Christmas came a little early for Neighborhood Pets this year. This fall, just as people were starting to think about the holidays, the nonprofit pet care provider in Cleveland’s Slavic Village opened a gift in the form of an expansion.
No longer, after acquiring and renovating an adjacent property, are employees and volunteers confined to a 1,000-square-foot shop.
Now, in addition to their usual storefront and a couple of storage areas, they’ve got at least three times that space across two well-outfitted exam rooms, a reception area, a kitchen, and an office – all to help more people avoid having to decide between basic necessities and the needs of their animal companions.
What you can do: Find out more about Neighborhood Pets at http://www.neighborhoodpetscle.org/ or by calling 216-505-5853. Neighborhood Pets is located at 3711 E 65th St., Cleveland, OH 44105.
“It’s much better now, a professional environment,” said Becca Britton, founder and executive director of Neighborhood Pets. “We were doing a lot with very little.”
The gift, funded by a mix of foundations and private and corporate donors including PetSmart Charities, couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
On any given day, Neighborhood Pets offers free or discounted pet supplies and basic veterinary services to anywhere from 60 to 100 cats and dogs owned by low-income or homeless citizens of Cleveland and East Cleveland. Many come right from Slavic Village itself, where average income lags Cleveland as a whole and roughly 26 percent live at or near the federal poverty standard.
Pet needs, though, skyrocket during November and December, as the turning weather generates illness and already limited funds divert to other critical expenses such as heating.
That’s all on top of the baseline problems facing pet owners in general these days, including a chronic shortage of veterinarians as well as rising costs for surgeries and basic procedures including vaccinations, euthanasia, and spaying and neutering, which can cost up to $250 apiece.
Even Neighborhood Pets has only four veterinarians in its network, and together they’re only available to donate services for two or three hours two or three days a week. At full-price facilities, Britton said, it can be difficult to get a prompt appointment.
“Around the holidays our clients really struggle,” Britton said. “We really do understand what’s going on with regards to animal care. People [veterinarians] are just over-worked, and it’s an issue across the country.”
Caring for humans, too
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It’s not just about animal care, either. Neighborhood Pets concentrates on dogs and cats and offers an array of free or heavily discounted pet food, vaccines, and supplies, but the services it provides benefit those on two legs every bit as much as they do those on four.
There’s a reason a basket of free bagels sits just inside the front door and the center’s pool of money for euthanasia and other specialized procedures is called the “Dignity Fund.” Knowing that animals provide an array of intangible benefits to humans, Neighborhood Pets aims to help low-income residents keep their pets, and keep those pets healthy.
“[T]heir reach is far beyond just caring for animals,” said Anthony Brancatelli, the Cleveland City Councilman whose Ward 12 includes Neighborhood Pets.
That’s a truth to which Sadie Jackson, a 67-year-old retired florist in Slavic Village, can attest firsthand. She’s been taking her five rescue dogs to Neighborhood Pets practically since its first day in 2016. Now, she can hardly imagine life without it.
Jackson said Neighborhood Pets has administered any number of services on her dogs – which she calls her “kids” – over the years, and once gave her a voucher to defray the cost of a procedure at a traditional vet’s office.
That’s been a blessing not only to her dogs but to her as well. Thanks to Neighborhood Pets, she’s never had to choose between her kids and keeping a roof over her head. Today, she donates small amounts as she’s able and looks forward to one day serving the nonprofit as a volunteer.
“They’re so helpful,” Jackson said of Neighborhood Pets. “They take a lot of stress off you. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t give them [the dogs] up, but they’d be lacking. My kids would have to suffer, and when they suffer, I suffer.”
The path to Neighborhood Pets
Suffering, as it turns out, or rather a desire to prevent it, is what moved Britton, a former community development officer, to found Neighborhood Pets in the first place. When she began holding pop-up vaccine clinics and pet equipment drives in conjunction with Friends of the Cleveland Kennel 10 years ago, her primary objective was to reduce the need for euthanasia.
That she did. In the process, though, she also discovered suffering in the human population, a widespread struggle among low-income residents to obtain basic pet care and supplies including food, litter, cages, and collars. At one drive, Britton said she was shocked to count 600 waiting in line.
Subsequent work only refined that awareness. Britton said she’d follow stray animals to abandoned or poorly maintained properties and discover, along with litters of untended puppies and kittens, people living in conditions she doesn’t even like to discuss.
“What I saw, it changed everything for me,” Britton recalled. “It gave me a perspective on what people need, and that often it has nothing to do with their pets…We’re essentially a social services organization, helping people.”
A respite from the real world
That mindset remains Britton’s guiding philosophy. Kindness and trust are the names of her game.
All people, she said, deserve the companionship and love of a pet, irrespective of their economic or housing status. As much as anything else, Neighborhood Pets tries to be a respite from the real world, a place where all are treated with respect and without judgement.
Certainly, in the case of Jackson, that effort is working. Although she receives much from Neighborhood Pets, Jackson said she also cares enough to give, to donate whatever amounts she’s able to spare. Someday, too, she’d also like to do volunteer work for them, if ever the right opening arose.
“I told them I want to volunteer, I want to help,” Jackson said. “I don’t want them to think I’m just taking, taking, taking. I want to do something to try to give back. Now I’m just waiting for a spot.”
Zachary Lewis is a freelance journalist who lives in Shaker Heights.