by Charles Upchurch | photography by Smith Hardy
Sometimes you find the path, and sometimes the path finds you. It takes a certain type of person to dedicate the balance of their life to the care and custody of animals. But to commit to being there in the toughest of times, when the creature needs a human’s touch and compassion, when they are scared, confused or alone? That takes another type entirely.
Dennis Money is the founder and sole employee of Pet EMT (emergency medical transport), a specialized service he started in 2005 after spending three years in the Army and 13 as a National Guard officer. Money works primarily with animal hospitals and pet owners when mobility is an issue, whether for the pet or the people. Pet EMT is one of the only pet transport services of its kind in the country.
Compassion for animals comes naturally to Money, who grew up on a small farm in southern New Jersey. He was the youngest of eight children—four boys and four girls—and eight years younger than his closest sibling, who was driving when young Dennis was still in second grade. With the nearest neighbors more than two miles away, he was mostly on his own, helping his father care for the chickens and pigs, bonding with the itinerant band of dogs and cats that became his surrogate family and constant companions.
“In the rural area where we lived, people would abandon animals all the time—dogs, cats, a box of puppies,” says Money. “They would just show up at our house and never leave.” Money recalled when he was 10 or 11, someone dropped off Ozzie, a shepherd-collie mix, to stay at the farm while they traveled. The people never came back, and for eight years Ozzie was the youngster’s shadow, as was Hercules, a muscular, white-haired dachshund. But at the farm in the 1960s and 70s, veterinary care for the dogs was, at best, an afterthought. There wasn’t a vet in the entire county. The dogs stayed outside and were never vaccinated. Lifespans were short. It wasn’t until Money was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania that he met a veterinary doctor for the first time. Before long, he joined a club. He took all the right courses, and was headed for vet school.
Just before graduating from Penn, Money left the Ivy League campus and joined the Army. His plan was to save money for his post-graduate education. He soon found himself at Fort Bragg, married, with a baby on the way. It was not the path he envisioned. The marriage didn’t last. Money left the Army after three years of active duty, but found that he missed it, and enlisted in the National Guard. He began volunteering at an animal hospital in Sanford, working nights and weekends and doing anything he could to help and learn. “I remember taking the calls late at night,” he says. “Older folks or someone with an emergency who needed help with their animal, and I couldn’t do anything. It was frustrating.”
Money eventually moved to Raleigh and got hired by the NC State School of Veterinary Medicine. He had received a special waiver from Penn to get his undergraduate degree and only needed two courses to apply for the vet school at State. The path had risen to meet him, or so he thought. But then he was told that because his course work at Penn was now 10 years old, he would need to retake the classes, essentially starting college all over again. So, he did. But the burden of work, school and weekends with his now two-year-old son was too much. The dream of becoming a veterinary doctor was finished. But fate was not. While in the National Guard, Money had started a part-time pet sitting business specializing in large or geriatric dogs, those with special needs or medical conditions. He would care for them at their home, walk them or take them to a vet appointment. One night while working at the NC State vet hospital he received a call from someone with a large dog who needed help getting to the clinic, and it hit him: this could be a business. He started the transport service in 2005 under the name Critter Coach, operating at the same time as the pet sitting service. When business faltered, he realized he needed to focus on it 100 percent, and it needed a new name.
Pet EMT was born in 2013. It has been successful primarily as an on-call service for vet hospitals and anyone needing assistance with a pet, typically large or older dogs. Often it is the caller who is in need and unable to care for the animal. There have been animals that he has gotten to know, like the 160-pound Newfoundland who wouldn’t get up from the yard except to go for a ride in Money’s van. There was the 20-pound cat left in a house alone who refused to leave after movers cleared out all the furniture. There were the lost and disoriented hurricane refugees rescued from flood zones. On occasion, Money will get a call to come for a dog or cat who won’t be coming back home. There might be an owner who can’t bear to witness the end, but they want someone there. “I always tell them, just let me know,” Money says. “I’ll be with them.”
At home, Money has his own “pack” there for him: Sadie, the boxer; Mya, the pit bull; Kiki, the husky/shepherd mix; Dink, the chihuahua; and Caspian, the lone feline. Money spends time building various accessories and mobility devices for pets, including customized wheelchairs and electric hoyer lifts for larger dogs. He is always on call, always ready to give back to the animals who have been there for him since he was a boy. “One of the things I learned from growing up with animals, is that none of us live forever,” Money says. “If you pay attention to how we treat animals, you can learn a lot about how we treat each other and how good life can be if we enjoy our time together.” Sometimes the path we seek is the one we’ve been walking all along.