Jennifer Lewis spent nearly an hour searching for help after her pet Pomeranian was hit by a truck.
The unemployed, single mother of four couldn’t afford the cost of a veterinarian.
"I was desperate. I needed help. I didn't know what to do," Lewis said.
That’s when she turned to the Hearts Alive Village Animal Rescue, a nonprofit group that helped connect her with an animal hospital and arranged for free care.
Her dog, Papi Chulo — Spanish for handsome man — spent a week at the hospital with a broken tailbone, but he survived.
Lewis thanked Christy Stevens, founder of Hearts Alive.
"I don't have words. I'm getting teary-eyed. For her to not know me and help, it's amazing," Lewis said. "You would never believe there are people out there like that. Your animals are like your children."
Hearts Alive started in 2013 as a pet food pantry before expanding to offer adoption services and financial assistance for veterinary costs. It spends over $200,000 a year for veterinary care, Stevens said.
The group eventually determined it would be cheaper to offer veterinary services in-house, so last week, Hearts Alive opened an affordable vet clinic.
The Hearts Alive Village Animal Clinic, 3250 North Decatur Blvd., is open by appointment Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. More information is available on the group’s website.
The full-service clinic provides discounted vaccines, spaying, neutering, blood tests, surgeries and dental work. Pet owners can also set up payment plans.
"Our new animal clinic is probably going to be one of the largest resources and solutions for struggling families," Stevens said.
Stevens said calls for pet food and veterinarian assistance have increased dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with about 2,000 pet owners applying for assistance since March.
Dr. Shadi Ireifej, a veterinarian at the clinic, said he saw 19 animals the first day the facility opened and 26 the second day.
Pet owners showed up at the new clinic after hearing about the opening on social media or by word of mouth.
"They've been chomping at the bit to get in here," Ireifej said.
Ireifej said he scheduled a surgery to remove a large growth on a dog that would normally cost up to $5,000. He's performing the surgery for $500.
“I couldn’t be prouder to join such a compassionate and hardworking organization,” he said.