January 18, 2024.

Fifty million pets in the U.S. experience a lack of access to even basic veterinary care. Rising costs and other barriers mean these pets struggle to access services such as spay/neuter procedures, vaccinations and critical medical and preventative care. With as many as 70% of households now including pets, this issue impacts families in nearly every community.

PetSmart Charities has committed $100 million over the next five years toward improving access to veterinary care. The “Accelerator” low-cost veterinary care grant program is a key part of this effort.  These grants support the expansion of low-cost veterinary care by funding growth and operations for up to four years for nonprofit clinics looking to expand their services, serve their communities better and inspire other veterinary providers by sharing their experiences.

The grant made to Gateway Pet Guardians in the amount of $125,000 will support the expansion of the veterinary clinic serving pet loving families in the communities just east of St. Louis –  Cahokia Heights, East St. Louis, Fairmont City and Washington Park, Illinois. Gateway Pet Guardians calls their service area in the Metro East region the ‘East Side Pet District.’ The anticipated impact on local pets and families includes 55,000 residents living in the East Side Pet District where the annual median household income is only $28,000.

“As the only clinic in the East Side Pet District offering affordable veterinary medical care for families facing poverty, we are excited and ready to review and improve our clinic services so we can continue providing excellent low-cost care while keeping in mind our clinic’s sustainability.” says Alisha Vianello, executive director of Gateway Pet Guardians. Vianello continues to say that “The vet clinic is one of the most effective ways to support pet ownership in the East Side Pet District, so it’s central to our mission of keeping pets and their people together.”

Overwhelmingly, people consider their pets important members of the family. Pets make a significant impact on the health and wellness of the people they love. This grant will enable more families to get the preventative and standard care that ensures their pets thrive at home and stay out of shelters.

“Our veterinary system is in crisis,” said Kate Atema, director of community grants and initiatives at PetSmart Charities.  “Rising costs are putting standard veterinary care out of reach for as much as 50% of pet-owning families. We need innovative solutions that make veterinary care affordable for the families in every community who want the best for their four-legged companions but struggle to meet the cost of vet care. We’re inspired by the incredible work Gateway Pet Guardians is doing to create solutions that will build strong families and a healthy community.”

For instance, recently a community member named D’necco brought a small dog named Rosey to Gateway’s minor medical clinic. Rosey originally belonged to D’necco’s mother, who had a stroke and could no longer care for her. Once taking over Rosey’s care, D’necco saw a large, leaking tumor on Rosey’s chest that caused her physical discomfort. He took Rosie to a traditional veterinary clinic in a nearby community where they recommended putting Rosey to sleep because of apparent breast cancer. Rather than immediately say goodbye to Rosey, D’necco decided to get a second opinion at Gateway. Because of the minor medical clinic, community members living in Gateway’s service area of Cahokia Heights, East St. Louis, and Fairmont City can see a veterinarian at a fraction of the cost of a regular vet.

Gateway’s Dr. Sarah Frei echoed that breast cancer in dogs can progress quickly but suggested removing the tumor first and offered a payment plan to finance the surgery. By removing the tumor, Gateway’s vet staff could conceivably extend Rosey’s life. The same surgery at a traditional veterinary clinic might cost $750 – $1,000 but Gateway charged only $300. The surgery went to plan and after a post-surgery checkup, Dr. Frei reports that Rosey is healing beautifully and is extremely comfortable now. PetSmart Charities Accelerator grant has given little dog Rosey a second chance at life and a family the gift of staying together during a time of upheaval.