If you have strolled down State Street, chances are you’ve seen the homeless man who walks with his rat balanced on his cat, which is balanced on his dog. While it is a peculiar spectacle, it is not a singular one-the number of companion animals living on the streets is surprisingly high. It is a fact of which Santa Barbara veterinarian David Dawson is keenly aware. In Santa Barbara County alone there are roughly 6,000 homeless people, with approximately one in 10 owning a pet. “With these economic times, we will not see the end of pet homelessness,” said Dawson. “We need to give back and make a change to keep the pets and public of Santa Barbara healthy.”
And that is exactly what he is doing. Last March, Dawson, along with his staff at San Roque Pet Hospital, held a free clinic for the homeless of Santa Barbara’s pets. Approximately 14 dogs and one cat were brought in for routine procedures such as full exams, vaccines, and any other minor care needed. As to the condition of the homeless pets they saw at the clinic, Dawson said, “surprisingly, the animals were well kept.” This is most likely due to the fact that the homeless population rely on their pets for nonjudgmental, loyal companionship. These pets are sometimes their primary support system and the only motivation to keep them going, he added.
Dawson’s inspiration for the free clinic came after assisting at the Mercer Clinic in college, which is a nonprofit, student-operated veterinary clinic for the homeless in Sacramento. The clinic, which is open one Saturday a month, offers counseling sessions about the benefits of spaying and neutering pets and provides the service free of charge. Since 1993, the Mercer Clinic has treated more than 1,200 animals; Dawson hopes to achieve similar success in Santa Barbara.
This Sunday, July 19, San Roque Pet Hospital will be holding its second free clinic for street pets. Free exams, vaccines, and flea treatments will be offered. Dawson and his staff hope to make the free clinic a regular event at their hospital and have high hopes for the outcome of their services.
They have sent word out via their contacts in Casa Esperanza, the local homeless shelter, and through flyers. Even in these tough times, people like Dr. Dawson and his San Roque Pet Hospital are indeed giving back to Santa Barbara’s animal residents.
San Roque Pet Hospital, 3034 State Street (at De la Vina); 682-2647, sanroquepethospital.com