New Wilmington clinic aims to connect pets, owners with health care

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Theodore Trivett and his dog, MJ, arrived early at the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center on a recent Saturday to be sure they got a walk-in appointment. He’s had MJ since she was a month old, but she’s 4 now, and she’s never had her shots.

Trivett said he knows a trip to the vet is way overdue.

“Ah, she’s my best friend, she’s my child, my daughter, anything you can think of,” he said. “I would live on the streets before I’d get rid of her.”

Still, the cost of care deterred him from getting to the vet earlier.

“I did price out what it would cost to get everything, and it’s almost $200,” he said.

Right now, they live with his grandparents while he attends automotive school.

And that $200?

“It’s like a million dollars actually, because I’ve experienced being homeless, so I know the true value of a dollar, and a dollar is a meal,” Trivett said.

The free clinic, in its fourth month, is packed into a side room of Henrietta Johnson Medical Center on New Castle Road. At each table, three veterinarian students — supervised by a senior vet — assess each pet. Molly, a lapdog, is overweight and showing signs of arthritis in her knees. A veterinary student recommends using baby carrots as treats, explaining, “When she begs, she just wants you to give her something, it doesn’t have to be something big.”

Among the tables are clinic staff and student nurse practitioners who ask the pet owners about their access to medical care and whether they have health insurance.

By hosting a vet clinic, medical center CEO Shay Scott said she hopes to reach more people who are eligible for low-cost medical care and sign them up for appointments during regular hours.

“Sometimes, people who don’t necessarily take the best care of themselves will take care of a pet, spouse, someone else. So the notion that they’re coming here now, it’s a time for them to tap into their primary care as well,” said Scott.

Troya Banks came from New Castle for a follow-up appointment for her four Chihuahuas. Her mother, a patient at Henrietta Johnson, recently told her about the Saturday clinic.

“I’ve been having to take care of my husband because he’s been sick. I’m not working right now, so we weren’t able to take the dogs to the vet anymore,” said Banks as she adjusted a blanket over the stroller carrying RJ, Rusty, Crybaby and Coco.

The dogs still need dental work, but are looking much better after antibiotics and heartworm medication.

The price is right

At the pharmacy table, two University of Delaware undergraduates explain that routine flea, tick, and deworming medications usually come to about $300 a year per animal. Here though, everything is free with support from grants, as well as underwriting from pharmaceutical companies and pet care brands. The volunteers are all students from three area universities: Wilmington University, University of Delaware, and Penn Veterinary School.

The partnership is part of their One Health Plan, which uses pet health as a window into the health of the family and environment, said Patrick Carroll of the Delaware Humane Association.

“By being in a facility that is about human health care, then we can connect the dots to their own health care. If their pet is overweight or has skin issues or diabetes, we can talk about that as an issue with humans, as well,” said Carroll.

The clinic is held the first Saturday of each month between 8 a.m. and noon.

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