Island vet clinic fighting for lease

Animal health professionals on-Island say the Vineyard can ill-afford losing another practice.

A dog visiting the vet. A popular clinic on the Vineyard is looking to renew its lease but there are worries that it could be outbid. —Mirko Sajkov

Animal Health Care Associates (AHCA), a 40-year veterinary service facility on the Island, is in danger of losing its lease at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, compounding fears among pet owners that animal health care would decline even further.

Federal regulations require the airport to put AHCA’s lease — which is for one of nearly 50 businesses in the airport’s Business Park — out for a public bidding process. The clinic’s lease is expected to end at the end of April.

AHCA’s Dr. Steve Atwood announced to clients on Feb. 19 that AHCA is attempting to extend its facility lease with the airport, and that a new long-term lease will be awarded soon, but he worries the process could involve competing bids from non-veterinary businesses.

Airport officials say that there are a number of ways they will be ranking bids.

“There are lots of criteria that are involved in the selection of that process,” airport director Geoffrey Freeman says. “It’s not just the fair market value or best proposal cost-wise, but the needs of the community, the needs of what the business park was designed for, and the best application for the use of the property.”

Animal welfare professionals and pet owners say that the Vineyard cannot afford to lose AHCA, which is one of only a handful of practices still remaining on the Island. They say animal health care on the Vineyard, which lacks a 24/7 emergency clinic, is already stretched thin. 

After Atwood’s message to clients, pet owners such as Nancy Rose Steinbock have publicly shared support of AHCA online. Steinbock is a client of Vineyard Veterinary Clinic (VVC), and her dog recently had a health emergency.

“I am very, very upset about what’s happening,” Steinbock says. “This is what happens to the Island. We’re losing essential services.”

Steinbock is thankful that her pets have been able to receive proper care. “Knock on wood — that has not been an issue for me.” But she worries about other Islanders.

Across the Island, Vineyard veterinarians say that animal health care would decline without AHCA.

Dr. Dave Tuminaro of Caring for Animals runs a mobile veterinary service on-Island that responds to house calls. Tuminaro, who worked at AHCA earlier in his career, dreads a possible future without them as a competitor. “You could say, ‘Dave, that’s great. You’re going to take up all the business.’ But I don’t see how I would physically do that,” he said.

Tuminaro says that vets on-Island are already operating at or are beyond capacity and likely don’t have room for more. “I don’t know vets on-Island that are taking new clients,” he says. Tuminaro also says that compounding the issue, more people across the country have gotten pets since COVID-19, and the Island’s population has increased.

Drs. Bridget Dunnigan and Charles Rogers Williams of VVC feel similarly in their support of a new lease for AHCA. “‘Wait,’ you may say, ‘aren’t you AHCA’s competition?'” pose Dunnigan and Williams in a joint statement. “No, we are not competitors, we are colleagues,” they say, noting that VVC works with AHCA to provide after-hours emergency services when clinics are closed.

“The Island is currently suffering with a lack of veterinary services, and should the Airport Commission fail to renew the AHCA lease, it could escalate to even further loss of veterinary care,” Dunnigan and Williams say.

AHCA has also been a resource for larger animals such as horses and certain farm animals, which even fewer vets on-Island treat.

“The Island cannot lose another vet. We cannot,” says Jennifer Rand of the Martha’s Vineyard Horse Council. “If [AHCA] were to lose their lease it would be a catastrophe. And I don’t think that’s too strong a word.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Horse Council is a non-profit that promotes horses and related activities through education and other programs.

“[AHCA] in emergencies has been our vet of need,” Rand says. “[If] the horse can’t even make it off-Island, they’ll come. They have been responsive when there was no horse vet here and the horse was in crisis. They have responded and we were very thankful for it.”

“We already have almost no one,” she says.

Rand adds that few veterinarians come from off-Island to treat horses, and that horses in crisis are often transported off-Island in a trailer. “If you have an emergency when they are not here, which is most of the time, you have to truck your horse off to a horse vet off-Island.”

Vets cite a lack of housing as a barrier to attracting more professionals. “You could see this coming to a head years ago because no new blood was coming to the Island,” Tuminaro of Caring for Animals says. “Leases come up. Retirements come up … the vets here are getting older and older, and no one is really coming. If AHCA closes, it’s a big strain. But even if they stay open, they need to get new doctors in as well.”

For many pets, a lack of round-the-clock care on-Island means that the Steamship Authority (SSA) is a lifeline to reach emergency hospitals and other facilities off-Island.

“SSA has been great,” Tuminaro says, recalling taking a ferry with one dog that had been struck by a car. “I [had] treated it at the house. The Steamship came and allowed me to continue to treat that dog in the car, and allowed me to park an RV.”

