Syracuse Healthy Pet Clinic has served 650 dogs and cats: Matt's Memo

The room, normally as quiet as the church next door, filled with the buzz of voices, barks and a whirling fan. Conversations between veterinarians and pet owners that commonly take place in closed door exam rooms, repeated over and over across eight exam tables. The Healthy Pet Clinic operation managed a line that snaked around the building, boxes of clipboards with paperwork and a wide range of needs for the dogs, cats and people who give them a place to live.

This operation blossoms from an aging Syracuse parochial school theatre that could have once doubled as a gymnasium. The tables, chairs and boxes of veterinary supplies are necessary pieces of the puzzle, but it's the effort by the volunteers that breathes life into the Clinic.

There are volunteers who greet the pet owners with forms to fill out. There are volunteers taking the $10 donation at check-in. There are volunteers escorting each pet owner through the dizzying process. There are volunteer veterinarians, veterinary technicians and supervisors. There are volunteer dog weighers and leash givers and poop scoopers and interpreters. The leaders and decision makers are volunteers. Everything that happens, happens because a volunteer made it so.

At 10:30 on a Sunday morning the room is a ball of clay without form. By 11:30 it is welcoming the first puppy. For the next five straight intense hours the next client is brought in the door to begin the Clinic carousel.

Some carry their tiny Chihuahua's in their hand. Others need both hands and then some to restrain the power of their massive pit bull. Some pet owners are youthful, others are aging. Some walk to the Clinic, some take a bus or hitch a ride. Some of those who benefit are unemployed or underemployed. Others have significant disabilities or live off Social Security. Some sleep under highway bridges and others make their home in subsidized housing.

New volunteers are often in disbelief over the sight of the operation in full motion. It's easy to get caught in the adrenalin rush of the effort to manage the problems and questions that arise. The solutions are always at hand and must come quickly. Serving some 650 animals over six sessions is an accomplishment filled with lesson after lesson.

The pay off for the effort does not come in the volume of households served. It comes instead from the individual moments of gratitude that are sprinkled throughout the day. Some pet owners wait two hours in the beaming sunshine for a chance to get in the door. Yet, they are still smiling and thankful for the opportunity to receive affordable care for this beloved member of their family. Even if that care comes in the middle of a modern era three ring circus where the jugglers have all volunteered to keep the balls up in the air.

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