This Seattle clinic provides free vet care for unhoused pet owners

Doney Coe Pet Clinic celebrated the grand opening of its new headquarters in SODO this week.

a vet tech holds a long black and white cat in an examination room

Veterinary assistant Zanna Spinney lifts tuxedo cat Oreo onto an exam table on opening day of King County’s new Doney Coe Pet Clinic for pets of unhoused and low-income families. (Genna Martin for Cascade PBS)

On Wednesday morning, Sue Wells, her dog Mr. Snookums and cat Kiki sat under a pop-up tent in the parking lot of an old auto radiator shop-turned-veterinary clinic in SODO, waiting for their turn to be seen. She’d driven up from Sumner to get a checkup for the pets and pick up a medication refill at the grand opening of Doney Coe Pet Clinic’s new home. 

Mr. Snookums is one of Wells’ two senior dogs. Their heart medication costs $200 a month, an expense she couldn’t afford as a low-income senior. She started visiting Doney Coe for discounted medications, but now wants it to be her vet for life.

“I took a flyer and put it up in our church so other folks know about it,” Wells said. “It’s important. I can’t imagine not having the resource. People should not have to put an animal down if they can’t afford to pay for care.”

For 38 years, Doney Coe has provided free veterinary care to low-income and homeless pet owners in Seattle and the surrounding area. The clinic offers the full array of services that a standard for-profit clinic provides, including check-ups, diagnostics, surgery and medication refills.

Eighteen-year-old chihuahua Misty arrives outside the new Doney Coe Pet Clinic. (Genna Martin for Cascade PBS)

Through much of its history, Doney Coe has operated out of donated space. In 2022, the clinic thought it had found a permanent home Downtown on Third Avenue and Virginia Street, but lost the space after only about a year. For the past year, it continued working out of Urban Animal’s Downtown location, but was able to offer services only once a week.

In its new home at 1101 Airport Way South, Doney Coe can see clients every Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and every other Saturday (weekend hours are still TBD).

The clinic is subleasing the building from King County for below-market-rate rents. The County leased several properties on the block as part of its plan to expand an existing homeless shelter and offer more beds and additional services. That plan was scrapped after fierce local opposition, and the County was left with a former radiator shop it had no use for.   

Recognizing Doney Coe’s need for a stable space, the County offered the building and did the renovations necessary to make it a vet clinic. It may not end up being a permanent home; King County Facilities Management Division director Tony Wright said the County’s current lease with the property owner will last about four more years, but he’s hopeful they will be able to extend it.

Left: Doney Coe staff check out basset hound Mr. Moo. Right: Fifi waits for her turn for a checkup on opening day of King County’s new Doney Coe Pet Clinic. (Genna Martin for Cascade PBS)

Rather than a ribbon-cutting for the clinic’s grand opening Wednesday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Doney Coe Pet Clinic board president Marti Casey linked two dog leashes together and held them high to symbolize the partnership between the nonprofit clinic and the county.

“Whether you have a 20-year-old shelter cat, like I do, or a dog, or for that matter, a lizard, or a rabbit, or a bird, or a fish, that’s our family,” said Constantine, whose cat is named Kiyomi. “Even for people with good steady incomes, the cost of veterinary care can be significant. … For those who are struggling with housing insecurity, that can become an agonizing choice between some of the necessities of life and the necessary care. That’s where Doney Coe Pet Clinic comes in.”

The clinic has only one full-time and one part-time employee. It relies heavily on volunteer veterinarians and vet techs to provide their services, as well as vet students from Washington State University who come to help every other Saturday. Many of those volunteers work at Urban Animal, whose owner Dr. Cherri Trusheim sits on Doney Coe’s board.

Demand for Doney Coe’s services greatly outpace its capacity. Pet owners often face long wait times to be seen, and it’s not uncommon for people to show up hours before the clinic opens to secure their place in the line.

“Oftentimes people will prioritize their pets over themselves. We’ll have them lining up at 5 a.m. in the rain,” said Dr. Lara Kreyenhagen, a vet at Urban Animal who volunteers at Doney Coe.

Kreyenhagen said the need for the clinic’s services only increased during the pandemic, as more people lost incomes and experienced homelessness along with the boom in pet adoptions.

Casey, the board president, described the clinic as “small and mighty.” She said it relies on individual donors and family foundations to pay for its operations, along with the generosity of volunteers. She’s hoping that with the new space, the clinic can bring on more volunteers and offer services more days a week.

“We are always at capacity,” Casey said. “We have anywhere from six to 20 veterinary volunteers depending on the time of year. We will always take more help.”

Dr. Lara Kreyenhagen talks with Chris about his dog Leia. (Genna Martin for Cascade PBS)

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