UI program aims to expand needy families' access to pet care

UI program aims to expand needy families' access to pet care

URBANA — Food and rent for the humans or a check-up for Rover?

The cost of veterinary appointments can make health care for pets unaffordable in some families, but a University of Illinois program is preparing to do something about that in this corner of the state.

The UI's shelter medicine program, which takes its mobile surgical unit on the road to do thousands of sterilization procedures a year at area animal shelters, will expand this summer to offer other types of veterinary care to pets living with families in need.

Dr. G. Robert Weedon, the UI veterinarian who heads the shelter medicine program, said he has seen the ill effects and higher costs when pets don't get the care they need from the start.

He recalled one litter of puppies sickened by a potentially deadly intestinal infection surrendered to an animal shelter a few months ago because their owner couldn't afford treatment. The puppies were eventually sent to the UI veterinary hospital for treatment and hospitalized for a week.

"The problem is, the bill came to $28,000," Weedon recalled.

The shelter medicine program could have intervened at several points before the cost of care grew that much, he said. The puppies could have been vaccinated to avoid the infection, or they could have been treated by shelter medicine veterinary students working with an animal shelter at a much lower cost.

Veterinary care through private practices can run into hundreds of dollars a visit, depending on the care being delivered.

Nationally, the average cost of a routine vet visit for a dog, for example, was $257, according to the American Pet Products Association's 2017-18 pet owners survey. Emergency and surgical visits ran even higher.

Starting around July, the UI shelter medicine program will begin offering such services as vaccinations, dental care, heartworm screenings and wellness exams plus pet health education in communities within an hour or so of Champaign.

The care will be provided by UI veterinary students working under supervision, Weedon said. Some details, such as charges for the care, are still being worked out, he said.

"It will be somewhere from no-cost for people who have absolutely no money to low-cost," Weedon said.

He also said these new services are intended for those who can't afford private practice veterinary care, rather than to take business away from veterinary practices.

"We don't want people showing up in a Lexus with puppies just to get a couple of cheap shots," he said.

The UI's program is being modeled on the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Program, Weedon said. That program targets the lack of affordable, accessible pet care in underserved communities.

The expanded program is being funded with the help of a three-year grant expected to total more than $500,000 from the Sally Lorraine Sedlak Vaughan Irrevocable Charitable Trust in Springfield, according to the UI.

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