The line started on the sidewalk on Third Avenue between Virginia and Stewart streets in downtown Seattle, a handful of people sitting on folding chairs and accompanied primarily by dogs.
Dogs like Peanut, a three-year-old Staffordshire terrier mix with a skin condition, and Rebel, a nine-year-old Jack Russell terrier and golden Chihuahua mix with fluid in his lungs.
They and their people were there to meet with veterinarians at Doney Coe Pet Clinic, a nonprofit that has offered veterinary care to low-income people and people experiencing homelessness for more than 35 years. Until the pandemic struck, that’s meant attending one of the twice-monthly clinics held at Union Gospel Mission (UGM) — patients lined up at a long table with up to five veterinarians sitting behind it. They did an exam, identified the problem and provided what care they could. Otherwise, Doney Coe offered referrals to private veterinarians and covered the cost.
But now, it’s different.
For the first time in its 36 years helping the pets of Seattle, Doney Coe Pet Clinic has its own space, a real sticks-and-bricks shop with a professional exam room, medical equipment and the stability to provide a different kind of care to its furry friends.
“I can’t tell you how excited we are,” said Marti Casey, president of the Doney Coe board of directors and longtime volunteer.
The space is a two-floor office with dark wood floors. The foyer and interior waiting room is bounded by a desk on the right-hand side and more chairs on the left — a person perched on one of the chairs watched as her nervous dog skittered across the line on the floor that led to the exam room. The pup successfully slipped its collar before being recaptured by Doney Coe volunteers.
Doney Coe may be a special kind of vet, but its patients don’t know the difference.
The clinic was once the Third & Stewart Animal Wellness, a practice owned by Dr. Mona Radheshwar, herself a former Doney Coe volunteer. When she decided to close up shop, Radheshwar offered Doney Coe the space and, crucially, all of the equipment, the kind of stuff Casey wouldn’t have imagined buying for the clinic in her wildest dreams — anesthesiology machines, surgical gear, the works. They also worked with IDEXX Laboratories to secure leases for the advanced technology that they have on site.
Since moving into the new office in June 2022, Doney Coe has worked with partners to expand its services, increasing the number of free monthly veterinary clinics from two to 10 with the help of students from Washington State University and a partnership with a locally owned veterinary group, which asked not to be identified.
Just having the ability to see animals more regularly and in vet offices that are all their own has fundamentally changed the way that Doney Coe veterinarians can approach care, said Dr. Lara Kreyenhagen, a veterinarian who has been volunteering with Doney Coe for 24 years.
The highly trained practitioners can offer medication management, surgical procedures and dental care, all on site. An affectionate elder cat named Bryn was hanging out in a cage in the bright, clean exam room recovering happily from a tooth extraction at that moment; an extremely unhappy dog — “a lot of our patients want to bite us today,” one person joked — was brought into the exam room for a check before being asked to return the next day.
“We can send them home with sedatives and anti-anxiety medications and have them come back,” Kreyenhagen said.
It’s also opened up the opportunity for different kinds of partnerships, like that with Neighborcare Health, which provides health care for the people who come in with their pets. Neighborcare has a table just past the foyer where people can set up health appointments — one of their main clinics is a few blocks away near Pike Place Market.
It’s part of the One Health care model, an innovative, holistic system of care that takes advantage of the fact that many pet owners will make sure their pet receives medical attention before they themselves do by co-locating both types of resources.
“The person and their pet are a family unit,” Casey said.
Neighborcare also operates a clinic at the New Horizons youth shelter, in partnership with students from the University of Washington who participate in the University District Street Medicine group.
The change in Doney Coe’s itinerant style of care was abrupt and came when the organization was trying to adapt to the new reality imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. In the before times, Doney Coe partnered with the UGM, offering clinics and providing referrals when pets needed follow up. However, it lost that space when the dangers of the airborne disease restricted the use of congregate shelters.
Doney Coe went where people would have it, setting up in the parking lot of the Trupanion pet insurance company and later the Phinney Ridge Community Center and a veterinary space in White Center. Its work was more important than ever — the number of pets in the region shot up at the same time as available veterinary appointments plummeted due to coronavirus safety regulations. That put extra pressure on Doney Coe’s clients: pet owners making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
The sudden, unexpected gift of space and equipment meant a fundamental shift in the way that the organization operated, and Doney Coe — a small outfit with traditionally little in the way of overhead — leapt at the chance.
“We don’t have to turn the Titanic; we just have to turn a rowboat,” Casey said.
From Casey’s perspective, that’s certainly true. She spent 30 years in corporate America doing executive-level work for companies like Microsoft. To call Doney Coe, which works primarily with volunteers and only recently brought on its first paid employee, “comparatively nimble” is an understatement.
However, the new offices, partnerships, staffing and levels of care mean new demands on the organization’s finances — this isn’t the same Doney Coe that drafted a strategic plan based on borrowed space and a handful of clinics. The organization operates on a $500,000 annual budget, and its heavy reliance on volunteers means upward of 90 percent of that money goes directly to animal care.
“Donors have been so supportive and excited about this move,” Casey said.
Read more of the Sept. 14-20, 2022 issue.