When the Angell at Nashoba Animal Medical Center opened in February 2016, its mission was to care for the pets of low-income residents of the towns that make up the district of Nashoba Valley Technical High School.
Nearly five years later, that mission is handcuffing the clinic.
“We’ve realized that it’s not sustainable, especially now with COVID-19 and a lot of people losing their jobs,” said Dr. Laurence Sawyer, medical director of Angell at Nashoba.
Angell at Nashoba is the result of a partnership between the MSPCA Angell Animal Medical Center and Nashoba Tech’s Veterinary Assisting program that sought to help families in the district who couldn’t afford veterinary care.
But charging fees far lower than other veterinary clinics — with more and more people needing services for ailing pets — has forced Angell to rethink. While the focus is still on low-income families, it is now accepting more pets of families that are not low-income so the clinic can bring in more money, all of which goes to running the nonprofit clinic.
Dr. Sawyer said that while there is still a dire need for low-income veterinarian care, it’s simply not paying the bills.
“Right now, we’re doing about 90% low-income, and we’re really struggling,” she said. “Our new target is 30% full-pay and 70% low-income. We’re not in this to make money. We’re trying to support the clinic and keep up with our own mission.”
COVID-19, of course, hasn’t helped matters. Like everyone else, Angell at Nashoba had to close for two weeks at the end of April, “and we were 100% booked,” Dr. Sawyer said.
She noted that the changes at the Nashoba Tech clinic coincide with the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ refocus on spay, neuter and adoption services, as well as surrender prevention.
“We want to keep animals with their owners, rather than owners getting rid of their pets because they can’t afford care,” she said.
She said there are five low-income clinics in Massachusetts, which is helpful because Angell at Nashoba has had to turn away some pets that it can now refer elsewhere.
“We’ve had patients from New Bedford, Springfield, the Cape, New Hampshire,” Dr. Sawyer said. “Now, if we know where you live and if you meet the qualifications, we can send these families to a location closer to home for them. It’s a nice network to have. We can help a lot of people and pets.”
Starting in January, Angell at Nashoba will offer full-pay procedures for day surgery and dentistry on Fridays, offering a 15% discount for Nashoba Tech students, families and alumni, as well as veterans of the U.S. armed services.
Dr. Sawyer said Angell at Nashoba offers everything from wellness care, vaccines, and spay and neuter services to orthopedic surgery and ear infections.
Students in Nashoba Tech’s Veterinary Assisting program assist at the clinic as part of their hands-on learning.
Dr. Sawyer tells the story of a family that took their sick dog to a veterinarian, who quoted a cost of $5,000. The family couldn’t afford the procedure so they brought the dog to Angell at Nashoba to have him put to sleep.
“I said, ‘Let’s take a look,’ and it turned out it had an incredibly large mass, just enormous,” Dr. Sawyer said. “We were able to take it out and we charged them $600. That pet is so important to that family, and it would have been horrible to put it to sleep.”
Again, though, she stressed that discounting procedures by that amount is not healthy for the bottom line. She said she’s looking forward to providing care for more local pets.
“The thing I’m most excited about is the MSPCA refocusing, creating a network of clinics to help people have their pets stay with them,” Dr. Sawyer said. “It’s a bigger mission and a bigger way to help people and pets that need it the most.”
To donate to Angell at Nashoba, visit https://www.mspca.org/angell_services/nashoba and click on “Donate to Angell at Nashoba.”
Photo Caption: Taylor Joslyn, left, a certified veterinary technician at Angell at Nashoba, and Carley Robinson of Chelmsford, a 2019 graduate of Nashoba Tech’s Veterinary Assisting program who still works at the clinic, weigh Jasmine the cat.