December 25, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 52

Feature

Pet project

by: Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

Volunteer-run veterinary clinic helps low-income people care for their animals

Rob Rabideau, 80, of Rainier Beach, holds his new kitten, Cuddles, outside the Doney Memorial Animal Clinic at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission in October. The clinic provides veterinary care and medication for a flat $5 fee to about 80 of our four-legged friends every month.

Photo by: Wes Sauer , Contributing Photographer

In the basement of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission in Pioneer Square, the Doney Memorial Animal Clinic provides low-cost veterinary care to about 80 animals every month, including Genneva Jones’ Chihuahua Joy, left. Tia and Lizz Foxx took their four-month-old cockapoodle, Precious, to see Dr. Darrell Kraft in October to treat its conjunctivitis.

Photo by: Wes Sauer , Contributing Photographer

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Liz Foxx waited outside Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission for more than four hours with her two-month-old cockapoodle, Precious, wrapped up in a powder-blue fleece blanket.

Precious, a small ball of fuzz with curly black hair, had puffy eyes and a sore on her ear. Foxx, who lives in subsidized housing at the Frye Hotel, couldn’t afford to take Precious to a vet, so she arrived at the Union Gospel Mission for its twice-monthly clinic, which provides free examinations and donated medicine. The clinic also offers flea treatments for $5.

“I’m glad they have places like this to get your animals looked at,” she said.

Named for Bud Doney, a veterinarian who provided free exams for the pets of low-income people at Pike Place Market in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Doney Memorial Pet Clinic is funded by donations and run by volunteers. 

Foxx cradled Precious in her jacket as she walked down a set of black stairs into a gray-tiled room in the Union Gospel Mission’s basement in Pioneer Square. The space had been converted into a makeshift veterinary office by volunteers.

Four vets with plastic boxes and chests filled with supplies and medicine stood side-by-side at four metal examining tables.

Foxx signed in at a table where volunteers keep records on 3-by-4-inch file cards of every animal. Precious was a new patient, so they filled out her information on a single card.

Some long-term clients have hand-written medical histories on stapled stacks of worn and bent cards, a sign of the clinic’s long history.

Carol Dougherty, who helps manage the program, said it can’t meet everyone’s needs.

“We often run out of cat food,” she said. “It’s a fact of life.”

An unknown donor often comes through in a pinch. One woman shows up every couple of weeks with Ziploc bags filled with kitty litter. She never gives her name, Dougherty said.

“I call her the cat litter angel,” she said.

The Doney Clinic gets little in the way of monetary donations. According to IRS records, the group collects less than $50,000 each year.

Most of the funding pays for medication, said Louise Garbe, the organization’s secretary. The Doney Clinic has no paid staff.

But the group manages to do a lot. In two hours, doctors and volunteers can help more than 50 animals.

People start showing up with their pets before 9 a.m. on clinic days; the clinic doesn’t start until 3 p.m. Some of those waiting are homeless; others live in low-income housing.

Don Rolf, a volunteer who travels from Centralia for the clinic, is on his feet the entire time.

As Dr. Darrell Kraft examined Precious, Rolf rifled through plastic boxes and chests of vaccines, antibiotics and ointments.

Precious had a low-grade infection in her eyelids. She’d need an amoxicillin ointment and an oral antibiotic. Rolf quickly popped up with jars and bottles in hand.

“I’m pretty much at people’s beck and call,” Rolf told Real Change over the phone. He was too busy to talk during clinic hours.

The program is a lifesaver, said Christina D., 29, who asked that her last name be withheld. She lost her Skyway apartment in a fire, but her dog, Strega, and two kittens made it out.

The Doney Clinic helped replace everything her pets needed: leashes, pet beds and food.

“Everything else is just stuff,” she said.

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