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Over the years I've known many people who lost their dogs to accident or illness. They were fortunate enough to be able to take their dogs to veterinarians who helped prolong their dogs' lives if they could, but the grief that ensued after the inevitable was enormous. One friend confided that losing his dog was harder than losing a parent.
Though I never put it in those terms, I did feel tremendous empathy for him, having lost dogs and other pets, and I too felt that I would never overcome my despair.
Imagine then how a homeless person feels about his or her dog, a constant companion, and often, a protector. A dog might be a homeless person's only friend, only listener, only consoler. A dog may be a homeless person's only reason for staying alive.
But how do homeless persons take care of their dogs? They are certain to be fed, often first.
Homeless man with dog
Veterinarian Dr. Jon Geller actually knows something about that. He says that street dogs are generally pretty healthy, especially considering their often unhealthy environments. Geller is the founder and director of The Street Dog Coalition (SDC), vets and vet assistant volunteers who now offer examinations and treatment to homeless dogs in 35 communities across the U.S. - and Geller just started the organization five years ago in Ft. Collins, Colorado.
Geller is not known for lack of commitment. He did not decide to become a veterinarian until he was 38 years old. His earlier career as a building contractor was no longer 'for him' so, after contemplating his interests and what he wanted to devote to them, he decided to become a vet!
After veterinary school, in his early 40's, Geller started out as a large animal vet, but found he was traveling around too much and preferred working with smaller animals. After he worked part-time shifts in pet emergency hospitals, Geller found his true calling - emergency medicine!
Dr. Jon Geller via
"For a little extra income I started doing emergency shifts as a relief doctor and I realized this is really what I love doing as far as veterinary medicine goes, so I spent the next 20 years involved in emergency medicine." Geller told Becker.
Vets from SDC centers come to their clients prepared to treat dogs for various conditions right where they find them on the street, because it is difficult to get them to a clinic - transportation being the biggest issue. The lucky communities that have this service (shown on this map) also hold periodic clinics for dogs with veterinarians and staff checking them out. If serious conditions are present, SDC tries to serve the dog through veterinary clinics that affiliate with SDS with the support of donations from individuals and, often, from the veterinary clinics themselves.
Geller said that the most common veterinary issues with street dogs are parasites, "mostly things like mites, lice, ticks, scabies, maybe some intestinal parasites also. I think that's just a product of living outside 24 hours, their exposure is just more."
This video shows the human and animal response to a voluntary "Pop-Up" clinic arranged by Geller during a veterinarian convention in Denver in 2018.
Does it make you smile?
SDC has several special programs in addition to its 'regular' service. Programs like Vets for Vets where free veterinary care is offered to pets of veterans during other veteran events. Or Remembering Rocco, a fund-raiser to establish an SDC in the Boston area.
You can get involved in SDC in many ways, including just donating some money to get a fabulous Street Dog Coalition t-shirt with its logo on your chest. (See SDC logo at top of article). Check out the website too, and see how you might get involved.