We all know love when we see it. A small child and the family dog snuggled together in a corner of the couch. A cat rubbing against a parent’s legsas he or she makes dinner. Sometimes the love is quiet—anyone who’s had a pet knows that pets stay close when they sense you’re feeling sad. Sometimes the love is loud and exuberant—like the wild joy of a dog reunited with a soldier who’s returned from a long deployment.
And then there’s the eloquent statement of the Pets in Need Veterinary Clinic, which offers services to low-income pet owners at a 70 percent discount. It opened without fanfare on June 15, 2016. Within 48 hours, it received 106 calls from people who were unable to afford the veterinary care their pets desperately needed.
How did the word spread so quickly? Love.
The story of Pets in Need is the story of love and determination—in equal parts. It begins with an introduction. Dr. Hank Wietsma and Dr. Gary Block had helped create the Companion Animal Foundation, an organization that helps low-income pet owners—and it was through Block that Wietsma met John Gillespie. Gillespie, a retired healthcare executive and the owner of two dogs, was well aware of the cost of veterinary care. Gillespie was a founder of the Rhode Island Free Clinic, which opened in 1999 and provides medical services to low-income Rhode Islanders—and for some time he’d been thinking of a similar clinic for pets. Wietsma had the same vision of a place where low-income Rhode Islanders could bring their pets for low-cost, high quality veterinary care. When Gillespie met Wietsma, the clinic came a step closer to being born.
Gillespie and Wietsma knew they needed a lot of support to make it happen, so the two turned to Dr. Ernie Finocchio, president of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and to the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association. Would the organizations support the creation of a clinic for people who loved their pets but couldn’t afford the care their pets needed? Would they take the time and energy needed to create something that had never been attempted in Rhode Island? Would they be willing to devote significant resources to something that could help pets and their owners—but could also fail spectacularly for any number of reasons?
Yes, they said. Yes, they would.
Two years of hard work followed as they searched for the right space and the right staff. There was equipment to buy, supplies to purchase. In the end, it all came together.
Within a week of opening, it was obvious that the clinic had answered the prayers of many elderly, disabled, or other low-income pet owners. Within ten days, PIN’s leadership decided that the clinic needed to be open four days a week rather than three.
Today, PIN is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is staffed by a full-time veterinarian, two veterinary technicians and a receptionist. Thirty veterinarians, including a board certified radiologist and board-certified surgeons, generously volunteer time to help PIN’s pets and their owners. Veterinary technician students from the New England Institute of Technology work at the clinic two days a week, and the clinic also serves as an externship site for fourth-year veterinary students from Tuft University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
“Helping to establish the Pets in Need Veterinary Clinic is the most rewarding thing I have done in my 30-year career as a veterinarian,” says Wietsma. “Helping a pet get the medical care it would otherwise not receive and returning it to its loving home is truly an honor.”