PORT TOWNSEND — When Holly Stone Cabe saw the bill, she almost fainted.
“It was almost $3,500, for one night,” she recalled.
Her dog Louie, attacked by a coyote in his yard just outside of town, needed emergency care. Cabe searched for a veterinarian who would see him — and two days after the attack in mid-November, she got him into an emergency clinic in Poulsbo.
Cabe also had found Pet Helpers of Port Townsend, a new nonprofit organization operated by volunteers.
It was this group that made the connection and provided the funds to care for Louie.
“They saved my dog’s life,” Cabe said one morning last week while holding Louie, whom she calls a “mystery breed.”
The pair met with two Pet Helpers volunteers outside the Port Townsend Community Center, where Cabe put up with the cold and wind in order to tell her story.
Louie “is the bravest dog in the world. He’s very protective,” she began.
“He’s very robust — all muscle. Usually when coyotes come through, he barks them away. But this was a pack of four. Three of them did run away. He fought with the fourth one.”
When Cabe found Louie, his throat was bleeding. He went into shock.
The dog underwent surgery during his short stay in the hospital and has been recovering at home.
His sutures will come out soon; Cabe has another friend who is sponsoring that cost.
It was Laurie Riley, founder of Pet Helpers, who made all the difference, said Cabe, who is 66 and disabled.
The bill for Louie’s emergency care was well beyond her means.
Riley, who’s also disabled and runs her organization from her home office, said Cabe is one of about two dozen clients who have received aid from Pet Helpers since its founding earlier this year.
Shelters on the North Olympic Peninsula offer low-cost spay-neuter and vaccination clinics from time to time, Riley said, but even the reduced fees are out of reach for some pet owners.
That’s to say nothing of the emergency care that can quickly run into the thousands.
Riley, whose background includes serving as a veterinary clinic assistant and as a therapeutic musician in hospitals, has worked with people in need for many years. She has seen what the two-way connection means between humans and other animals.
“If you have a pet, they provide a sense of love and caring that can’t be replaced,” Riley said.
“Especially in trying times, your pet gives you unconditional love. If you’ve lost your job or your home — when that happens to you, your pet is your lifeline.”
She has about 10 on her volunteer crew, including one woman who covered a large veterinary bill with her personal credit card. A fundraising campaign is underway to help repay her. Pet Helpers’ general policy is to use donations to pay veterinary bills directly.
Meantime, Riley receives several requests for help every week.
“Turning anybody away is just heartbreaking,” she said.
“We need volunteers and we need donations.”
Marla Tangen and Cyne Okinczyc are two who have joined the Pet Helpers team — for similar reasons.
Companion animals “keep us happier than we would be,” and give us a reason to get up and out of the house, Tangen said.
“That human-to-animal connection,” Okinczyc added, “is essential to our well-being.”
This is true for anyone, regardless of financial situation, Riley believes.
“Some people, who are better off, think homeless people don’t deserve to have pets,” she said. But Riley has seen the devotion her unsheltered clients show their dogs and cats.
Many would choose veterinary care over groceries for a month. They look after their pets before taking care of themselves, Riley said.
“All animals deserve to be healthy,” she said, adding her human clients have shown her deep gratitude.
Pet Helpers has connected with people living at the Peter’s Place transitional housing village in Port Hadlock and the Mill Road encampment in Port Townsend — and with people who have housing but cannot begin to afford veterinary care for a pet’s serious illness or injury.
One surgery can cost a year’s wages, Riley noted.
Some clients need a Pet Helpers volunteer to arrange a veterinary appointment or provide a ride to the clinic; “the more volunteers we have, the better things work,” she said.
The bottom line, for Riley, Cabe, Tangen, Okinczyc and Louie, is love.
“He’s a good companion to me,” Cabe said of her dog.
“He’s a nuisance at times, but we all are.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]