Pet Care for All

The Irving and Phyllis Millstein Foundation for Animal Welfare supports affordable pet care as it carries on a legacy of compassion.

Greg Wolfus, V98, examines one of the hundreds of pets who receive subsidized care every month at the Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Clinic, where recent philanthropy strengthens a commitment to lower-income clients. Photo credit: Alonso Nichols

Whether it’s a wagging tail or a contented purr, dogs and cats seem tailor-made to win the loyalty of humans. At Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Greg Wolfus, V98, sees the universality of that love every day.

Wolfus directs Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Clinic at Worcester Technical High School, a first-of-its-kind partnership that is preparing local teens to become veterinary assistants under the direction of veterinarians and technicians from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

It’s also a lifeline for low-income pet owners. Tufts at Tech, through a partnership between Cummings School and the city of Worcester, offers hope in the form of subsidized quality pet care; services are offered well below the market rate—for less than a quarter of the national average fee.

That mission has been generously supported thanks to gifts from the Irving and Phyllis Millstein Foundation for Animal Welfare. By underwriting the director’s position, the annual contribution provides financial stability and gives the clinic the means to funnel dollars to pressing priorities.

The clinic’s care for pets is informed by deep concern for the people who love them. Ninety percent of the clients who come though the clinic’s doors are living on $25,000 or less a year and are likely living in poverty or on a fixed income. Whatever their hardship, clients are increasingly turning to the clinic for help. Since the clinic opened its doors eight years ago, visits have tripled to more than 600 a month—well above the clinic’s initial target of 250 a month.

“Our clients cannot afford to pay the full cost of veterinary care,” said Wolfus, who is also a clinical assistant professor. “But because of the Millstein grants and other grants, we can bridge the gap so that our clients can find the best care for their pets.”

Worcester is hardly alone in seeing the value in the clinic’s compassionate mission. A frequent speaker at national and international conferences, Wolfus said that grant support affords him the time and resources to engage with groups and schools as they look to develop and adapt the model into their communities. 

“There are now other high school programs in Massachusetts that have started up veterinary clinics and veterinary teaching clinics through this kind of outreach,” he said. “That wouldn't have happened without the Millstein support.”

Irving and Phyllis Millstein came from modest backgrounds and met when they were working in New York City’s garment district. Irving and his business partner had great success with their brand of high-end outerwear, under the Count Romi name. The Millsteins eventually became millionaires.

Throughout their lives, the couple, who had no children, doted on a changing array of pets, including cats, a Maltese poodle, a Doberman, German shepherds, and birds. It was through visits to her Hampton, New York, veterinarian, Jon Turetsky, V83, that Phyllis became interested in Tufts. Worried about less fortunate animals than her beloved cats and dogs, she asked where her philanthropy would be most useful.

Why not, Turetsky suggested, think about supporting future veterinary students—where the impact of her gift would be amplified by people devoted to caring for many animals? Phyllis took his advice and set up a bequest to Cummings School. Two endowed funds now benefit the Center for Animals and Public Policy, and programs related to shelter medicine.

Through the administration of their estate, the couple had an even wider impact. The sale of their estate—including a Manhattan townhouse, a home in the Hamptons, and an art collection—established the Irving and Phyllis Millstein Foundation for Animal Welfare, a philanthropy that benefits both animals and their owners.

“I am sure that Irving and Phyllis would be pleased to know that Tufts is carrying on the spirit of their foundation,” said Robert J. Randell, executor of the Millsteins' estate. “Phyllis in particular had great respect for Dr. Turetsky, and she confidently placed her trust and faith in Cummings School to carry on work that was always close to her heart.”

For Wolfus, the foundation’s continued support of Tufts carries forward not only their affinity and compassion for animals, but also their sense of responsibility to them. That moral obligation is one that Tufts at Tech upholds with every client.

“There's no greater pain than feeling helpless when somebody you love, whether it's human or otherwise, is suffering or uncomfortable,” he said. “Our clients have loved their furry children for years. All of us at Cummings School feel privileged to support those relationships; we’re sure the Millsteins would agree that they deserve our respect and compassion.”