by Deborah Held
As any animal lover knows, pet ownership is costly. The recent economic downturn has only made matters worse, as pet owners have sometimes had to choose between caring for themselves and their families or for their four-legged loved ones. All over the country, animal shelters are beyond capacity, filled with dogs and cats that have been abandoned by owners who often have had no other alternative than to give up their beloved pets.
In downtown Chamblee sits hope in the form of Georgia’s only not-for-profit, low-cost (but not free) veterinary clinic, WellPet Humane—a.k.a. the Atlanta Animal Alliance. This clinic offers wellness care for the dogs and cats of financially struggling individuals, with the mission of ending economic euthanasia, according to its president and founder, Bob Christiansen.
The Atlanta Animal Alliance was initially founded in November of 2002 as Project CatSnip, a way to make the spaying and neutering of felines affordable and accessible to cat owners. Investing roughly $175,000 in a customized, mobile surgical suite on wheels – complete with 38 on-board cages – Christiansen and co-founder and veterinarian Amy Orlin have been responsible for the humane sterilization of approximately 50,000 felines since that time. For as little as $40 for a neuter and $60 for a spay (vs. $100-$300 for the same services elsewhere), a pet owner can make a reservation and meet the mobile surgical setup at a scheduled stop throughout the metro Atlanta area. The animal is returned to the owner at the end of the same day. Pain management, a full exam and a nail trim are included in the fee.
In August of 2008, Orlin saw the need to expand the Atlanta Animal Alliance’s mission to meet the demands of those owners who were also struggling to care for their canines, and WellPet Humane opened its doors. “There’s a big need out there for people who are financially struggling and need to get their pets cared for,” said Christiansen. The Southeast—Georgia in particular—is a hotbed of animal neglect and need, he said.
WellPet responds to medical needs, including vaccines, routine examinations, spays and neuters, skin/eye/ear problems, urinary problems, minor respiratory and intestinal ailments, lacerations, abscesses, parasite control, bite wounds, teeth cleaning and oral hygiene, mass removals and more. The clinic is not equipped, however, to handle trauma cases such as hit-by-cars, orthopedic cases, or major catastrophic medical cases. Such events require extensive testing and hospitalization, surgical procedures, etc., and would drive up the cost of the clinic’s overhead and raise the cost to WellPet’s client base. Such cases are referred to other local, full-service animal hospitals and specialists.
This practice and its offerings are simply perfect for Martina Montalbetti, whose puppy Molly, an Australian shepherd, recently received a round of puppy shots. As a full-time student at Georgia State University, Montalbetti counts her every penny. She stated that while she has the time and love to care for her dog and her cat Jack (also a patient at WellPet Humane), it’s the money that’s the main hurdle.
“With shots and food and supplies… it would be impossible [without the help of this clinic],” she said.
Thanks to WellPet Humane’s special pricing policy for those clients who qualify for financial need (see Website at www.wellpethumane.com), Montalbetti has even been responsible enough to see to it that her pets are spayed and neutered – something she knows would be a near impossibility for her at a full-price vet clinic.
“In any case, it’s simply the best vet clinic I’ve been to, regardless,” she said, while standing with Molly in the clean, brightly lit and well-stocked waiting room.
Montalbetti is not alone in her sentiments. On any given day, the waiting room in the clinic is abuzz with the din of chatter, as pet owners coo to their dogs and cats and discuss the relief they feel knowing this clinic exists to help care for their pets.
“It’s the best kept secret in town,” said Christiansen.