A person holding their dog.
Chrystal and her dog Dizzy attended the one-day mobile clinic organized by Community Veterinary Outreach in Kingston, Ont., last week. The national charity provided only first names of their clients. (Submitted by Andrew Winterborn)

A mobile clinic in Kingston, Ont., is offering free veterinary care for the pets of people in the area who are experiencing homelessness, an initiative organizers hope will help alleviate stress.

The clinic, held at Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub last Wednesday, was organized by Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO), a charity founded in Ottawa that runs similar clinics across the country.

“There is a significant population of pets with the unhoused individuals within the community,” said Andrew Winterborn, CVO’s regional director and university veterinarian at Queen’s University, in an interview with CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning.

Veterinarians saw 14 dogs and two cats during the one-day clinic. Winterborn says he’s hopeful it will return several more times this year.

There’s a common misconception that pets owned by homeless people might not be in the best shape, Winterborn said.

A man standing in a veterinary examination room wearing scrubs.
Dr. Andrew Winterborn is regional director of Community Veterinary Outreach and a veterinarian at Queen’s University. (Submitted by Andrew Winterborn)

“We found that all of the animals we saw were in very good health,” he noted, adding two of the animals were treated for minor ear infections.

“This is really consistent with what the literature reports, where pets that are with homeless and housing-vulnerable individuals are just as healthy as the general population.”

Pets provide support, companionship

Pets play an incredibly valuable role in the lives of people experiencing homelessness, Winterborn said, pointing to studies showing homeless people with pets are less likely to experience depression.

“We know that pet ownership for those individuals who are homeless and vulnerable housed really provides emotional support, companionship, and at times that really is the only level of companionship that they have.”

In fact, homeless people will often report feeding their pets first.

“They will put their pets before themselves, making sure that they’re taking care of them to the best of their ability, to the detriment of themselves at times,” Winterborn said.

A collage of three different pictures of pets.  From left to right, a chihuahua wearing a puffy vest, a cat wearing a sweater and a mixed breed dog wearing a harness.
Chico, Mary-Jane and Diogee are just some of the pets who received care at the one-day clinic last week in Kingston, Ont. (Submitted by Andrew Winterborn)

By providing wellness exams, vaccinations and donations of pet food, CVO hopes to help clients look after themselves as well as their furry companions.

The clinic also provided an opportunity for Kingston’s public health unit to check in on the animals’ owners, with a focus on immunization and sexual health.

While such health-care services were already available through the city’s public health agency, Kingston’s nurse-led outreach team was on hand to offer an array of care. The health unit said it considered the day a success

A person holding a black cat
Gail and her cat Kiki attended the one-day mobile clinic organized by Community Veterinary Outreach in Kingston, Ont., last week. The national charity provided only first names of their clients. The one-day clinic saw 14 dogs and two cats, according to organizers. (Submitted by Andrew Winterborn)

Although some believe it’s irresponsible for homeless people to have pets, Winterborn said that’s an unfortunate perception.

“I really think we need to look at it more from a broader societal context and really be asking ‘how can we help homeless people so that they are better able to take care of their pets?”

Ontario Morning8:45Mobile clinic providing veterinary service for pets of unhoused people.

No one wants their pet to be sick… but vet trips can be especially hard for people without housing, and without a way to pay for vet bills. This morning, we spoke to an organization that offered a mobile vet clinic in Kingston specifically for unhoused individuals.

By fersz