Clinic sensitive to low-income pet owners
Care For Animals, a primary care clinic at 2944 Post Road, has earned a reputation of offering low-income pet owners affordable medical assistance for their pets. Veterinarian Dr. Annette Rauch has been running the clinic since 2009 and also treats feral cats, which are under-socialized felines, as well as cats or small dogs that are homeless or in local shelters. To renovate the facility, she even used some of her own personal savings.
“I realized from being a veterinarian and having a private practice for a number of years that there are groups of animals that fall between the cracks and are not well served by current veterinarian practices,” Rauch said. “It’s a really important service, and veterinarians are doing a wonderful job caring for animals that belong to people who are financially able to pay for care, but there are other groups of animals that are underserved. I feel very driven by the mission.”
Rauch said the clinic, which accepts electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, provides wellness examinations, vaccinations, testing services and medications. They also spay and neuter pets at reduced prices.
“We don’t do a lot of surgeries on large dogs that are physically demanding and we don’t offer 24-hour care,” she said. “If animals are critically ill, we send them to [nearby] hospitals.”
Care For Animals helps low-income pet owners by focusing on one ailment at a time. They correct the most crucial issue first and rectify less severe concerns over time. This allows clients to accumulate funds in between visits and pay smaller fees along the way, as opposed to one large, “intimidating” sum.
“Some animals suffer from easily treatable problems like flea allergy dermatitis, ear infections or dental abscesses because their owners didn’t have the money to go to the vet,” she said. “They were worried that one thing would lead to another and they would be faced with a huge bill so they flat out don’t go. The owners love their animals a great deal and are motivated to take care of them and do something one piece at a time because that’s the only way they can pay for it. They may not have a credit card to use or have $300 or $400 to spend on their animal at one time.”
On an average day, Rauch said the clinic performs about six surgeries in the morning. During afternoons they deal with about 20 animals each day for examinations or other procedures. Additionally, they house animals available for adoption. Currently, they have about 10 healthy eight-week-old kittens looking for homes. They were delivered to Rauch in poor health when they were just 10 days old.
“They were sick and all had eye infections and would have died without a medical intervention,” Rauch said. “We ask for a donation fee of $125 per kitten. It’s not a charge but is for three vaccines [the kittens receive during a course of a few follow-up visits,] their rabies vaccine and their spaying or neutering surgery. It’s a great deal for the pet owner and we know the kittens are starting out their lives in good health.”
The clinic also houses a handful of adult cats in need of homes. Buffy, who was found abandoned off Ives Road, is a one-year-old special needs cat, as she is deaf. Buffy would be best for a person who lives in a slow-paced, peaceful atmosphere.
“She’s easily startled, so we’d like to find her a quiet home,” Rauch said. “You have to be gentle with her. You can’t barge up to her because she gets scared. She’s super tame [and] a really sweet kitty.”
At first, Rauch said she didn’t know Buffy suffered from hearing loss. She determined Buffy was deaf after noticing that the cat could sleep though many loud noises.
“You wouldn’t expect a young kitten to have no hearing because it’s something we usually see in elderly animals, just like with elderly people,” Rauch said. “We tested her by making loud noises above her while she was sleeping and she would continue to sleep right through them. We would come in here and vacuum and she would just be sleeping, completely oblivious.”
Bruce Lee, Rauch’s Siamese cat, as well as his best friend, Suzie, live at the clinic. Rauch said Suzie makes quite the impression on everyone who meets her, as she is immobilized from the waist down.
“She can’t really walk or move around, but she’s just so inspirational in her attitude about how she gets through life,” said Rauch. “She helps the kittens, takes care of sick animals and loves everybody. She came here last fall to be put to sleep. Someone found her and saw her in the road dragging herself around. All the animals here have a story like that.”
Rauch said a few other cats, like Paris and Audrey, are also looking for suitable homes. Sadly, a number of the animals she takes in have been abandoned and neglected.
“I work with the Warwick Police Department on law enforcement cases,” she said. “The animals may belong to a person from any economic background but they probably shouldn’t have a pet because they aren’t attending to their needs. We find dogs that are chained up in backyards for days on end with no food, water and no place to get warm in the winter or get out of the sun in the summer.”
