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Mobile Vet Clinic Cares for Pets of Low-Income Vermonters


Published August 8, 2022 at 1:55 p.m.
Updated August 10, 2022 at 10:02 a.m.

Deb Glottmann, left, and Susan Riggs in the Mitzvah Fund's mobile vet clinic - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Deb Glottmann, left, and Susan Riggs in the Mitzvah Fund's mobile vet clinic
Deb Glottmann, president of the Mitzvah Fund, met with a veteran recently to talk about his canine's dental care. She saw right away that man and dog had a "palpable" connection.

“When I said the dog might have to spend the night, he went white," she said.

Glottmann's nonprofit organization provides free or reduced-cost veterinary care to low-income Vermonters, with a preference for the elderly and veterans, first responders, and people who are homeless.

As the clinic manager, Glottmann can accommodate clients with special needs. For instance, she might let a dog go home with its owner and then follow up with a house call at 11 p.m. if the animal needs late-night pain meds.

In caring for pets, Glottmann said, she can also care for their people, who are often most in need.

“I have a lot of respect for veterans,” she said. “I have respect for what they do, and the lifelong challenges that occur for them.”

The Hebrew word mitzvah loosely translates as “good deed.” Glottmann and veterinarian Connie Riggs, friends and longtime colleagues, founded the organization in 2014 after working at veterinary clinics.

Glottmann, 52, a longtime veterinary nurse and clinic manager, wanted to provide low-cost care to people who had no other means of getting help for their pets. Last fall, the Mitzvah Fund bought a $250,000 mobile clinic in which the two can provide an array of care, including surgery. Glottman said she supports the nonprofit with a home equity line of credit and donations.
The Mitzvah Fund van in Montpelier - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • The Mitzvah Fund van in Montpelier
The 34-foot-long mobile clinic, which had been used little before the Mitzvah Fund bought it, looks like a cross between an armored truck and a camper. It's equipped for veterinary surgery, dental care and radiology. Glottmann and Riggs provide care at their base in East Montpelier and set up the truck in downtown Montpelier and at farmers markets to draw attention to their mission and conduct preliminary interviews with clients.

About 90 percent of the care they provide is dentistry. Dental disease is common in small breeds, Glottmann said.

“If you have 20 teeth that hurt, that’s all you can think about,” she said. After treatment, she said, “Often people will say, ‘He’s playing with his toys again,’ or ‘He’s willing to eat treats again.’”

Before they purchased the truck, Glottmann and Riggs relied on a local clinic that lent them space. This year, Glottmann expects the clinic to see 200 to 300 surgical cases and another 300 or 400 nonsurgical ones.

“The Council on Aging, let’s say, will call us about a little old lady who has four cats who need annual physicals,” she said. “It’s basically supportive care.”

Glottmann is pained by the high cost of veterinary care, but she understands the forces behind it, including corporate acquisition of veterinary practices, a high rate of specialization and staff shortages. Demand shot up during the pandemic, she said, when more people acquired pets.

The mobile clinic is her attempt at an antidote. She said it helps that she doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure to pay for.

“When an 80-year-old woman making $700 a month gets a $1,700 dental estimate for her little Foo-Foo, you might as well tell her it’s $10,000, because it’s that unattainable,” she said. “There is zero judgment here. The point is, I don’t have to find a ton of money to pay my employees or [for] a 10,000-square-foot building.”

As for the veteran's dog, he’s scheduled to return in August for the dental work.  The dog will get a full ultrasonic cleaning so Glottmann and Riggs can check under the plaque and tartar for an underlying infection. If the teeth don’t look healthy, he’ll get X-rays.

When the dog’s health is assured, Glottmann said, the owner will feel better.

“Veterans, the elderly and the unhoused … their animals are often their only family, and often they are their lifelines,” she said.