You know that elephant quip, the one about how a pachyderm is best consumed?* Well, I have the scar to prove it’s true; this time, as it applies to the Sisyphean task of treating the pets of inner-city Miami’s homeless population. Here’s the story:

Last Sunday three vets and three assistants ventured out to Camillus House, the most well-attended and centrally located homeless shelter in the Miami area. While this was only the fourth time in six years we’d done this as part of the South Florida Veterinary Medical Foundation, our vet group had recently been hoping to establish a monthly presence there as part of our Veterinary Medical Association’s community service.

God knows our community needs it.

In the past, however, I’d heard veterinary volunteer complaints about the pet-owning homeless staying far away from places like Camillus House (out of fear of having their pets taken away). I’d also heard veterinarians argue that the homeless don’t know their pets need dewormers, flea medicines, vaccines and routine physicals … so why waste our time?

Yet last Sunday I had occasion to witness anecdotal evidence to the contrary, on both points.

Not only were we able to find about thirty pets whose owners were more than happy to hand over their pets for treatment, I learned that ALL these pet owners were knowledgeable about why vaccines, flea and tick meds, physicals and dewormers were important. Just because they’re homeless doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

More than that, it was also clear that every single one of our "clients" that day was appreciative well beyond the normal level of appreciation we receive. Not only was it because they were getting something for nothing (as you might expect), it was the concern we showed for their pets that made them happy.

As in, I expect you to not care so much about me, and even less for my pet, so when you do come to my horrible neighborhood to see the tree I sleep under with Spike every night … I’ve gotta think you’re kinda nice.

Self-serving on my part, right? I admit, I do it partly because it feels great to be appreciated. But, really, I'd like to think I do it for Spike, too, even if he did try to slit my wrist with a well-placed pinch of his incisors. Not everyone is quite so appreciative of intervention, it seems.

Here are some pics of our experience:

Cute kitty:

Here I am with Dr. Pane (another South Miami doc) trying to figure out the right deworming dose for a tiny puppy:

Here's Doc Pane administering a rabies vax:

And that's me cleaning out a kitten's ears ... doesn't look like she likes it, does it?:

* One bite at a time.