Helping Hands

Lori Pasternak, left, and Jacqueline Morasco run Helping Hands for low-cost veterinary surgery and dental care in Carytown, Richmond. Morasco's three dogs, from left, Brinkley, Ellipses and Thor are shown with them.

It’s hard to imagine Dr. Lori Pasternak and Jacqueline Morasco on the front end of a day, wide-eyed and ready to go.

On the backside, with the doors locked and the day’s work done, they have energy and enthusiasm to spare.

“I love what we’re doing,” Morasco said as she offered a tour of the Helping Hands veterinary clinic the two friends opened five years ago in Carytown. “We get to save lives every day.”

While most vets can make a similar claim, Pasternak, a Virginia Tech-trained veterinarian, and Morasco, her longtime assistant and business partner, do it with a greater frequency than most because of the way they set up their clinic.

“A typical clinic might do two surgeries in a day, and I get to do 10,” Pasternak said.

Their concept has proved so successful, and so peculiar, that they have attracted patients from New York to Florida and north into Ontario, Canada.

The formula is simple: They operate an outpatient surgical and dental clinic. They don’t do most of the stuff other vets do — checkups, spaying and neutering, paying for staff to watch animals overnight — and they don’t charge much for what they do offer.

And there’s no surprise to anything in their clinic. They post a list of set fees online, and nearly everything is less than $1,000. If your pet needs a leg amputated, you know upfront what it’ll cost ($455 for cats, $655 for dogs).

“I always hated talking about money,” Pasternak said. “Now, I don’t have to do that. I can focus on surgery.”

Helping Hands specializes in helping people who can’t always afford what a typical clinic would charge.

In early December, Pasternak operated on a dog from Manhattan that swallowed something it shouldn’t have. She charged $855, far below the quote of $8,000 the dog’s owner got from his regular clinic.

“He thought that saving $7,000 was worth a day off and a trip here,” Pasternak said.

Still, she said, “$855 is still a lot of money. For some people, that means not eating for two weeks.”

So Pasternak and Morasco came up with a solution for that, too: They added $5 to the cost of every procedure. They pool the money into a “good citizen account” and use it to pay for procedures that pet owners can’t. But with a caveat.

“They have to work it off,” said Morasco, who handles the business end of the clinic.

Customers can earn $10 toward the cost of their pet’s surgery for every hour of community service they donate to an animal-related nonprofit group.

“That’s not for everyone,” Pasternak said. “People who can pay should, but those who can’t shouldn’t have to make that decision” to end their pet’s life because of money.

The clinic sees about two dozen animals a day, with about 10 a day going into surgery.

It is actively trying to expand and would like to hire a second veterinarian and several more staff members.

“Then we can save even more lives,” Pasternak said.

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