Francine Vargas stood in line Tuesday at the Stockton Salvation Army anxiously cradling her white curly-haired Bichon Frise dog named BB, while she waited for veterinarians with the ElleVet Project, a nonprofit veterinarian clinic on wheels, to tell her what happened to BB’s enlarged and swollen front leg.
Vargas was receiving animal care for BB in Stockton, one of the stops on the ElleVet Project’s tour across the West Coast which began June 1.
“You don’t get much offers for veterinarian places. . .we don’t really see things like these [free clinics] in our community,” Vargas said.
The ElleVet Project was co-founded in 2020 by Amanda Howland and Christian Kjaer after they noticed that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders homeless people and their pets had limited resources to survive.
Together, the couple decided to rent a 38-foot recreational vehicle, gather medical supplies, hire licensed veterinarians and set out to a state with some of the most vulnerable homeless people: California.
“We reached out to many cities to see if they needed help,” Howland said. “We asked if they needed us to come, if they needed the help and if they could help us locate where the homeless tended to congregate.”
After receiving a medical exam from Gabrielle Rosa, one of the veterinarians from the Project, Vargas was told that BB, which she found roaming the streets of Stockton, had a severely swollen right paw because of potential dying tissue in the dog’s paw.
It appeared that the dog’s previous owners had wrapped something circular around BB’s paw which cut deep into the dog’s skin.
If she sought help for BB elsewhere, Vargas would have been unsure how she would pay for BB’s medical fees, but the services of the ElleVet Project are free.
Howland said some fees from the project and medical emergencies are funded through grants and donations since the ElleVet Project officially became a charity this year.
The ElleVet Project also focuses on helping homeless people keep their dogs up to date with necessary vaccines and medical procedures by supplying flee and tick medication, deworming them and administering medication to sick dogs.
Homeless resident Andy McCullough arrived later in the day with his shaggy-haired dog Sadie who had kept him company for many years.
“She’s all I got. . . it’s just me and her,” McCullough said.
McCullough said when he previously tried to seek medical care for a foxtail stuck in Sadie, he was told his bill would add up to $900, which he simply could not afford.
But with the free services provided by the ElleVet Project, he was able to get Sadie treated for ticks, an ear infection and even received free food for her.
Darian Mosley, a certified veterinary technician from Florida who joined the ElleVet Project’s tour, said when they vaccinate animals of homeless people it gives the homeless person a better chance to keep their pet with them at the shelter.
“After hearing Dr. Rosa talk about the project in Orlando, I became very inspired and wanted to come be a part of what she was doing,” Mosley said.
The ElleVet bus will continue providing free veterinarian services throughout California with its next stop on Aug. 5 at Loaves and Fishes Sacramento.
Future stops for the project can be found at https://ellevetproject.org/schedule/.