A new model for low-cost preventative veterinary care is paving the way for pet-loving families in Northeast Philadelphia—introducing Emancipet, a nationwide network of veterinary facilities whose Philly branch opened in March 2017.
Emancipet provides low-cost care including vaccinations and spay/neuter services at a flat-rate fee to anyone who needs them. However, Emancipet vice-president Amanda Foxman says the nonprofit clinic hopes to do more than vaccinate some pets.
“A lot of our patients have never seen a vet. We hope to show these families how to love vets by fostering a lifelong relationship between our clinic and their pets,” Foxman said.
Emancipet Philadelphia was made possible by a Petsmart Charities donation that paid to establish its 575 Adams Ave. location, chosen for the area’s dense population with little veterinary support. There, Emancipet staff can perform 35 spay/neuter procedures and vaccinate approximately 70 pets each day.
For both dogs and cats, each vaccination is $15, and each spay/neuter procedure is $69, regardless of age or weight. Emancipet does not charge additional fees to spay/neuter pregnant pets or those in heat, procedures that can cost hundreds of dollars at a traditional veterinarian. A full list of services and their fees, including microchipping, nail trimming, and de-worming is available on the Emancipet Philadelphia website.
“We keep everything completely transparent. There are no hidden fees,” Foxman said. “What happens if you’ve saved up for a procedure for your pet, only to find out that a complication cost you extra money you don’t have? That doesn’t happen here.”
Care for families, not just pets
One in six Americans lives in poverty, and over half of all American families include one pet—together, that’s millions of pets and their humans living in poverty, according to the Humane Society of United States. Foxman said Emancipet strives to keep these families together through affordable and accessible veterinary care. And when over 80 percent of pets living in poverty have not been spayed or neutered, low cost sterilization services keep additional animals from entering the crowded shelter, too.
“If a dog is losing his hair because of his reaction to fleas, his family might think that it’s a skin condition with a costly cure beyond their budget. They might think they need to surrender their dog. But if they come to Emancipet, we can help them with the care and flea prevention that could fix the problem and keep that dog out of the shelter,” Foxman said.
The clinic does not require any proof of income qualifications. The last thing Emancipet wants, Foxman said, is to make anyone prove they’re poor. In fact, Emancipet’s staff encourage any person or pet to use their services, as it widens their range of impact and increases the likelihood that someone who really needs them will hear about their clinic and visit.
In doing so, Emancipet is doing more than keeping pets who need homes in homes—it is keeping people who need their pets with their pets. Foxman is keenly aware of the life-changing impact pets can have on their families, especially those in need. Raising three sons in a house full of rescue dogs and cats (and the two turtles she rescued on the day we interviewed her), she has seen the impact her pets have had on her sons during times of stress and hardship.
“People love their pets and want to do their best, but sometimes that’s hard. Pets make that hardship easier. But what happens when those pets are taken away? We help keep animals in homes where their humans may desperately need that lifeline to get them through those hard times,” she said.
High quality, judgement-free care
Emancipet staff believe that all pets receive the highest quality care. The clinic is equipped with two examination rooms for vaccinations and other services. Spay/neuter procedures are performed by an on-staff vet. Pets never recover from anaesthesia alone in a cage. Instead, they receive what the clinic calls “hands-on” care, waking on a mat with a vet tech just inches away. Once they are up and moving, pets are moved to individual crates equipped with calming calming lavender for the dogs and pheromones for the cats.
Everything about the clinic is designed to make owners’ lives easier. Wall clasps next to each waiting room bench allow owners to safely secure their pets’ leashes while completing intake paperwork. A smart-TV entertains waiting families during peak walk-in hours with YouTube videos of animals, and a nook with coloring books and crayons occupies children while their best friends get their shots.
Everything about the clinic fosters a sense of positivity, too. The walls are lined with pop-art portraits of cats and dogs by Emancipet veterinary technician Liz Clough, and natural sunlight beams in from the clinic’s windowed facade. The waiting room is spacious, and there’s none of the frenzied urgency families might find in a veterinary emergency room or pop-up pet clinic.
This sense of optimism and support is important, Foxman said, especially when the clinic services many who have never taken their pet to a vet. Their first impression of the experience may change whether they visit a vet again.
“We aren’t going to judge someone for seeking help for a member of their family,” Foxman said.
Support needs support
The Philadelphia Emancipet location was made possible through charity and can only continue to with similar financial support. Emancipet operates entirely at a loss—every spay, neuter, vaccination, and flea treatment costs the clinic more than what the owner pays. In addition to traditional donations, pet-lovers can support Emancipet in some unique ways, as one of Emancipet’s major financial supporters includes Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
Emancipet is funded in part by Vodka for Dog People, a philanthropy arm of Tito’s. Both Emancipet and Tito’s were founded in Austin, Texas, when their founders noticed in a need in their surrounding pet-loving community. Together, they have since continued and expanded this mission; Emancipet Philadelphia is the organization’s sixth clinic and its first outside of Texas, while Vodka for Dog People is sponsoring the Philly clinic’s inaugural Howl-O-Ween Doggie Dash, a fundraising walk with countless activities for the whole family, including the dog.
With additional support, Emancipet can service more of Philly’s pet-loving families. Foxman said she hopes to see the clinic expand beyond its three-day schedule for additional walk-in hours. She said the clinic has the space to double its daily spay/neuter procedures from 35 to 70 pets—it only needs the means.