Some were dropped off, others walked. A few arrived via ride share services. Despite a chill in the air on a recent Sunday morning, they waited patiently in a south Minneapolis parking lot for up to an hour.
More than 30 pet owners — all of them homeless or facing housing insecurity — brought their cherished cats and dogs to the free pop-up pet care clinic Sept. 13 in the parking lot of Pets and People Together, a pet food shelf in south Minneapolis.
It is the second such clinic offered by volunteer Twin Cities veterinarians through the Colorado-based Street Dog Coalition. Pets receive free basic medical care, including vaccinations and heartworm testing, as well as medications for skin and eye infections.
“You should be able to have a pet,” said Katie Cartledge, who, with fellow veterinarian Stefan Knep, started the first Minneapolis chapter this year.
“I feel like I make a difference every day, but working at these clinics it’s magnified,” she said. “Some of [the clients] have maybe never had their animal seen by a vet.”
She and Knep, who both work at St. Francis Animal Hospital in Roseville, hesitated to hold the first clinic in July due to COVID-19. Then they decided it was precisely the right time to offer free pet care to those already facing difficult daily challenges, including few homeless shelters willing to take pets and limited public transportation options due to the virus.
They got word out through a homeless shelter, social media and the University of Minnesota.
Seven additional volunteers jumped in to help, including family members, technicians and veterinary students from the U’s VeTouch, a nonprofit veterinary student club. They worked from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., spending about 15 to 20 minutes with each animal — a few more dogs than cats.
“A few dogs were in pretty rough shape,” Cartledge said, “but overall they were getting pretty good care.” Their owners, she said, “were very, very, very grateful. They’d say, ‘We’re just so blessed that you’re here.’ ”
That’s why it was important to Cartledge, “to give them an experience like they would get if they went into a clinic.” They hope to offer one more clinic before it gets too cold.
The Street Dog Coalition (thestreetdogcoalition.org) was founded in 2015 by Fort Collins, Colo., veterinarian Jon Geller, whose mission is to care “for the lives on both ends of the leash.” His nonprofit has since expanded to more than 40 U.S. cities.
Knep attended a lecture by Geller last year in San Diego, and then went up and introduced himself. Soon after, he and Cartledge, a colleague and close friend, decided to bring the program to Minnesota.
“We all have to be a little crazy to even enter this job,” Knep said, “but honestly, rescue work and assisting people in need who don’t just pull out their credit cards and checkbooks is probably the most rewarding thing we have to offer.
“I know this sounds like a cliché, but many of us value this more than our actual jobs.”