KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Pet owners in southwest Michigan struggling to afford getting their animals care now have an option, thanks to a local volunteer group.

On May 8, the Kalamazoo Humane Society launched VetReach Kalamazoo, a grant-funded veterinary outreach program for pet owners without a home, with low income or living in the most at-risk neighborhoods.

The program provides free wellness and vaccine clinics, low-cost spaying, neutering and humane euthanasia and safe housing for pets of domestic violence survivors. At the May 15 clinic, so many showed up that VetReach had to change venues to the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market, where some waited hours.

Kalamazoo Humane Society Executive Director Aaron Winters said the high demand shows how critical this lifeline is needed locally.

“They’re just trying to survive each day, but they consider their pets a member of the family,” Winters explained. “Not getting the vaccination and an animal getting sick is, for most people in a situation like the ones that are here, might be a death sentence for the animals. Because they can’t afford the treatment. It’s easier to provide the prevention than it is the treatment. That’s when we saw a great need.”

A couple owners who brought their pets to the clinic, including Randi Zuverink, told News 8 the program is a godsend.

“Both my husband and I are disabled, and we have a son with kidney disease, so most of our money gets pulled into healthcare expenses. This is a real lifesaver. I would not have been able to get my cats vaccinated or fixed.”

Zuverink also takes care of some strays in her neighborhood, including a cat who needed serious medical attention from the clinic. She hopes the clinic’s treatment will help her find a home.

“I’m hoping to try to find a foster family,” Zuverink said. “If I could take her, I would. There may still be a chance I could convince my husband, but probably not.”

“A lot of people would look at you and say, ‘Why in the world would you take an animal if you can’t really afford it?'” said Debra Myland, who brought a five-week-old puppy to the clinic. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Kalamazoo Humane Society hosted a vet clinic on May 15, 2023.

With that attitude, Myland wanted to help her daughter — a single mother of two working third shift in Kalamazoo — when it came to the newest addition of their family.

“When we heard about this project going on, we thought it’s a prime opportunity to make sure that the puppy is healthy and make sure he’s got a good life ahead of him,” Myland said.

The two say this program is peace of mind for both their pocketbooks and lifelong pals.

“Seeing all these people come out is just heartwarming to know that we’ve got such a community that wants to help these animals and all the volunteers’ time,” Zuverink said. “(I’m) just grateful for that.”

According to the Kalamazoo Humane Society, more than 80 pets were taken care of on Monday. As many as 75 owners had to be turned away but will be contacted for a spot at a future clinic.

The nonprofit said they desperately need volunteers, veterinary doctors, technicians and assistants to reach their goal of running at least one clinic every month. If you or someone you know is interested, email their outreach coordinator at hmadill@kazoohumane.org.