MADISON, WI (SPECTRUM NEWS) — A veterinary clinic in Madison works with people who are experiencing homelessness or in danger of becoming homeless by giving their pets care at a free or greatly reduced price.
Wisconsin Companion Animal Resources, Education, and Social Services — or WisCARES — launched in 2014. While they help people struggling financially with pet care, they also provide housing support, advocacy, and social services to their clients.
The idea behind the clinic is largely to help make sure that people experiencing homelessness or close to it don't have to part with pets for financial reasons.
“Their life is hard right now, they have their best friend, their companion with them, I want them to be able to stay with them as long as possible,” said Elizabeth Alvarez, curriculum director at WisCARES.
They help people like Vanesa MaGee, who has been coming to WisCARES since it started.
MaGee and her son decided to move out of a Madison apartment complex a few years ago when she said it became too dangerous. Now they live with two dogs. She says one dog, Kane, also acts as as a support dog for her son and it protects both of them.
“When you sleep on the streets, he protects us, he really did protect us, if somebody comes to the car he going to make sure they don't get in there,” MaGee said.
MaGee couldn't bare with parting with either of her dogs, and WisCARES helps her keep them.
“I couldn't put him in a shelter. I couldn't put him in a shelter,” MaGee said. “They kill them if they don't have no place to go and I couldn't put my dogs in there, so I kept him and he became my protector ever since.”
Stories like that are why the people at WisCARES want to keep growing.
“They really rely on that, so it's really great to help people keep their animals and keep their animals healthy and help them through the hard times,” said Kelly Schultz, medical director at WisCARES.
They moved into a larger location recently on Madison's south side. Now Schultz said they take 40 to 80 clients a week.
“We have all the space we need to do our boarding program and surgeries and everything, we have enough space,” Schultz said.
The boarding program WisCARES offers allows clients to drop a pet off for up to two weeks if they need someone to watch it for an extended period of time.
The location of the new place is helpful for many clients too, moving from an office downtown in Madison.
“There's not a lot of veterinary clinics in this area, so for a lot of our clients its easily reachable,” Schultz said.
People need to apply to take their pets to WisCARES. People who are experiencing homelessness get most of the regular care for free, people struggling financially pay a greatly reduced price.
WisCARES operates with several University of Wisconsin – Madison programs like veterinary care or social work. They also have family health and pharmacy students work with the clients.
Mostly donations and grants keep WisCARES going. Most recently they received a two-year $600,000 grant from PetSmart Charities. They say they will use the money to add more staff and equipment to help more clients.
WisCARES also offers pet food and animal supplies as well as human personal hygiene items for their clients.
Social workers and family health workers at WisCARES can help the clients work to get back on their feet as well.
“Because they see how much we love their pet and they love their pet and they trust us and then we can say hey what is going on with housing right now? Do you need help? We have this social worker here what can we do to help you get a new apartment.” Alvarez said.
WisCARES wants to expand in the future to help more people. Grants and donations help them do that. Ultimately they think the demand isn't going away.
“That's kind of our hope to be able to build on this and keep it a longer term program here in Madison,” Alvarez said.
That's good news to MaGee, who says she loves bringing her pets to WisCARES and sees how it helps other people too. Especially because she's seen people have to part with their pets.
“I know that hurts them a whole lot, that's their partner, companion you know? Part of the family,” MaGee said.
WisCARES takes cash donations as well as unopened pet food, pet supplies sand human toiletries, you can learn more about how to help them here: https://wiscares.wisc.edu/get-involved
The clinic also is looking for foster families to watch pets, WisCARES covers food and supplies. You can apply if you are interested here: https://wiscares.wisc.edu/become-a-foster-family