pet owners and their pets. They will be distributed during the Street Clinic hours on Sunday.
"Hill's Pet Nutrition is happy to support the AVMA Cares initiative and its 'pop-up' clinic to provide health checks and basic care to dogs in need," said Dr. Jolle Kirpensteijn, DVM, PhD, chief professional veterinary officer for Hill's US. "Hill's is proud to work with AVMA and this event is a great fit with our mission to help enrich and lengthen the special relationships between people and their pets."
"We welcome this opportunity to work with AVMA to give back to the D.C. community in ways that help both animals and people," said Tara Bidgood, DVM, PhD, executive director, veterinary professional services at Zoetis Petcare. "Every day, we go to work at Zoetis believing that we can make a difference in improving lives – and by contributing our time and medications for pets, we are able to make a small difference in many lives today."
This is the second year the AVMA Convention is the site of a Street Clinic. Dr. Geller—an emergency practitioner in Fort Collins, Colo.—led last year's outreach in Denver. He hopes these events will be a springboard to encourage more veterinarians to join his efforts and organize local clinics in the states where they are licensed to practice veterinary medicine. Along with the street clinics, his hope is to create a new type of pet shelter that is embedded in, or adjoins, facilities such as domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, addiction/recovery centers and hospitals. Pet owners, he said, will not enter these programs unless their pet can be nearby.
Dr. Geller and a team of volunteer veterinarians and technicians—named the Street Dog Coalition—scout locations, often near shelters, and set up monthly pop-up clinics in cities throughout Colorado. Between 50 and 100 pets are seen each day in bigger cities. Other teams have been inspired to do the same in Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada and Kansas. He has pending teams in New Orleans and Iowa.
Even if the delivery is a little different, veterinarians provide the best care possible under the circumstances, and are inspired by the strength of the human-animal bond they witness at these events.
"I have continued to be impressed on how much harder homeless folks make their lives by owning a pet," said Dr. Geller. "These people have a very strong bond with their pets. They face added challenges of using public transportation, finding housing, working a job, even going to a doctor's appointment because they can't leave their pets at 'home.' On the other hand, for many of our homeless, their pets provide a purpose to their lives where none would exist otherwise."