Caring for lives on ‘both ends of the leash’ 

Our company is working with The Street Dog Coalition to bring care to people experiencing homelessness and their pets. 

Lori snuggles up to her Husky Pitbull mix named Malakye. “Aren’t his eyes beautiful?” she says to a worker at the pet clinic. “He’s my angel.”

Many “angels” have been part of her life, she says. For six years, Lori depended on her three dogs to protect her while she lived in a car. “I parked under a bridge. It was a scary place. Out one window, I could see beautiful mountains. Out the other, steel buildings, dirty streets and drug users. My dogs kept anyone from ever bothering me.”

Lori is among the thousands of individuals who’ve received help from The Street Dog Coalition, a nonprofit organization that provides free medical care and related services to pets of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Lori and Malakye

“People living on the street are isolated and often rejected by family. Their pets offer companionship, protection, help them navigate dangerous places and give them purpose,” says Dr. Jon Geller, the veterinarian who founded the coalition in Colorado in 2015. “We’re committed to protecting the human-animal bond and caring for lives on both ends of the leash.”

Free pet clinics in more than 50 cities

Since the coalition’s founding, volunteers have joined forces to set up free pet clinics in more than 50 U.S. cities.  Coalition volunteers expect to care for up to 3,500 unsheltered pets in 2021. Many pet owners will bring their dogs and cats to clinics multiple times throughout the year.

Teams include volunteer veterinarians, veterinary technicians, social workers, doctors, dentists, students and other animal and human health advocates. Businesses are helping too. Our company signed a partnership in January 2021 to provide the coalition with a year-long supply of medicines and vaccines to help protect dogs and cats from deadly diseases and illnesses caused by fleas, ticks, heartworms and intestinal worms.

“When companies like Merck donate products, we’re able to redirect funds to help do more for pets and their owners.”

Dr. Jon Geller

veterinarian and founder of The Street Dog Coalition

Doing more is at the top of Jon’s agenda. “In some areas, 10% of people living on the street have pets, but in places like Southern California, up to 40% of those without homes have pets. We also know that many of our clients have serious health issues of their own. The more we can get involved, the more we can take care of pets and people.”

Keeping pets and their owners healthy

To reach individuals experiencing homelessness and provide them with resources beyond animal care, the coalition partners with community and medical organizations that already serve the homeless population.  

“We’re in the middle. We take care of companion animals but also open doors that help people get what they need – health care, housing, transportation,” says Jon. “It’s a veterinarian’s approach to the problem of homelessness.”

Clinics vary in size and scope, depending on the location. For example, a veterinarian in Florida drives into camps and provides medical care for pets from the bed of her truck. Some teams ride bicycles and transport supplies up steep trails, while others set up tents and tables in parks. 

No judgment – ‘only care and love’

Since opening that first clinic, Jon says he’s met some remarkable people, like the volunteers who provide “unconditional love and support,” or the man who carries his dog on piggyback five miles a day because the dog has trouble walking.

And there’s Lori, the woman who says she never imagined she’d be living in a car for six years. Today, she has shelter, a job and continues to visit The Street Dog Coalition clinic in her area to get care for Malakye.

“There’s no judgment at the clinic, only care and love from Dr. Geller and the other volunteers,” says Lori. “They understand that these animals are our kids. They hold our lives together and keep us going.”

Meet two of our volunteers

Tracey and Robert are Merck Animal Health employees who volunteer with The Street Dog Coalition. Read their stories.

Tracey and Two Boos

Dr. Tracey Rock remembers the first time she met Two Boos. The kitten had a bad limp, and Tracey suspected the leg was broken.

“We see about a half dozen animals per outing. Most just need basic care, but a few, like Two Boos, have more serious issues,” says Tracey, who helped establish The Street Dog Coalition team in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Tracey works in drug safety for Merck Animal Health. In 2020, she logged 200 volunteer hours, rallying veterinarians, veterinary technicians and others to help pets and their owners. She reached out to multiple animal and human welfare organizations to learn about the homeless population, “people I’d seen under bridges and in camps but knew nothing about.”

She even went the extra mile for Two Boos. The kitten’s leg had to be amputated, and Tracey took care of her for a month while she healed.

“Our goal is not to take pets away but to help them get well and get back home,” says Tracey. “Pets help people feel loved and give them a reason to take care of themselves.”

Robert and 40 puppies

Dr. Robert Duquette doesn’t mind the five-hour drive to Bakersville, California. Once a month, the veterinarian from Merck Animal Health takes the journey to volunteer his services to help the pets living in camps with their owners.

“We arrive, unpack our gear and walk through the area along the Kern River that runs through town. We spend the day doing wellness exams, giving vaccines and treating minor injuries and infections,” says Robert. “The pets can have common, preventable diseases, such as parasites, that can affect human health too. Imagine living in a tent with a dog that has fleas.”

On his most recent trip to the camps, Robert helped examine 40 puppies and their mothers. He says it was an exhausting and exhilarating day. “I love that the work we do for Merck Animal Health and The Street Dog Coalition allows us to support pets that need our support with essential medicines and vaccines that keep them healthy, regardless of their situations. The animals we care for in the camps are not homeless. They are owned, loved and cared for. Their owners may be struggling, but their pets bring them tremendous joy and companionship.”

This is not the first time Merck Animal Health has supported animals in need. In Brazil, the company has donated product to more than 300 animal non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that care for animals awaiting adoption.