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Passionate Pet Philanthropist

Eric Lafreniere discusses new veteran K9 nonprofit

Article by Savannah Vasquez

Photography by Shanna Magnuson with DaVista Photography

Originally published in Destin City Lifestyle

What do you get when you take a veterinarian out of a clinic? A passionate animal lover looking for a way to give back. This is exactly what semi-retired veterinarian Eric Lafreniere discovered about himself. After 25 years working, owning and running Stark County Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Ohio, Eric said he is ready for a slower pace.  

"I still go back to Ohio every few months to check in on the hospital and work as a veterinarian for a few days, but I moved here to Santa Rosa Beach to focus on my family, my fitness, and other passions,” Eric said. “I want to give back and volunteer my services instead of opening another clinic; there are plenty of quality clinics here already.” 

Eric’s philanthropic idea is to offer free veterinary care to retired military service dogs in the area. The idea for this new venture came while chatting with Jonathan Howard, a retired special operator and board member of First There Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping veteran Air Force combat controllers.  

“Jon explained how some of the veterans have adopted retired military dogs that have chronic health problems, and a lot of times the owners have limited resources to address those problems,” Eric said. “I would really like to donate my time to those veteran K9 that need help and veterinary care for acute or chronic conditions.” 

Of course, Eric is no stranger to charity veterinary work. Throughout his career, he has always found ways to give back in both big and small ways to the local animal community.  

“I’ve always been involved in nonprofits over the years, with low-cost spay and neuter clinics along with rescue pets needing medical care at my hospital in Ohio,” Eric said. “When I first started my clinic, things were a little bit different. We were the only emergency hospital around. Often, we would get emergency cases and I would be the only veterinarian around that was able to do the surgeries. I was fortunate enough to be able to do those procedures, even though some clients couldn’t afford the care needed and often no one else could do them. Being the owner of the hospital allowed me to do the work at a decreased cost or no cost to the clients when needed.”

Eric said that today, with increased access to veterinary specialists and increasing costs of providing veterinary care, he probably would not have the ability to do that kind of pro-bono work professionally, and he counts himself lucky to have been able to serve his clients in Ohio in such a special way.  

He explained that his own cat, Sundae, came to him because a client declined the recommended treatment plan along with the aftercare needed. In fact, Eric said every pet he has owned throughout his career has come to him as a rescue through his practice. 

“Sundae came to me with a shattered femur, and the only option available was amputation which the owner declined,” Eric said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Just euthanize him.’ But I couldn’t do it, so I just said, ‘I’ll take him.’ Over the years I have had big dogs and little dogs, and even a blind dog; always rescued, or come to me through the hospital." 

Originally from Canada, Eric said he moved to the U.S. following both professional and personal goals. The U.S. offered more opportunities to his veterinary work which began in Oregon in 1999, followed by Ohio in 2000, and eventually to his retirement in Florida in 2011.   

"I always felt professionally that people in the U.S. are willing to go further including with what they would spend on their pets,” he said. “There was also better equipment; but honestly, I just thought I’d like to try living somewhere else.” 

Today, Eric keeps busy spending time with his two daughters Chloe, 14, and Olive, 12, managing a business as a real estate investor along with building houses on 30A and south Florida. His favorite pastime, however, is building his dream non-profit, K9 Warrior Foundation, which he hopes to have up and running in the next year. 

“Through my friendship with Jon Howard, I have become acutely aware of the real challenges that veterans face on a daily basis," Eric said. "Supporting veterans is a way I can give back to a country that has given me so much. Coming to the United States turned out to be one of the smartest decisions I have made, as it allowed me to achieve my own version of the American dream." 

“I would like to donate my time to veteran K9.” 

"Supporting veterans, I can give back to this country that has given me so much."