She also said that she thinks the recent approved ordinance that prohibits pet owners from leaving animals unattended in vehicles in extreme weather conditions is “wonderful.” She believes it sends a message that people need to take care of their animals.
“Animals need care and people need to attend to their care if they choose to have a pet,” said Rauch.
She also feels that while “it’s true that it’s not such a great idea for a homeless person or a person of very low-income to get a pet, that doesn’t change the fact that they do own a pet. People do a lot of different things that are not in their best interest, but it still happens. They love animals and they want the companionship of an animal. They may not have all the amenities, but they can become extremely devoted to their animals.”
Rauch said her work has been “very rewarding.” She got her start in the field after graduating from Tufts Veterinary School in 1986 when she began working at hospitals such as Northern Rhode Island Animal Hospital and Cranston Animal Hospital. In 1989 she opened Cowesett Animal Hospital with Dr. Barbara Korry, but left years later when she started experiencing chronic back pain.
“It was difficult to keep up with the practice,” she said. “Then, I worked at the veterinary school [at Tufts Medical School] and decided to open this clinic.”
Rauch also earned a master’s degree in animals and public policy from Tufts University in 1999.
Rita Falaguerra, the founder of Cat Adoption Team Services (CATS) based in East Providence, which also helps abandoned and abused felines find good homes, said she is impressed with Rauch’s veterinary skills and overall mission. She said she frequently consults Care For Animals for spaying and neutering services.
“I think Rauch is phenomenal,” Falaguerra said. “She does not put your money ahead of your cat. She’s got to be the most caring veterinarian, and I will tell you, I’m very fussy. I highly recommend her.”
Dennis Tabella, the Director of Defenders of Animals, also said he thinks highly of Rauch and her clinic. Like Falaguerra, he has recommended people to her.
“We’ve had good experiences with her,” Tabella said. “When I brought cats and dogs there, they got excellent care. A lot of hospitals can be very expensive, but she’s very reasonable with costs. It helps a lot of people who wouldn’t have been able to afford the regular fees other hospitals are charging.”
Lesley Doonan, who serves on the board for the statewide organization Volunteer Services for Animals and serves as the coordinator of the Warwick chapter, agrees.
“She’s an excellent, all around, full-service vet,” Doonan said. “She cares so much about animals that she tries to keep her prices within what people can afford and helps animals that don’t have owners. If you adopt an animal from there, you know it’s had top-notch medical care and lots of love. Her clinic is clean, organized and the staff is absolutely wonderful.”
At Care For Animals, Heidi Sweeney, who has served as the office manager for the last year and started as a volunteer, helps run the clinic. After bringing her cats to the clinic to be spayed more than a year and a half ago, she decided she wanted to lend a hand.
“I said to myself, ‘I should help here,’” said Sweeney. “Then, [Rauch] offered me a position a couple months after I had been volunteering. I think it’s great that we take stray animals, care for them, and find them good homes. We serve a need that’s not being met.”
She said one of the best aspects of her job is the adoption component. She enjoys caring for the animals any way she can.
“I’ve been bottle feeding two kittens for the last two weeks,” Sweeney said. “They have brought so much joy to my life and everyone around me. Peoples’ faces light up.”
Additionally, Rauch said Doug Colan, an anesthetic technician, serves as a valuable volunteer.
“He helps with surgery monitoring,” she said. “He’s great.”
Volunteers also consist of high school students who aim to fulfill community service requirements. They typically help with chores such as cleaning and doing laundry, while former veterinary technicians in the local community assist with more demanding needs.
Moreover, the clinic offers an internship program through the University of Rhode Island for pre-medical students who visit the animal facility for an entire semester. They receive college credit for their work.
“It’s been extremely popular with the students because we let them do a lot of animal care like holding the animals and learning how to prepare the animals for surgery,” Rauch said. “We teach them about our anesthesia machine and how to clean surgical instruments, as well.”
Most recently, Rauch said she is seeking to become a non-profit organization. She is confident her clinic will eventually reach that status.
“It’s going to take a bit, but I think it’s going to happen,” she said. “It would open up another avenue to help the people that come in here. It’s primarily an issue for people that come here with animals that have more serious problems. Having additional income to support those clients would be helpful. We need to grow as an organization. To expand and have more staff members would be great.”
For more information on Care For Animals, visit www.care4animals.net or call 739-7387.