It’s been a hard few weeks for Kirk Sabiston since losing his home to a house fire. Through it all however, his mixed breed dog and best friend Diogee, has been right by his side. Now, thanks to the hard work of two Providence Care employees and two Kingston veterinarians, Diogee received some much-deserved pampering and care during the first ever Kingston region Community Veterinary Outreach Clinic at the Integrated Care Hub on Wednesday Jan. 3, 2024.
“Diogee got all his vaccines today and was microchipped,” Kirk explains happily. “He got his distemper, his rabies and one for not getting sick from drinking water out of puddles [leptospirosis vaccine]. “I can’t imagine having to pay for all of this to get done,” Kirk goes on to explain. “I probably received about $1,000 in services today and I can’t describe to you how appreciative I am for it.”
Community Veterinary Outreach is a registered charity that operates in 11 regions across Canada from Whitehorse to Halifax. They work under a “one-health” model with a mission to provide free veterinary care to pets and health services and community connections to their owners who find themselves precariously housed or street involved. It’s a charity that both Providence Care Social Worker, Myra Emery and Manager, Assertive Community Treatment, Leeanne Couvrette know a lot about, working with them in different parts of Ontario early in their careers.
“I actually did my student placement with Community Veterinary Outreach 10-years ago while I attended Carleton in Ottawa,” explains Myra. “This has always been something I’ve wanted to bring to Kingston and do here; actually, it’s probably been on the back burner of my mind for the last 10-years.” “After lots of emails back and forth with the charity I was connected with two Kingston vets who were interested too and then Leeanne and I connected and all four of us became the Regional Directors of the Kingston Chapter.”
Both Myra and Leeanne have had the full support of Providence Care during the last eight months of planning and organizing the event, using part of their work hours to plan and use their partner connections across the region with KFL&A Public Health and Kingston Community Health Centres to make it a success and spread the word.
“People who may not come in for their own health care are the ones who are coming to these clinics because they care deeply for their pet,” explains Leeanne. “This is a vulnerable community who is faced with a lot of insecurity, but they are willing to put their animal before themselves because they’re family and offer unconditional love. Community Veterinary Outreach offers a unique way of connecting with individuals about their own health and well-being while caring for their pets.”
The human health services provided at Kingston’s inaugural event in addition to veterinary care were nicotine replacement therapy through the Ottawa Model for Smoking Cessation, sexual health testing, immunizations, harm reduction and mental health supports.
“I have always seen the value of animal and human companionship,” says Myra. “I know how important my animals are to me and I also know animals are expensive. Treating animal health and human health all in one just makes sense and making it available to people who might not be able to access either is so important. It’s been so surreal seeing this come together and it’s so touching.”
16 animals were treated during the five-hour clinic day, two cats and 14 dogs. Veterinarian and Regional Director Dr. Rea Marcelissen says the focus is on wellness and preventive care for both the animals she treats and their owners.
“Animals play such an integral role in human mental health and wellness,” explains Dr. Marcelissen. “We’re all here to support the community. Focusing on wellness and prevention in animals by using vaccines to prevent disease and illness that would need more costly or invasive veterinary care has a ripple effect to their owners. We’re trying to keep the animal and people population as happy and healthy as we can.”
Working alongside Dr. Marcelissen is fellow Director and Kingston veterinarian Dr. Andrew Winterborn. He says there is a lot of misinformation about animals living with individuals who are precariously housed, adding that every animal he examined during the clinic was in very good health.
“Animals really provide a calming, positive psychological effect on their owners,” explains Dr. Winterborn. “By running a clinic like this we can really relieve one more stress to people in vulnerable positions, reassure them their animals are healthy while providing preventative care and it’s so important to me to do so.”
Both Myra and Leeanne say seeing the clinic come to life after months of planning and years of dreaming has been an amazing experience. They will be coming together with both Dr. Marcelissen and Dr. Winterborn to work toward making the clinic a quarterly event, adding that providing these veterinary services, food, collars and toys isn’t possible without donations from the community.
“Getting the Kingston community on board to support Community Veterinary Outreach would be extremely beneficial,” says Dr. Winterborn. “It’s not cheap to be able to run the clinic even with the financial support from PetSmart Charities, Donner Canadian Foundation and in-kind donations from Boehringer Ingelheim, the vaccine manufacturer, and so having the community rally to support this initiative would wonderful,” he adds.
As for Kirk, he leaves the clinic a little lighter knowing Diogee has a clean bill of health and will find his way back to him if he’s ever lost. Diogee leaves in style with a nail trim, a new rainbow harness, toys and food.
“I actually accessed the smoking cessation services and I plan to quit smoking for Diogee, he’s my family and best friend and I’m so happy he was able to get some care, I can’t thank everyone enough.”
To donate to Community Veterinary Outreach, visit their website and select Kingston as your preferred location.