The Seattle rain poured down so hard on Pioneer Square this September day that only a handful of people were waiting outside of the Union Gospel Mission homeless shelter. I was told to watch for a long line of people with their dogs, cats, ferrets and other animals waiting on the sidewalk for the afternoon Doney Memorial Pet Clinic. But this Saturday was too wet, and instead, the group was indoors, enjoying each other’s company and waiting a turn for veterinary care for their animals.
For more than 28 years, Doney Memorial Pet Clinic has provided veterinary care to the animals of Seattle’s homeless and low-income residents.
As I took cover inside the Union Gospel Mission, the multi-purpose room was being arranged as an impromptu pet supply store, as Carol Dougherty and her fellow volunteers were frantically bringing in donated bags of dog food out of the drenching rain. Part of the mission of the Doney Clinic is to provide clients with pet supplies. Dougherty was setting up shop for the afternoon.
Volunteers at the Doney Clinic have their hands full on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month as they coordinate more than 50 people (and around 65 accompanying animals) who arrive early and wait several hours to see a veterinarian. Some pet owners are homeless while others are low-income, but they all share the compassion for their animals and the responsibility to get them veterinary care.
Seattle resident Bill Smith was waiting for a diagnosis for his senior Malamute-mix dog, Princess, who was having trouble with stiffness in her legs. Smith has been coming to the Doney Clinic for roughly 20 years with dogs that he has rescued and taken care of until the end of their lives.
“There are always dogs that need a home,” Smith said of the many dogs he has cared for over the years.
Dr. Mona Radheshwar, DVM, was one of three attending veterinarians volunteering her time and skills for the clinic. One after another, Radheshwar saw cats, dogs and a tiny little kitten. Meanwhile, a veterinarian assistant who was there to hold animals, also attempted to configure better lighting in the rustic basement exam room, and other volunteers mopped up a rain-soaked floor and checked patients into the clinic.
What’s needed most
The Doney Clinic was started in 1985 by Dr. Bud Doney to provide veterinary care for the animals of homeless and low-income residents in Seattle’s Pike Street Market area. When Doney passed away, local veterinarian Dr. Stan Coe was instrumental in reviving this service in 1986. He and two fellow board members of the Delta Society, Louise Garbe and Don Rolf, took on the mission to run the clinic.
Twenty-eight years later, these dedicated visionaries continue to ensure this service is available. From her Greenwood residence, Garbe takes care of paying the clinic’s bills and accepting donations from the public, and Coe regularly sees patients at the Doney Clinic.
Back in the attending room, Radheshwar provides Smith with some arthritis medication but also recommends X-rays of Princess’ back. In these cases, when additional veterinary care such as x-rays or surgery is needed, clients are referred to a local veterinary hospital.
Garbe explained that to help low-income or homeless residents pay for ancillary veterinary care, the Doney Clinic pays the cost for services rendered, but each client signs a contract agreeing to pay those costs back over time. Additionally, the local vet clinic graciously discounts its services for Doney Clinic clients.
As Smith arranges final paperwork for Princess, about 30 people and their animals are still patiently waiting.
Now, several hours into the clinic, many in the waiting room had picked up donated dog or cat food from the clinic pantry and were provided with leashes, pet beds, dog coats and other donated accessories to meet each animal’s needs.
A few new clients stagger in from the rain to see if there is any dog food left. Luckily, with today’s large donations, there was enough food to go around, but the shop was out of cat litter before the end of the day.
Donations of cat and dog supplies come from a variety of locations, including pet supply stores. All the Best Pet Care in Queen Anne maintains an ongoing collection bin for food and supply donations.
“[The Doney Clinic] often lets us know what they need most,” explained Amanda Fox of All the Best Pet Care. Fox said that when customers ask what would be helpful to donate, the store recommends items that the Doney Clinic needs. Donations of used leashes, coats and beds are also gratefully accepted from the public.
All playing a part
As the hectic afternoon began to wind down, I got a chance to pet a few dog ears and scratch the chins of some patiently waiting cats. I could not help but stand in awe of the enormous coordination it takes to bring the Doney Pet Memorial Clinic to life on these Saturday afternoons.
The volunteers, the veterinarians, the assistants and the dedicated pet owners each expertly played their part to ensure that this special community of animals gets the care they need.
To learn more about the Doney Memorial Pet Clinic or to donate or volunteer, visit www.doneyclinic.org.
CHRISTIE LAGALLY is editor of Living Humane (livinghumane.com), a news site on humane-conscious lifestyles. She also writes a blog called “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” at www.sniffingouthome.org. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.