His passion for animals and his willingness to serve the community has led to the formation of two new endeavors meant to keep dogs and cats from being put to sleep and providing affordable veterinarian services for those who can’t afford it.
The American Veterinary Animal Welfare Foundation was launched last year as a way to rescue animals in local shelters that would otherwise be euthanized, and to help offset some of the free veterinary care he and his staff often provide.
“We are rescuing dogs off death row at the shelters,” said Deborah York, president of the Animal Welfare Foundation. “We’re bringing them in, vetting them and finding them homes.”
The non-profit foundation relies entirely on donations. Since receiving its rescue license in May, nearly 100 pets have been rescued by the foundation. Though the foundation rescues animals it is not a drop-off location for people who simply don’t want their animals.
“It just seemed like the thing to do,” Burnett said. “The big thing that brought it about was my father was a veterinarian for 50 years and he did this a lot. He was kind of the county dump for animals. I remember at one time growing up we had like 50 or 60 adult cats living in our barn.”
Burnett’s father died in 2005 and his mother passed away last year. The foundation was born out of inheritance he received as a way to honor his father’s legacy of saving animals.
Once a month, the foundation has a booth at PetSmart in Douglasville where it offers animals for adoption, and all the animals are on display at Petfinder.com. The cost of adoption is $150 for males and $200 for females, which covers an animal being fully vetted, microchipped and spayed/neutered.
Besides donated funds, the foundation has set up a thrift store at its previous clinic building across from its current location on Thomas Dorsey Drive — once a month items are sold and the money goes to pet rescue. Items to be sold can be donated by contacting Atlanta West Veterinary Hospital.
“It’s an emotional business,” said Carla Smothers, Burnett’s executive assistant at Atlanta West. “People love their animals.”
Rescuing animals is nothing new for the workers of Atlanta West Veterinary Hospital, but they set up the foundation to avoid continuing to fund the endeavor out of their own pockets, as was the case in the past.
“We’ve always kind of done animal rescue, but on a smaller scale by adopting one here and there,” York said. “But we feel there is such a need in the community with all the animals being put down at the animal shelters.”
Though there are hundreds, if not thousands, of animals facing euthanasia at local shelters in the West Georgia area, the foundation must choose for rescue those they deem most adoptable because the state allows them to house only 15 animals at a time. As such, they must get those they rescue adopted out as fast as they can to make room for others.
“We’ve been doing this for years,” Burnett said. “I would venture to say we’ve been doing a minimum of 50 animals per year for the past 20 years. I couldn’t even begin to come up with the number of animals we’ve saved over the years.”
Burnett and his staff provide about 15 to 20 hours a week of what they refer to as “community service,” which is veterinary care for those who can’t afford to pay. Donations to the foundation also will go toward helping fund some of these pro bono services.
“We’re trying to serve the community and make a living too,” Burnett said.
Burnett and fellow veterinarian Steve Hathcock will launch the Bay Springs Clinic on Nov. 13, which will provide affordable spay/neuter procedures and other smaller veterinary services. The clinic will be located behind Vaughn Tile on Highway 61 North.
One difference between the Bay Springs Clinic and low-cost spay/neuter operations in the region is that it will provide follow-up veterinary care for those who need it and animals will be released with the medication and other supplies needed to heal properly. The cost will be about 30 percent lower than a spay/neuter procedure at the regular clinic.
Hathcock said it’s been his observation that the economy has split veterinary medicine into two directions, high-quality medicine and low-cost spay/neuter operations. In addition to the services provided by Atlanta West, it is the belief of Burnett and Hathcock that the foundation and clinic will help meet the remaining needs of the community for veterinary service.
“I’m looking forward to being able to continue veterinary medicine and be profitable, but still be providing a good service to the community that can still be beneficial without charging a tremendous amount,” Hathcock said. “With things getting tough with the economy the number of unwanted animals keeps going up so it’s very hard for everybody to get the care that they need, and that’s sort of the focus of the foundation, to provide a way for people to take the animals they can’t afford and have a way to get them basic veterinary needs.”
Tentatively, the clinic will be open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Anyone seeking more information about the clinic or wanting to donate to the foundation can contact Atlanta West at 770-459-2253, email email@example.com or visit the website at www.americanveterinarywelfarefoundation.com.