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Thursdays with Fitz: Meeting the needs of poor people's pets in Colorado Springs

August 20, 2017 Updated: August 20, 2017 at 8:02 am
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photo - Dr. Evelyn Naber- Fitzpatrick gives a free vaccination to a dog Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Monument Valley Park. Naber-Fitzpatrick sets up shop every Thursday next to the Marian House soup kitchen to give healthcare, food and toys to pets of low-income pet owners. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Dr. Evelyn Naber- Fitzpatrick gives a free vaccination to a dog Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Monument Valley Park. Naber-Fitzpatrick sets up shop every Thursday next to the Marian House soup kitchen to give healthcare, food and toys to pets of low-income pet owners. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Keegan lolls on a sun-baked sidewalk, desultorily wagging his tail as downtown denizens stop to pet him. The Rottweiler is a gentle giant, and he's the love of Red's life.

Like many who are homeless, James "Red" May puts his pet's welfare first. And when Keegan suddenly had trouble walking, Red knew where to turn.

Evelyn Naber-Fitzpatrick, or "Fitz" as she's called, works at veterinary clinics full-time - except on Thursdays. That's when she's beside Monument Valley Park across from the Marian House soup kitchen, from noon till she's done, giving free vaccinations, food, toys and coats to the pets of people who are down on their luck.

Every Thursday.

Every Thanksgiving. Christmas and New Year's Day, too, when they fall on Thursday. Usually with daughters A.J., 12, and Mickey, 16.

"I don't care if the snow's blowing, they're here. They're like the postman," says Eric Anderson, accompanied by two cats.

A lot of animals depend on the volunteer vet, as do those who love them.

And though she couldn't replace Keegan's hip, Fitz knew who would.

Veterinarian Michael Bauer at Colorado Canine Orthopedics performed the surgery at a greatly reduced rate, tapping his emergency account and getting money, too, from the emergency fund of Christopher McReynolds, of Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Keegan gives Dr. Evelyn Naber-Fitzpatrick a kiss while her daughters A.J. 12, lower left, Mickey, 16, lower right, and volunteer Marilee Lake hold him Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Monument Valley Park. Naber- Fitzpatrick replaced Keegan's hip last year. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Fitz's clients, people who are homeless, disabled or elderly on a fixed income, heard that Keegan needed surgery and chipped in about $175.

The Rottie got neutered, too, after Fitz convinced Red that breeding pups with hip problems isn't a great idea.

Fitz's work in Colorado Springs, part of the nonprofit Street Petz, marks the state's sole weekly outlet for free vaccinations and pet supplies. That service is provided once a month in Denver and other cities.

Fitz and friends don't make a dime off the enterprise. She and her daughters spend Wednesday nights bagging dry dog food to dispense up to 400 pounds a week. And all the donations on which they rely go toward supplies for their clients' pets, especially vaccinations.

Fitz administered about 900 shots last year. But the pharmaceutical company that supplied vaccine was sold in February, and Street Petz is scrambling to find more.

Now she asks every pharmacy representative she sees to give her extra if they get any. She gets money for the shots from unlikely sources, too.

"The pug guy," Craig Fennig, donates $20 a month from the disability checks he receives, Fitz said. And Jeff, a formerly homeless man now working as an electrician, kicks in a considerable sum.

"He gives me $150 to $300 a month," Fitz said. "That pays for one 25-shot flat, a tray of distemper and parvo vaccine."

But those 25 shots can be used in one Thursday. And she needs other vaccines, too, including for rabies and feline distemper.

After working through a line of about 25 people and their pets one recent Thursday, she gave notice to those still waiting after an hour.

James "Red" May plays with his dog Keegan Thursday, July 6, 2017, in Monument Valley Park. Dr. Evelyn Naber-Fitzpatrick replaced Keeagan's hip last year. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

"All right, I have one vaccination left. Come back next week, and I'll get both of them (dogs). Give (the volunteers) your names, and you can go first next week."

The following Thursday, she was vaccinating 8-week-old Diamond, a doberman-pit bull mix, when the puppy let out a high-pitched cry. "Awww!" said everyone in the long line simultaneously.

"I've been coming to this lady with all my animals," said Tiffany Barfield, who had brought Diamond. "I mostly take care of animals for people who go to jail or in a shelter."

She surreptitiously slipped a $20 bill to one of Fitz's daughters. "Thanks for all you do," Barfield said.

Fitz doesn't just look out for the four-legged beings. She brings a case of water bottles each week for people lounging in the park or standing in line waiting for her help.

The good doctor gets volunteer support not only from her daughters, but also from veterinary technicians Kayla Autore and Tiffany Claypool and from helpers Marilee Lake and Rayshawne Haye. One of them often will hold the pet while Fitz prepares and administers the shot.

She started her volunteer work in January 2010, working with Urban Peak to find homeless people. "We walked for miles to various camps to find people with pets in need," she recalls.

Denver veterinarian Yukiko Kuwahara had started Street Petz in Denver and asked Fitz to help in the Springs. Now the 501(c)3 nonprofit also operates in other Colorado cities and in California and Ohio.

As the need for Fitz's services grew, along with the motley mix of mammals needing help, her outfit stationed itself across from the Marian House soup kitchen.

"These guys will give their food to their dogs. That's why we're out here," Fitz says. "The only respect they get is from their dogs. Society's shunning them. A lot of them are rejected by their families. It's their only source of love."

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