The poorest often rely on pets as much as pets rely on their owners. Berlin’s only roving vet cares for both.
Jeanette Klemmt has served as Berlin’s only roving vet for 20 years. The story of how she earned this strange title begins in 2000 when she finished veterinary school. An acquaintance asked whether she’d ever considered working with the pets of the homeless and unemployed. The idea of using her skills to help the animals and their struggling owners appealed to her immediately. “Pets don’t ask who you are, they just want to be treated well,” she says.
It wasn’t long before she was approached by Hundedoc, a project run by the Social Pedagogical Institute Berlin Foundation (spi). The scheme launched in 2000 after residents grew worried about the danger posed by pets living on the street. Back then, unleashed dogs were a problem at busy stations, regularly causing havoc by getting in the way of trains. But instead of demanding a crackdown on irresponsible owners, spi devised a simpler solution: educating owners about keeping their pets out of danger while also providing free veterinary care. The foundation hired Klemmt and provided her with a fully equipped mobile clinic (a converted ambulance) that could treat its furry patients anywhere in the city.
Like all big cities, Berlin has plenty of people with “little money and too many pets”. Klemmt’s aim was to provide the education and vaccinations that the owners couldn’t afford. Much of her time is spent ensuring that the pets’ carers are aware of the responsibilities that come with looking after an animal. “I try to teach people to be better owners,” she says.
The animals that Klemmt sees are rarely mistreated. She’s aware of the purpose that an animal can give the down-at-heel. “If you have a dog, your days have a structure because you have to feed and walk it,” she says. “That can put you in touch with others. That’s why it’s important that we support them as pet owners; it can be a way out of loneliness.”
Monocle comment: Most small businesses that succeeded in 2020 pivoted to universal needs, such as the welfare of pets. Humanity, care and compassion are attributes that all firms should foster – even if their clients are canines.