'Crazy-busy already' low-income veterinary clinic opens in Waterloo Region

“We are crazy busy already,” said Ann-Marie Patkus-Cook, hospital manager after less than two months in operation at the East Village Animal Hospital, the first low-income veterinary clinic of its kind in the region.

Kitchener's East Village Animal Hospital offers veterinary services low-income residents can afford

This cat, from the Toronto Cat Rescue, is one of dozens that will be spayed and neutered at the East Village Animal Hospital, a not-for-profit veterinary clinic, and the only in Waterloo Region. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

The East Village Animal Hospital is the first low-income veterinary clinic of its kind in the region, and is already high in demand after only being open a few weeks.

"We are crazy busy already," said Ann-Marie Patkus-Cook, hospital manager.

As one of the only options for low-income pet owners, it's not surprising that the hospital is gaining momentum fast.

Offering affordable service

Opened in July, the clinic has already received hundreds of calls and emails requesting appointments from pet-owners across Southern Ontario.

The hospital averages six to eight general medical appointments, and approximately 15 spay and neuter procedures per day, for both private clients and organizations like the Toronto Cat Rescue and other local humane societies.

Tom Thumb was at the clinic to receive wart removal care, something which could cost hundreds of dollars at a regular veterinary clinic. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

While costs vary at veterinary clinics, the East Village Animal Hospital offers significantly lower prices than anywhere else.

For example, a client approached their regular vet clinic about euthanizing their dog, and cost plus cremation was estimated at $725 for the owner.

"It was under $200 here," said Patkus-Cook.

Increased Access

Potential patients simply need to show proof of low income or social assistance in order to receive services, and for those who are strapped even more financially, the clinic runs a "donation-jar."

Staff and volunteers help fundraise for the hospital, plus clients, community members and groups donate to the jar. Those funds can be used for emergency situations to help cash-strapped pet owners toward vet fees.

"We have a situation today where we need to do emergency X-Rays, and they don't have the money for that," explained Patkus-Cook.

Dr. Heidi Hung performs a spay/neuter procedure on one of the cats from the Toronto Cat Rescue. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

The clinic takes the money out of the jar to pay off the account, and regards it as a micro-loan to the client. They set the principal amount they can afford to pay back and over time the loan is repaid.

"It's a beautiful thing: it really is [paid back]," Patkus-Cook said.

It's a simple idea, and one of many inspirations for the clinic that owner Dr. Martha Harding picked up internationally, seeing the idea function in countries in Africa.

The basic idea for a not-for-profit vet clinic is one she got from Europe, and something she hopes to spread across Canada where these services are "desperately needed." 

"I think it's the right of everybody to have a pet," she said. "Regardless of income."

"There is much data to show that low income individuals are happier, our senior citizens stay more active, our neighbours with mental health [issues] have fewer catastrophic events, if there is a pet — a friend — in the home."

Widespread need

Although located in Kitchener, pet-owners from across Southern Ontario are reaching out to East Village for help caring for their animals.

"I just got off the phone with a woman from Toronto, and she was crying, she was so excited, so happy that she could finally afford to get her dog neutered," said Patkus-Cook.

Karen brought Miss Abbey, 3, to the hospital for a sore mouth, something which could cost hundreds to just diagnose at other clinics, and just isn't in their budget. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

And the heart of the issue is an emotional one: people simply can't afford to care for their best friends.

Karen and John brought their 3-year-old cat Miss Abbey into the clinic with a sore mouth. It's their first time at East Village.

They were given Miss Abbey by their daughter, who thought "her Nana could use a pet."

For them, as for so many others, taking care of Miss Abbey is a high priority.

"They're a part of your family. Why would you have them not to love them and enjoy them," said Karen.

In the past they've had struggles paying costs, explains Karen, and prioritizing parts of their budget to make ends meet. It's a cost-cut they don't want to make, but have to, especially when all the veterinary procedures add up.

"When you're on disability and so forth and you're only getting that cheque at the end of the month, $200 is not easy to come by," said John.

Helping others help their animals

The issue is very dear to Patkus-Cook's heart, and it's hard for her not to get emotional, hearing people's stories and helping them get the services they need.

"They love their animals, their animals do so much for their own mental health, and they want to do what's right," she said.

"They just can't afford to go somewhere else."

Who are we to judge what situation somebody might have been in?- Ann-Marie Patkus-Cook, East Village Animal Hospital

She's seen clients and potential clients denegrated and stereotyped based on their income, and it's something that upsets her.

"Who are we to judge what situation somebody might have been in?" she said.

Growing up with a single mother money was tight, says Patkus-Cook, so she understands and believes in the necessity of services like this for all communities.

"It's important to have a clinic like this everywhere."


  • An earlier version of this story said there was interest charged on the micro loans. In fact, interest is not charged on the micro loans.
    Aug 28, 2017 12:59 PM ET