The veterinarian who sends no bill
Help-A-Pet helps low-income pet owners keep their animals well
BENNINGTON — Peanut's owner was concerned. The Chihuahua wasn't walking normally, and it appeared that there was something wrong with one of its hind legs.
Veterinarian George Glanzberg examined the leg, his educated fingers gently probing. The little dog had a luxated patella, he announced — a displaced kneecap, or what you might call a trick knee. He showed the owner how to massage Peanut's leg, to get the kneecap back into its proper place.
"You're managing him very well," he said, handing the animal back to its relieved owner. Smiling, she bundled up the dog against the cold and left the clinic. There was no talk of payment. There never is, for the clients of Help-A-Pet.
Since the spring of 2016, Glanzberg and his team have been offering a clinic on the second Sunday of each month in the lobby of the First Baptist Church on Main Street, inviting low-income pet owners to bring their animals in for the treatment of parasites, minor illnesses, wounds, and injuries, as well as basic wellness exams.
The owners, besides loving their animals, have something else in common: They all qualify for assistance. To use Help-A-Pet's services, pet owners must be homeless, or receiving Medicaid, 3 Squares, fuel assistance, or Meals on Wheels.
Glanzberg's assistants are his wife, Gail, who checks in the patients and handles paperwork; John Resio, who assists with examinations; and Ernie LaFontaine, who takes care of prescriptions and provides information about low- and no-cost spaying and neutering services.
It's a team that knows how to work well together — all were connected to the North Bennington veterinary practice Glanzberg ran before his retirement four years ago. Resio has worked with Glanzberg for 30 years, and LaFontaine joined a decade ago. That familiarity is important because, on a typical clinic day, as many as three dozen owners will bring their pets through the church's doors in search of help.
The Help-A-Pet team is unpaid. The work of the clinic, a 501 (c) (3) charity, is supported by a small grant from the national organization Pets of the Homeless, and donations from people in the community.
Just recently, Help-A-Pet expanded its services by launching Help-A-Pet From Home, providing services via phone, text, email, FaceTime and Skype to more readily meet the needs of sick or injured animals. It's telemedicine for pets.
Peanut was one of 30 pets that received Glanzberg's care on this particular Sunday. Some simply needed vaccinations; others had fleas, or unusual bowel movements, or had worried their owners by behaving erratically or losing weight suddenly. One woman worried about the cost of trimming her cat's claws, but was reassured by Glanzberg. "Her nails are fine — she's taking good care of them herself," he said.
Lumbering dogs with graying muzzles, tail-wagging puppies, timid cats in cages — one by one, they arrived in Glanzberg's makeshift examination room, a hallway repurposed for the day. Some owners left with medications, or information about low-cost spaying and neutering services; every one, it seemed, also took with them reassurances from the veterinarian that, yes, they were doing a good job of caring for their pets.
"There are cases where a dog can be cured, or we can attempt a cure," the veterinarian said. "Many times, there is some specific treatment that we can find either through examination — and we provide the medicine for them — the laboratory work and the medicine is all free to the public."
Make no mistake, caring for the animals is the clinic's primary job. But Glanzberg recognizes that their services are beneficial to the owners, too. "These people who have difficulty, we are able to help make them feel better about their ability to take care of their animal," he said.
Help-A-Pet is something that the Glanzbergs came up with while they were still operating their North Bennington practice. "It was a small charity that we ran from our office, we helped find homes for dogs and cats, and we also helped people afford care once they came in our office," Gail Glanzberg said.
After their retirement, turning the service into a free clinic seemed like the natural thing to do. "It's both a continuation of what we do, what we know how to do, what we love to do, and a public service," George Glanzberg said.
It didn't take long for them to realize that they had made the right decision. At one of the first Help-A-Pet clinics, an elderly woman arrived with her dog, her main companion. The dog had developed difficulty walking, and the woman was prepared to cancel her telephone service so that she could pay for the dog's veterinary care.
The veterinarian counseled that, although the dog wasn't using one of its hind legs much, it wasn't in pain, and was getting along well. "It was an orthopedic case, a joint problem, for which x-rays and surgery were certainly one possibility. There is, however, a medical alternative," he said. "Yes, her dog is not using the leg completely, but that's okay. So it can live another four or five years loving her and her loving the dog, maybe with some medication to help."
"The woman left sobbing with relief," Gail Glanzberg said. "And I would say that that was the day we knew we were doing the right thing."
While the hours are 2 to 4 p.m., to run the clinic takes up most of a Sunday afternoon and evening. The equipment gets moved from the Glanzbergs' home in North Bennington to their truck, and then unloaded and set up at the church. After the clinic is over, they reverse the process, and make sure that the church is at least as tidy as it was before their arrival.
"Many, many folks that we see in the clinic are very close with their animals, and are so happy to be able to give them the care that they need," Gail Glanzberg said. "They wait sometimes a long time, and everyone is kind to each other's animals and to each other. I have never had a problem in that very busy waiting room. It's inspiring, really."
Not long ago, a young couple arrived at the clinic with a badly neglected Rottweiler. The animal had been abandoned in an apartment for some number of days, and the couple had broken down the door to rescue it.
"I'll tell you, I don't know if there was a dry eye in that clinic when he carried that dog in," Gail Glanzberg said. "It was sick in many ways, a lot of it due to a very severe skin infection," George Glanzberg continued. "And neglect as well. These people were extremely diligent in following the medication routine that I prescribed, and caring for the dog and nursing it, and with the help of some medication that dog became two months later a perfectly healthy, normal, loving and well-loved dog.
"It was just so good to be able to help the dog and the people. And they have a wonderful pet now."
Help-A-Pet operates on the second Sunday of each month from 4-6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church at 601 Main St., Bennington. No appointment is necessary. Help-A-Pet from Home can be accessed at 802-379-3493 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.helpapet.net.
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