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Humane Society opens not-for-profit vet clinic

Humane Society Veterinary Technician Marissa Peacock examines a cat prior to surgery. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Will offer services at prices significantly lower than private veterinarians

BY VOICE STAFF

The Lincoln County Humane Society, which is actually on Fourth Avenue, in St. Catharines, has opened Ontario’s first unrestricted, not-for-profit, full-service veterinary clinic. The society has offered spay-and-neutering services for cats and dogs since 2012, but earlier this year launched a soft-opening of the full-service clinic.

“The response has been amazing,” says Kevin Strooband, the society’s executive director. “We had been doing walk-in appointments, with people just finding out about the service through word-of-mouth, but that’s not even possible anymore. We’re too busy.”

The clinic will hold its “hard opening” this week, and is open for appointments on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

“We’ll be beginning with three days per week, and hopefully the potential is there for seven,” said Strooband. “Our goal is simply to provide additional vet resources to animals and pet owners in the area.”

While there is one other not-for-profit clinic in the province, in London, it is a means-based service, and Strooband stresses that the Lincoln County’s clinic does no income testing.

Compared to most veterinary practices, the humane society’s clinic will be significantly less costly. While prices vary from vet to vet, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) sends its members a “Suggested Fee Guide” each year. In 2016, the guide suggested a charge of $88.20 for an annual canine physical examination, while the Lincoln County clinic charges only $25. Its vaccination charges are likewise less expensive, just $25 each for rabies, bordetella, and others, while the OVMA suggested a price of $90.20 in 2016.

Generally speaking, Lincoln County’s prices appear to be approximately one third of those recommended by the OVMA.

“Ideally,” says Strooband, “this will be a self-sustaining operation. We’re really going into it blind. But we had the facilities, and so we’re trying it out.”

Since beginning its spay/neuter program in 2012, Strooband says that pet owners have come from all over Niagara, and even from further away. “We’ve had people come from Ottawa. Now I assume that there were other factors involved—that they were visiting family in the area of something—but it still shows that what we’re doing is resonating.”

Dr. Robert Perry, of the Dunnville Veterinary Clinic, had much to say about the new not-for-profit clinic.

“I do think that there is a need for low-cost services, for some pet-owners,” he said. “But I would like to see it provided on a means-based level. People are going to see the costs at that clinic and think that we [private clinics] are charging too much.”

Though Strooband said that the clinic is hoping to be self-sustaining, Perry said that this is just part of the picture.

“They might be able to cover their vet costs, but everything else has been subsidized. The humane society is probably paying all of the utilities, and, as a charitable organization, they don’t pay taxes. When that building was constructed, it was paid for with fundraised dollars. The clinic just doesn’t have the overhead costs that we do in private practice, and so it’s not really fair to compare our prices,” he said.

Perry said that his Dunnville clinic does have programs that help make veterinary care possible for low-income pet owners, but he wondered whether it was right for those who have the means to afford regular vet coverage to see their fees subsidized by a charity.

“I’d have a few questions regarding the care itself,” he said. “If the clinic is only operating three days a week, this could lead to all sorts of issues in continuity of care. If, for example, an animal has a complication following surgery, the owner could have to bring the pet into an emergency vet clinic, which would end up costing more than a regular vet in the first place.”

Veterinarians at Pelham’s three animal hospitals were all either unavailable or declined to comment.

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