Within Pet Helpers' mission is the directive to relieve animal suffering, place pets in good homes, and enhance and support the human/animal bond.

Throughout its 35-year history Pet Helpers has done this in many ways, providing shelter and care for homeless pets, operating a food bank, writing out individual checks for emergency veterinary care, providing high-quality, low-cost spay/neuter surgeries.

Pet Helpers' positive influence in animal welfare in the Lowcountry increased exponentially with the opening of its new adoption facility and spay/neuter clinic in 2008. The results are in.

Cooperating with other local rescue groups, the euthanasia of adoptable pets in Charleston has plummeted, and more pets have found homes than ever before.

Our goal is to keep pets in their "forever homes" by ensuring owners have access to veterinary care within their budget.

The statistics in South Carolina are sobering. Only 25 percent of the state's dogs and cats are currently vaccinated for rabies, the minimum veterinary care required by law. Every day, dogs and cats die of illnesses easily prevented by vaccines, thousands of Lowcountry dogs are infected with heartworm, and hundreds die each year even though prevention is inexpensive and easily administered.

There are unexpected expenses as well:

A Good Samaritan rescues a kitten with a severely infected eye and can't afford the care to save the eye, or in many cases, the kitten. The family cat is attacked by a roaming dog and needs emergency surgery.

These treatable pets, pets that should have a future, die because of lack of access to affordable veterinary care.

Veterinarians are not uncaring. They have a deserved reputation for being compassionate; concerns for a pet's welfare outweigh concerns about the bottom line.

Dr. Lynne M. Flood of Daniel Island Animal Hospital is one of the vets who has seen a need and stepped up to the plate by

providing reduced cost care to low-income seniors via her pet ambulance service.

But is asking conscientious private business owners to operate as the public's safety net an appropriate and reasonable thing to do?

Not any longer. The veterinary business model has changed, profit margins declined, leaving less discretionary income.

Corporate medicine is growing and in general these practices don't assist individual clients. Income disparity is increasing, expanding the need exponentially. Add in the staggering educational debts of the next generation of vets and it is obvious this model is unsustainable.

The alternative is to shift the safety net to nonprofit organizations whose mission is to relieve animal pain and suffering without having to generate a profit.

Pet Helpers has accepted the challenge. We have expanded the Greer Veterinary Clinic to provide a broad range of medical and surgical services on a sliding fee scale.

Our clinic will be targeted toward pet owners not currently seeking care due to cost, and we will "means test" to ensure our resources are directed toward those truly in need.

And soon Dr. Flood's pet ambulance will join us in the nonprofit world as she is applying for non-profit status to enable her to continue her good work too.

We thank the Charleston community, Charleston Magazine and the Coastal Community Foundation for honoring Pet Helpers as its 2013 Nonprofit of the Year on this, the 35th anniversary of our founding in 1978.

Now, with the expansion of our medical clinic, Pet Helpers will be able to do even more to end to the unnecessary euthanasia of all adoptable pets in the Lowcountry.

Dr. Janet McKim, DVM, is chief of medicine at the Greer Veterinary Clinic at Pet Helpers.