The day starts early at Emancipet’s low-cost veterinary clinic in the east end of Houston, where The HSUS is collaborating with the clinic to help animals and people buffeted by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. With leashed dogs at their sides or cats crated or cradled in their arms, pet parents begin lining up outside well before the place opens at 10 a.m. The first clients start showing up at 4:30 a.m. and the line grows and grows as the hours pass, often snaking through the driveway and onto the sidewalk.
While the waters from Harvey have long receded from Houston neighborhoods, property damage, dislocation, and economic challenges persist. The HSUS has collaborated with Emancipet as part of our effort to maintain a presence in the region long after Harvey rammed Texas and then hovered over south and east Texas, dropping billions of gallons of water and swamping one of America’s biggest cities. While we did dramatic search-and-rescue work in a number of communities in the days after the storm hit and the floods threatened lives, it’s still more important that we’ve made a commitment to be there for the long haul and to leave animals better off than they were before the storm hit, to the greatest extent possible.
Emancipet’s mission is to make veterinary care affordable and accessible to all pet owners and the non-profit’s Houston location has been providing very low-cost spay neuter and preventive care for more than two years. Since the HSUS-Emancipet offer for free services was announced on September 9, demand has soared. Each day at the clinic, Emancipet Houston’s staff surgeon works in surgery all day, doing as many as 25 to 30 spay and neuter operations. Two other veterinarians, Emancipet Houston’s lead veterinarian and a staff veterinarian from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association’s Rural Area Veterinary program, attend to the examination rooms. On average, they see 110 pets each day, in addition to the surgeries.
Since September 9, when the free services started, clinic staff members have seen and treated 3,464 dogs and cats. That number will swell in the weeks ahead, until normal operations resume after December 9. Many families seeking treatment for their pets at the clinic live at or below the poverty line, and Harvey has dealt them an especially harsh blow, making it difficult for them to meet life’s necessities, and the needs of their beloved pets. We know how much pets mean to these people and their families, and the free service is our way of making sure that they and their pets can stay together.
The waived veterinary fees include services that Emancipet has always provided at low cost, like exams, spay-or-neuter surgery, vaccinations, microchipping, and heartworm treatment. But because of the extraordinary need created after Harvey, the clinic is also treating animals with respiratory, skin, and ear infections, as well as wounds and lacerations. Veterinarians also perform some medically necessary surgical procedures.
We are grateful to the Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt Trust for making a fabulously generous gift to The HSUS to enable this kind of program to operate for months. We are also grateful for our collaboration with Emancipet which has been an important partner in our Pets for Life program in Philadelphia. Our team executing our PFL program, which brings accessible, affordable pet care to underserved communities, started a conversation with Emancipet about bringing their type of clinic to areas of Philadelphia where there are no low-cost spay-and-neuter and wellness care services. Emancipet, which had until then operated in Texas only, was up for the challenge and worked with PFL to secure funding. In February 2017, the Emancipet clinic in North Philadelphia opened, providing services for our PFL clients and others within the community.
Our collaboration with Emancipet in Houston has been an incredible experience for our veterinarians and staff who have worked there. They describe being “amazed and heartbroken, all at the same time,” by the need the people have, and the love they have for their animals.
We are also hearing some heartwarming stories, like the story of Lobo, an eight-week-old husky mix puppy whose family evacuated, leaving him outside the house with his four siblings to weather the storm. A woman found the puppies, miraculously still alive and healthy, albeit hungry and with fleas. She found homes for all of them, including Lobo, whose father, Alexis Medrano, brought him for treatment to the Emancipet clinic.
“The clinic is great, everyone is super nice, and I loved the environment. It’s great to know that there are organizations like the Humane Society of the United States who are able to help us after the hurricane,” Medrano said. “Even when the free services are over, I plan to go back to Emancipet.”