The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) held its annual convention in Denver on July 14. What was a conference among colleagues and alumni became a medical drive for the companion animals of the homeless in the area.
In partnership with the Street Dog Coalition and Merck Animal Health, the free pet clinic welcomed anyone who brought their pets for health check and vaccinations. The pet owners were given essential supplies such as pet food, leashes, collars and treats to take with them after the visit.
“It’s a lot of those just core vaccines that are really important. The preventative medicine is what we’re really after, in terms of these free clinics,” said Katrina Weschler, Street Dog Coalition executive director. “So providing rabies, vaccines, parvo vaccines, but we’re also able to test for heart worm and provide heart worm prevention medication, as well as flea tick prevention medication.”
By providing free compassionate care to both ends of the leash, we hope to help preserve, protect, and strengthen those bonds. —Katrina Weschler, Street Dog Coalition executive director
Loneliness and social isolation are associated with serious health conditions, including heart disease and premature death. Having a pet can help ease a person’s feeling of dejection and many studies have found that caring for a pet has several health benefits to owners.
“The bond that develops between the animals and the human, it’s so strong. And a lot of times, these pets are just living their best lives,” Weschler explained. “People will go without shelter, they will go without food to make sure that their animal eats first.”
Veterinary care is expensive and it’s common for the homeless to prioritize feeding their companion animals than go for medical checkups for their pets.
“I think there’s a big judgment and stigma out there about, ‘gosh you need to be able to afford everything or you shouldn’t have a pet,’ and I really struggle with that,” said one of the volunteer veterinarians, Dr. Ashley Ackley.
Welschler said their group aims to nurture the strong bonds developed between a homeless person and his companion animal. She said the pets “provide companionship, purpose, and unconditional love” to their owners. “By providing free compassionate care to both ends of the leash, we hope to help preserve, protect, and strengthen those bonds.”
The Street Dog Coalition is a nonprofit that provides free medical care and related services to pets of people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. They are located in over 60 cities across the United States.