Three days after Gemma, a 5-year-old chihuahua mix, ingested methamphetamine, people made sure the dog’s veterinary bills totaling over $500 at Umpqua Low-Cost Veterinary Services were paid in full.
It’s generosity through Facebook that Julia Russill, veterinary technician and the clinic's founder and director, has seen before.
The ULCVS is a nonprofit clinic that serves low-income and homeless pet owners. Russill said when more serious cases come through the clinic, she reaches out to the Facebook community to raise funds for the cost of treatment.
“We’ve developed quite a following, actually. Sometimes we make bets right after it has been posted for how long will it take for our first donation,” Russill said. “It’s usually like five minutes. I’ll watch and sometimes within an hour, we’ll have $300. It’s just amazing.”
Russill posted Gemma’s story to the ULCVS Facebook page on July 2 and within three days, 27 people donated, raising $560. The post was shared over 300 times and has over 150 comments and 334 likes.
Tami Greer, Gemma’s owner, brought her to ULCVS on July 1 after her roommate fed her dog meth while she was at work, Russill said. The clinic notified the police and Russill said she had to monitor Gemma’s body temperature and give her tranquilizers to help her sleep while the drug moved through her system.
“It can be deadly if not treated and if they get too much,” Russill said.
Gemma stayed at the clinic for three days and two nights and went home with Greer July 3. They do not know how much meth Gemma ingested.
Elizabeth Cosslett, of Roseburg, donated to Gemma’s bills through the Facebook fundraiser.
“I donated because the sheer ignorance and cruelty perpetrated upon that helpless animal broke my heart,” Cosslett said. “Sometimes you just can’t look the other way and do nothing. You are called to do what you can to help.”
Cosslett said she donated to a few other cases that ULCVS posted and said the low-cost vet service is a “gift” to Roseburg.
“The people of ULCVS are tireless heroes who work for very little money on behalf of people and animals who might not otherwise be able to get veterinary care,” Cosslett said.
Gemma’s story is the latest Russill has seen in a recent trend. Gemma is one of three cases of dogs affected by methamphetamine toxicity in the past eight months at the ULCVS, Russill said.
A quick check of other veterinary clinics didn’t turn up similar stories. But the person at the forefront of public health in the county isn’t surprised that it’s happening.
Bob Dannenhoffer, public health officer for Douglas County, said meth usage and overdoses are on the rise on a state level. He said he does not know of any cases of animals ingesting meth in Douglas County, but Russill’s accounts only add to the concern of meth as a public health crisis.
“We very much worry about the people who are using (meth) intentionally but we also very much worry about kids who could get ahold of it, animals that can get ahold of it,” Dannenhoffer said. “So while I haven’t heard of these cases with the vet, it’s not surprising and should be a part of the greater worry that we have.”
In Douglas County, there were six cases of humans overdosing on methamphetamine in 2017 and eight cases in 2018, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Russill said she witnessed one case six years ago where it was suspected that a dog was under the influence of meth. She said that was the only case she’d seen up to these past eight months.
Within the last eight months, Russill said she remembers a case involving two dogs from the same owner that had ingested meth.
“Those two dogs were unbelievably hard to regulate. One of the dogs was so bad that about 3 a.m. the decision was made to euthanize her because she was gone,” Russill said. “We could tell by the other one that her brain was fried.”
A second case in April involved a chihuahua mix who was fed meth and had to be hospitalized overnight as well, Russill said.
“Giving an animal meth to see what would happen? That’s just beyond my comprehension,” Russill said. “Three within eight months? That’s just crazy.”