[Hpn] Albuquerque, NM - Healthcare for the Homeless AND thier pets - Albuquerque Tribune - November 20, 2003

HC Covington HC Covington" <hcc@icanamerica.org
Fri, 21 Nov 2003 22:34:41 -0500


Friend of the friends:

A free clinic helps keep healthy the beloved
companions (animals) of the homeless and low-income
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By J.M. Barol - Albuquerque Tribune - November 20, 2003

Albuquerque, NM - Ken Aragon knows tough luck.

A recent fall at a construction job left him with a shattered
wrist and without income to support his family.

Because his health insurance makes it difficult to afford pain
medication, Aragon is in constant suffering, his bones barely
held together with pins and wires and bolts.

Not able to afford a car, Aragon, in his 30s, is stuck at home
most days, alone with his burdens and wounds.

But no amount of hardship or frustration will keep Aragon from
caring for Baby and Brandy and Cat.

"They're what keep me going through the hard times," Aragon says
about the three family pets.

It's an attitude shared among the crowd of people lined up
outside Healthcare for the Homeless at First Street and Mountain
Road Northwest, a clinic where, once a month, homeless and
low-income pet guardians can take their pets for free
vaccines.

"I think God has blessed me," says Lyle Cole, whose monthly
Social Security checks barely cover food and shelter for
himself, let alone for his dog, Lucky, whom he picked out of the
gutter three months ago. "He brings a lot of joy to my life."

As Lucky tugs playfully at the neck of a German shepherd, the
frenzied line of 30 or so animals zigzags forward toward the man
with the dreaded needles.

"OK, who do we have here?" Dr. Bob Doak asks as Aragon's
girlfriend, Barbara Purcella, drags a discerning Brandy to the
long folding table Doak stands behind. Doak fills a cluster of
syringes with clear liquid as Purcella lifts the pit bull puppy
on to the makeshift exam table for her vaccines.

Every last Thursday of the month for most of the afternoon, Doak
and his assistant, Carla Shafer, stand outside the clinic's
doors - in the rain, in the wind, in the midafternoon sun - and
offer vaccines, pet licenses and sometimes a gentle sermon on
how to be a responsible pet guardian.

"For me to keep treating them, they need to be sterilized. We
don't need anymore homeless dogs and cats out there, right?"
Doak tells Purcella as Aragon struggles to put Brandy back in
the shopping cart - the perfect pet carrier for the couple's
four-mile walk to the clinic.

Aragon and Purcella take Doak's words to heart. Tears well up in
Aragon's brown, tired eyes as he pledges to have Brandy and Baby
sterilized.

"Too many animals are destroyed out there," Aragon says. "If I
could take them all to my house I would."

Instead, he'll take Doak's referral to VCA West Mesa Animal
Hospital, where veterinarian Dave Caffey will perform free
sterilization on his dogs and the hundreds of other animals Doak
treats.

The clinic, which Doak started in 1999 when he was chief
veterinarian at Animal Humane Association, exists thanks only to
volunteer work and donations, Doak says.

Vaccines and syringes are donated by medical supply companies.
The bags of cat and dog food Doak hands out to each person who
visits the clinic come from Animal Humane Association and public
donations. Doak volunteers his time, as does Shafer, who often
comes to work with her two children in tow.

"There's no other way to do it than make it free," Doak says.
"If you can't afford to get care, the pets don't get the care.
It's not like there's federal funding for animals."

What really keeps this program going, though, Doak says, is
compassion and a commitment from the people who say their animal
companions make life on the streets a little less lonely, a
little more tolerable.

"The animals keep them together during the hard times," Doak
says. "This is a way for these people to express their
affection."

But should people who are living on the streets or on welfare,
who can barely feed themselves or afford medical care be allowed
to have a pet?

It's an argument Doak hears all the time, and his answer is
simple.

"Well, guess what? They have them," Doak says. "So what do we do
to help them care for them?"

This clinic is only a start, he says. The goal is to have a
full-service, low-income clinic - in a building - where people
can take their pets for more than just vaccinations.

"If they're sick, we try to find somewhere for them to go," he
says of the animals that need more than what his clinic can
give. "But we just don't have any money for that."

For now, this outdoor impromptu hospital will do, as long as the
donations keep coming. And as long as there are people like
Aragon and Purcella and Cole and the dozens of others who come
every month with the commitment to find care for their animal
companions.

"If it weren't for this clinic, we'd be in big trouble," Aragon
says. "We'd really be hurting. This place, the doctor - it's
like a miracle."

FREE PET VACCINES

When: Healthcare for the Homeless offers a free walk-up vaccine
clinic for homeless and low-income pet guardians the last
Thursday of every month from 1-4:30 p.m. Because Thanksgiving
occurs on the last Thursday in November, this month's clinic
will take place Tuesday.

Where: The clinic is located at 1217
First St. N.W., the corner of First Street and Mountain Road.
The veterinary exams take place outside on the north side of the
building. Call 242-4644.

To donate: If you want to donate money
or pet food to the vaccine clinic, call 255-5523, Ext. 105, or
mail donations to Healthcare for the Homeless Vaccination
Clinic, Albuquerque Humane Association, 615 Virginia St. S.E.,
Albuquerque 87108.


Albuquerque Tribune, NM source page: http://tinyurl.com/w2kx
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