Veterans and first responders who depend on service animals will be able to obtain free medical care for their companions via a “Vets for Vets” mobile veterinary clinic being offered by a Nesconset-based service animal nonprofit.
Paws of War, which since 2014 has trained rescued shelter dogs for veterans who need them, will offer monthly clinics at veterans halls and similar locations across Long Island, the organization announced Thursday during a demonstration at the H. Lee Dennison county office complex in Hauppauge.
That is good news for veterans like Michael Kidd, who served in the Korean War and lives on a fixed income. Since his wife died four years ago, he has struggled to care for his dog.
“Financially, she takes a lot to care for, so this van is a godsend,” said Kidd, nodding toward the big-eared shepherd that idled by his side. "It takes a financial burden off of me."
Kidd was among a handful of veterans who had their animals treated during an unveiling of the mobile unit, a 26-foot recreational vehicle that Paws of War co-founder Dori Scofield said underwent a $200,000 renovation to accommodate an examination area, medical equipment and holding pens.
The mobile clinic, which will be staffed by volunteer veterinarians, veterinary technicians and assistants, will offer a range of services, from wellness checks, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering, to tooth extractions, minor surgeries and microchip identification tag implants. The clinic will also perform grooming and nail clipping.
Organizers said the mobile service will be especially valuable to veterans and first responders whose physical or psychological disabilities make it difficult for them to take their service animal to brick-and-mortar veterinary hospitals.
Scofield said Paws of War is hoping to attract volunteer veterinary personnel and financial backers who she said would allow the organization to offer more frequent clinics. She said the cost of heartworm tests and other supplies can be dauntingly expensive, and that the organization hopes to be able to add X-ray equipment to the traveling pet-care pavilion.
“This is a home run for vets and their pets,” Scofield said.
Kidd agreed: His dog was vaccinated, had a problem with her ears looked at, and had her nails trimmed during a checkup performed inside the van.
Kidd said the companionship his dog provides is invaluable to him. He said the dog has a way of comforting him when fireworks set off in a recreational field near his Central Islip home bring on war-related anxieties, which he said have increased since his wife died.
“If something ever happened to my dog, I think it would kill me,” Kidd said, tearing up. “She means an awful lot to me.”
James Donohue, 39, an Iraq War veteran living in Yaphank, said the service dog he received from Paws of War has helped him to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological response to extreme fear or violence that sometimes makes Donohue reluctant to be in crowds.
“Since I got Hero three months ago, I get out more,” said Donohue, who brought the mixed black Labrador to the mobile clinic to be vaccinated against rabies and canine distemper. “I’ll go to my kid’s basketball games, and he wakes me up if I’m having a nightmare.”
Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone, who attended the mobile clinic's unveiling, praised Paws of War for being among the Long Island citizens who have stepped forward to find innovative ways to help men and women who have served in uniform.
“It’s remarkable what they have done for veterans,” Bellone said.