The Windham County Humane Society in Brattleboro, Vermont, says addressing people's struggles to afford adequate care for their pets is a pressing issue for it and similar organizations across the country.
"If we can keep animals in their homes, we can help more animals," said Annie Guion, the executive director of the organization.
The Windham County Humane Society has an assistance program which uses grants, donations, and volunteers to help people in the county who may be unable to pay for food or medical needs for their animals.
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Dr. Sue Kelly, a veterinarian, donates two hours a month at the shelter to offer free or deeply-discounted animal care services, by appointment.
"These people who come in, they are so appreciative," Kelly said. "I always leave here happier than I got here."
The vet said services run the gamut from providing rabies and distemper shots to more complicated exams. The day necn visited, Kelly was examining a dog who received an eyelid reduction surgery when the center adopted the animal out. That eyelid would require additional surgery, Kelly determined, which she and the Humane Society would handle.
Beverly Covey of Marlboro, Vermont brought her dog, Xena, to see Kelly. The animal got all her shots and a locator chip implanted, for just $10.
"You can't beat the price," Covey said, adding that the discount clinic has allowed both her and an elderly relative to hold onto their pets, without worries about costly procedures. "Here, they care for the animal and the person, because my view is, without a dog or a cat, you're not completely full in your heart."
Guion said owners' tight finances are a major reason why owners surrender their pets and why many animals enter shelters. Therefore, addressing financial concerns should help keep some animals with their owners, Guion said.
"It's been a real game-changer for the shelter," Guion told necn. "The alternative would be to say, 'We're not going to help you with that,' and she might say, 'Well, I'm going to surrender the dog to you.' Well now, the dog still needs the surgery and it has to be re-homed. Can I give it the surgery and keep it in the home at the same time?"
Guion explained she requires proof of need and residency in Windham County to qualify.
She noted that the humane society works closely with area vets to make sure they're not losing business, even giving referrals and helping with costs for procedures that need to be done in those private offices.
Guion said in some cases, Dr. Kelly's free or discounted-cost clinics may the only time an animal sees a veterinarian.
On its website, the humane society says it asks owners to agree not to acquire any more pets while they're receiving assistance, and to work with WCHS to have all family pets spayed or neutered.
The Windham County Humane Society is participating in necn's Clear the Shelters day July 23. Click here for more information on the agency.