The low-cost veterinary clinic is a rarity in most places but was all but unheard of in Chicago Heights and the surrounding suburbs, where the need was great.
So in 2015 South Suburban Humane Society and Veterinary John Coyne joined forces to start South Suburban Low Cost Veterinary Services Clinic, offering services ranging from vaccinations to diabetes care and surgery at prices less than half the typical cost.
In the years since, the Clinic has grown to where it provides services to up to 700 pets on its busiest days.
SSHS CEO Emily Klehm had long wanted to offer such a Clinic, and Coyne didn’t take much convincing, and the Clinic was established in an Olympia Plaza storefront on Joe Orr Road in Chicago Heights.
Though Coyne is retiring from the venture, the Clinic had a soft opening last week and will mark its grand opening June 11 in the South Suburban Humane Society’s new campus at 21800 Central Avenue in Matteson, between Lincoln Highway and the Sauk Trail.
Coyne said there had been a tremendous need for low cost services before the Clinic opened. He had already been providing some veterinary service and advice at the Shelter.
“We felt there were a significant number of people who needed more favorable prices for their veterinary care and this would be a way for us to reach out and help them,” said Coyne. “It took a little bit of time but really caught on.”
The Clinic offered a reprieve for pet owners who couldn’t afford costly services and has become so popular that Coyne and her fellow vet, Dr. Charles Raser often see a combined 600-700 pets daily. Coyne got first rate assistants and technicians have helped them handle that case load.
“COVID was like an explosion,” said Coyne. “We really need three vets but there’s a tremendous shortage of vets so we’re thankful for what we have.”
Drug and supply distributors who offer discounts to shelters have helped keep prices low. Coyne said their main goal has been to cover expenses and break even.
The low-cost Clinic is also an asset to referring veterinarians.
“They don’t want to turn people away because they can’t pay, so Dr. Coyne recognized that having this clinic gives the area a place to refer to,” Klehm said. “It’s actually been incredibly helpful to the area vets to know that these pets can get high quality care at a low price.”
Coyne said he intended to keep working at his Indiana Clinic. Treating animals has been one of his loves since childhood when he grew up on a farm, was a 4-H member and had a livestock project.
“When the animals got sick one time in a kind of epidemic and my older brother and father didn’t want to treat them, I was delegated,” he said. “After I did it for a couple of weeks, I thought you know what, I wouldn’t mind working on animals for a profession.”
But Coyne said now the Clinic has a chance to be Reborn in a “brand new facility which is incredibly beautiful.”
“My goal was to get it started and get it on its feet and then say, hey, here it is, it’s yours,” said Coyne. “It’s just kind of a time for me to step back a little bit totalnot totally.”
Klehm, who has been busy planning and now moving the Shelter into its new facility, said it had been heartbreaking to see some clients’ pets deteriorate when they couldn’t afford veterinary care. SSHS, like many animal shelters, has long offered low-cost clinic and some other veterinary care but not the full range of low-cost Clinic can provide.
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“We would see people come to the Shelter trying to surrender their pets because of an ear infection,” she said. “That just broke our hearts that such a simple thing like that would cause them to lose their family member.”
The shortage of veterinarians has complicated their efforts. Many retired in the early stages of the Pandemic and others took jobs without direct patient care to avoid some of the high-stress customer interactions. Veterinary schools are also turning out fewer vets, Klehm said.
But the new facility marks an improvement, also providing more space, natural light and a more welcoming atmosphere for visitors and volunteers.
“It’s a really beautiful piece of land in Matteson just off I-57, so the hope is it’s also a peaceful place for volunteers and people to come,” Klehm said.
The new 19,700 sq. ft. center has the Shelter and education and training room, outdoor spaces for animals, including a “catio,” space for a community pet food bank, some low-cost supplies for pet owners, as well as the Clinic.
“My goal has been a one-stop shop for people who need support with their animals, adoption or veterinary services,” said Klehm. “The overall goal with everything is to help people keep their pets,” Klehm said.
Janice Neumann is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.