Popup rabies vaccine clinic calms low-income pet owners' nerves

As rabies cases rise in Hamilton, a free vaccine clinic in Hamilton aimed to help low-income owners protect their pets.

As rabies cases rise in Hamilton, a free vaccine clinic aims to help low-income owners protect their pets

A vet and vet tech meet K.C., a dog receiving a free rabies vaccine at a popup clinic in Landsdale on Wednesday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

In a central Hamilton neighbourhood where a visit to the vet can mean not affording some other household necessity, more than 100 people lined up Wednesday for free vaccines to protect their pets from the area's rabies outbreak. 

"You walk into the vet, it's $80. That's a month of groceries," said one dog owner who brought her pup Duke to the popup free vaccine clinic on Barton St. East in the Landsdale neighbourhood.

The number of rabies cases has been steadily rising among raccoons and skunks in and around Hamilton, recently reaching 108 as Ontario faces its first outbreak in a decade.

For devoted pet owners, that news has been nerve-racking as they worry about their dogs and cats being exposed to potentially rabid animals.

Vet tech and pharmaceutical rep Monica Mejsak prepares a vaccine. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

For those with limited money, it's even more worrying. 

"When you can just make rent and food – and their food," she said, her thought trailing off.

The only way to be sure pets are protected is to vaccinate.

Steve Noonan listened to K.C.'s heart before the vaccine was administered. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Ontario law requires pet owners to keep their pets vaccinated regularly.

The Wednesday event, put on by Associate Veterinary Clinics and St. Matthew's House, was a way to help those who haven't been able to save up enough to get to the clinic.

Vet tech Monica Mejsak fills out paperwork for T.P.'s vaccine. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

One dog owner at the clinic on Wednesday said she'd just had to put down one of her dogs in February – the $300 fee for which she is still paying off.

Another $100 or so to visit a vet and pay for a vaccine was impossible at the moment.

And from a public health perspective, protecting more pets means it could help curb the spread of the outbreak.

Sharon Stephenson brought her dog, T.P., to be vaccinated. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

At the clinic on Wednesday, veterinarians and vet techs in four tents in a parking lot administered vaccines that were donated by the pharmaceutical companies that make them. 

The event was put on by Associate Veterinary Clinics and St. Matthew's House. From a public health perspective, protecting more pets means it could help curb the spread of the outbreak. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Some of their owners found out about the event at local food banks, others through word of mouth. Some had kids or grandkids who came home from school talking about rabies.

The line was around the block before the event started this morning.

A dog named Duke readies himself with vet tech Andrea Kerr's help to receive a rabies shot. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Sharon Stephenson brought her Jack Russell terrier, T.P., to the tent where veterinarian Steve Noonan and vet techs Andrea Kerr and Monica Mejsak were working.

"This is the only way I could bring her," said Stephenson, who receives disability assistance.

Duke continued to prepare for the vaccine. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Kerr said the dogs and cats that came to the clinic were in surprisingly good shape.

Noonan examined each dog before administering the vaccine, passing along tips to their owners about cases of cataracts, spaying and neutering and heart murmurs.

More than 100 dogs and cats were vaccinated in a free popup clinic in Hamilton's Landsdale neighbourhood on Wednesday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The owner of another dog said she rescued her nine months ago from a situation where she'd heard crack cocaine addicts had kept the dog in a closet for six years.

"I just want to do the best for her," she said.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett