Helping homeless people find medical care for their pets
Our company is working with The Street Dog Coalition to bring care to people experiencing homelessness and their pets
March 3, 2021
Lori snuggles up to her Husky Pitbull mix named Malakye. “Aren’t his eyes beautiful?” she says to a worker at the pet clinic. “He’s my angel.”
Many “angels” have been part of her life, she says. For six years, Lori depended on her three dogs to protect her while she lived in a car. “I parked under a bridge. It was a scary place. Out one window, I could see beautiful mountains. Out the other, steel buildings, dirty streets and drug users. My dogs kept anyone from ever bothering me.”
Lori is among the thousands of individuals who’ve received help from The Street Dog Coalition, a nonprofit organization that provides free medical care and related services to pets of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
“People living on the street are isolated and often rejected by family. Their pets offer companionship, protection, help them navigate dangerous places and give them purpose,” says Dr. Jon Geller, the veterinarian who founded the coalition in Colorado in 2015. “We’re committed to protecting the human-animal bond and caring for lives on both ends of the leash.”
Free pet clinics in more than 50 cities
Since the coalition’s founding, volunteers have joined forces to set up free pet clinics in more than 50 U.S. cities. Coalition volunteers expect to care for up to 3,500 unsheltered pets in 2021. Many pet owners will bring their dogs and cats to clinics multiple times throughout the year.
Teams include volunteer veterinarians, veterinary technicians, social workers, doctors, dentists, students and other animal and human health advocates. Businesses are helping too. Our company signed a partnership in January 2021 to provide the coalition with a year-long supply of medicines and vaccines to help protect dogs and cats from deadly diseases and illnesses caused by fleas, ticks, heartworms and intestinal worms.
“When companies like Merck donate products, we’re able to redirect funds to help do more for pets and their owners.”
Dr. Jon Gellerveterinarian and founder of The Street Dog Coalition
Doing more is at the top of Jon’s agenda. “In some areas, 10% of people living on the street have pets, but in places like Southern California, up to 40% of those without homes have pets. We also know that many of our clients have serious health issues of their own. The more we can get involved, the more we can take care of pets and people.”
Keeping pets and their owners healthy
To reach individuals experiencing homelessness and provide them with resources beyond animal care, the coalition partners with community and medical organizations that already serve the homeless population.
“We’re in the middle. We take care of companion animals but also open doors that help people get what they need – health care, housing, transportation,” says Jon. “It’s a veterinarian’s approach to the problem of homelessness.”
Clinics vary in size and scope, depending on the location. For example, a veterinarian in Florida drives into camps and provides medical care for pets from the bed of her truck. Some teams ride bicycles and transport supplies up steep trails, while others set up tents and tables in parks.
No judgment – ‘only care and love’
Since opening that first clinic, Jon says he’s met some remarkable people, like the volunteers who provide “unconditional love and support,” or the man who carries his dog on piggyback five miles a day because the dog has trouble walking.
And there’s Lori, the woman who says she never imagined she’d be living in a car for six years. Today, she has shelter, a job and continues to visit The Street Dog Coalition clinic in her area to get care for Malakye.
“There’s no judgment at the clinic, only care and love from Dr. Geller and the other volunteers,” says Lori. “They understand that these animals are our kids. They hold our lives together and keep us going.”
Meet two of our volunteers
Tracey and Robert are Merck Animal Health employees who volunteer with The Street Dog Coalition. Read their stories.