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News / Northwest

Team effort provides health care for pets of homeless people

Program in Oregon addresses small part of yearlong crisis

By NATHAN BRUTTELL, Corvallis Gazette-Times
Published: October 26, 2015, 5:45am
4 Photos
Volunteer Zoey Schwartz organizes pet supplies to be handed out in Corvallis, Ore., for pets whose owners&#039; budgets are deeply limited.
Volunteer Zoey Schwartz organizes pet supplies to be handed out in Corvallis, Ore., for pets whose owners' budgets are deeply limited. (Photos by Eugene Johnson/The Corvallis Gazette-Times) Photo Gallery

Team effort provides health care for pets of homeless people

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Kay Sams knows how vital the Street Dawgs and Cats Care Fair is: Without donated health care services, Sams might have lost her 6-year-old dachshund, Poppy.

Sams, who would be homeless if she weren’t able to stay with her family in Philomath, volunteered at an event in Avery Park that offered free exams, vaccinations and other veterinary care for pets of homeless people. The semi-annual event, coordinated by the Oregon State University Shelter Medicine Club, Occupy Corvallis and Advocates for Pets of Homeless People, serves about 40 pets each year. But the need for pet health care is a yearlong crisis, Sams said.

“This isn’t even scratching the surface of this problem,” Sams said. “It’s a great program, and the people who come are getting help they need. But there are maybe a hundred more who aren’t here that need it.”

Sams said she volunteered because she wanted to ensure that other homeless pet owners wouldn’t have to face the same choice she did when she rescued Poppy from an abusive home and found out that Poppy could die as the result of a severe dental infection she developed at that home.

“She smelled like roadkill. She was kept in a tiny bathroom and never given any care,” Sams said. “A gum infection had rotted away all of her teeth and the vets said surgery to have the teeth removed was the only option.”

Sams researched veterinary care providers and learned that the surgery was going to cost nearly $2,000, a sum she simply could not afford with her own mounting health care bills. Sams said she was one phone call away from having Poppy put down. But fortunately that call went to the Corvallis Daytime Drop-In Center’s Advocates for Pets of Homeless People, a care fair co-organizer and program that provides one-on-one service assistance to homeless pets.

“I called (co-founder) Grant (Carlin) and he said they could put together a few hundred dollars to help. But they wanted to do more,” Sams said.

Together, they found a local animal hospital that was willing to offer a special discount for the dental surgery. Poppy had 20 teeth removed, but it saved her life.

“They charged us what we could afford. It was nowhere near $2,000,” Sams said. “They saved my dog’s life. She has a funny toothless smile now, but she’s happy and we love her.”

Advocates for Pets of Homeless People provides roughly $1,000 annually in services for homeless pets. But the costs are rising, said co-founder Pete Ewald, and the group needs more volunteers and support in the local community to continue.

“I know how important a pet is. I lost my dog in January and I’m still grieving,” he said. “For homeless people, it means even more. For some of them, their pets are their only family, and without them, they would have nothing.”

Funding for the fair and for Advocates for Pets of Homeless People services is severely limited, Ewald said.

“We desperately need more volunteers and funding to keep this program going,” he said. “We know there are people who love pets out there and we really need them to help. Grant and I are going to keep doing this as long as we can, but the need out there is a lot bigger than us.”