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Reno’s safety net should include people’s pets

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

By Mark Robison

Holly Delliquadri’s cat named Deja Vu needs his teeth fixed. He’s in pain stemming from complications from a fall. But it’s going to cost $2,300, and Holly can't afford it. She lives in low-income housing in Sparks.

“I looked into euthanasia because I had to,” Holly told me, her oxygen concentrator gently whooshing in the background. In the end, she couldn't do it: “He’s family.”

Holly’s – and Deja’s – situation is too common. Unfortunately, with unemployment rising, such sad situations are becoming more frequent. According to 2019 Maddie's Fund research, 36,000 pets in Washoe County go without needed veterinary care each year because of financial barriers.

One of three things usually happens with animals in these situations:

• Their owners surrender them to a shelter, hoping the shelter will treat their pet even if it means the animal is adopted by another family.

• The pet is put down in order to end the animal’s misery even though the condition was treatable. This is so common, there’s a phrase for it: economic euthanasia.

• Or the animal is like Deja Vu – remaining in their loving home but in pain because treatment is out of reach.

I’ve communicated with many local residents who desperately want help.

There’s a 75-year-old woman who just got laid off from her job at a Reno law firm at the same time her cat became seriously sick with a mystery ailment. There’s a Virginia City man who would do almost anything to get his dog spayed but can't afford the surgery.

An animal control officer learned she was having a baby at the same time her dog needed emergency surgery for $3,800. “I just moved here from Jacksonville Florida,” she messaged, “where we have quite a few low-cost (nonprofit) clinics. I was amazed that Northern Nevada doesn’t have any!”

Currently, these people have few options. They can start a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign– difficult if they don’t have the connections to promote it. They can contact the local organization Shakespeare Animal Fund, which can typically give about $75 toward vet care – enough for an initial exam but not enough for treatment. They can ask their vet to help – but most private veterinarians are already stretched almost to the breaking point from working with clients who cannot afford needed care.

A solution that has worked elsewhere is an affordable, nonprofit veterinary clinic like the animal control officer above mentioned. Just such a clinic is starting in Reno – with the goal of serving all of Northern Nevada – called Options Veterinary Care. It hopes to open by late September but has raised only $300,000 out of the $730,000 needed to hire veterinary staff and buy equipment.

Such a service is considered essential for communities that care about their residents and pets – and is even more important during times of economic distress. It’s about time Reno got one.

~ Mark Robison is a senior consultant with Humane Network, which is working to get Options Veterinary Care up and running in Northern Nevada.

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