Tuminaro recalls communicating with an emergency veterinarian off-Island while caring for a horse, and weighing taking the ferry versus giving further care on-Island. “The equine vet was recommending I do a number of procedures. I would have helped the horse, but I had to weigh the benefit of doing that versus maybe missing the boat if I [had done] that.” Tuminaro has had to make a similar decision with a small animal.

Island veterinarians issued a joint statement after My Pet’s Vet announced its closing. Part of that statement was a list of steps to take if you have an emergency with a small animal:

  1. If you have a regular Island veterinarian, call their office as early as possible.
  2. If you do not have a regular veterinarian, or if your regular veterinarian cannot see you, see if there is a local “on-call” clinic open. During office hours, the veterinary offices can tell you who is on-call.
  3. After business hours, contact VetTriage for urgent matters regarding both small and large animals; they can determine if immediate emergency care is needed.
  4. If a local veterinarian is unavailable during an emergency, small animals should be taken to a 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital on the mainland. The closest are Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists in Bourne or VCA South Shore Veterinary Associates in South Weymouth. Those in this situation should call the Steamship Authority, but if ferries are not running, Patriot Party Boats can be contacted to charter a boat to the mainland, although they do not take vehicles.
  5. For large animals, contact your regular large-animal veterinarian first. If unavailable, contact VetTriage. If immediate care is advised but nobody is available on-Island, a trailer can be arranged to be transported to a veterinary hospital, such as Tufts Equine Center in Grafton, if Steamship Authority ferries are running. Call ahead before bringing the animal to any emergency center. Many local horse owners use off-Island equine veterinarians for routine care, who can be contacted for advice.
  6. If an animal ingested or was exposed to a toxin, contact Pet Poison Hotline at 800-213-6680 or the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435.


  1. It’s time that the County government which is a former shell of itself needs to be dissolved. For the services provided, versus the cost on the real estate taxes; we can do better. Plus the layer of having County Commissions who are out of touch with the needs of people. ANIMAL HEALTH CARE IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF OUR COMMUNITY. We have been will Dr. Steve for over 45 years!!!!

  2. Island for sale. Our Vet retired I took two kitties to the vista vet in Falmouth. Very nice place yearly shots and check up for 2 cats $908. It’s expensive to have animals. I also asked the Dr if he considered MV. He looked at the retired Vets place in VH. The sale price was outrageous. Money rule. Animals lose. Very sad.

    • You didn’t break out the cost of the shots versus the doctor’s expertise. If the shots are a significant cost consider buying and administering them yourself.

      • Mary I wasn’t complaining about the cost I was stating a fact that the cost of health care is high albeit human or animals. The Dr was compassionate and caring.

  3. Here is an additional consideration: Emergency officials on the island, especially ambulances, are well aware that the medical capacity of the vet clinic, this close to the runway, could be the difference between life and death for some people in the event of a large-scale catastrophic crash at the airport. When there is a large number of casualties, so-called “triage” kicks in: you save those you have the resources to save, and minutes can make all the difference. Rapid administration of IV Fluids, stemming catastrophic blood loss — this can save a life before more appropriate (human) medical assistance is available. In the name of all possible common sense and decency, keep this valuable resource right where it is!

  4. Federal regulations are exactly that, rules are rules. The lease has not yet been awarded to a different tenant. One of the criteria Mr. Freeman cited is Community need. Surely all will be well, and the non-Human members of our families will continue to be able to receive the care they need.

  5. A nightmare. So many businesses, professionals and younger people are leaving the island as it is just too expensive to live here. We need more affordable housing. We need to have AHCA stay open! There are very few vets on the island. Going off island to see a vet is expensive, time consuming and not what our community needs. We need to keep the vets who are practicing on island open.

  6. My family and I have been customers of AHCA for many years. The prospect of losing them will be a terrible blow to the many animal lovers on the island — owners of large and small animals alike. We have boarded dogs with AHCA in the past and used their services for many purposes.

    Let’s not lose AHCA or any of the other vets on the island. Their services are important.

  7. I have been counting on AHCA for over 20 years. They have provided excellent care for all the animals I have loved forever. They have helped and supported me through three deaths of my cherished cats.I have been a widow for 12 years and would not survive without my furry constant companion. Steve and his staff are always there for the usual shots and check-ups but they have navigated frightening emergency’s as well.
    It is well know that new people arriving on island are hard pressed to find a veterinarian that will accept new patients. We treat our pets as family and AHCA has aways treated us as family. It is actually frightening to think of losing them. Who would take all of us in?
    Federal regulations are exactly that, rules are rules and they are bound by law to accept bids.We implore the officials opening these bids to consider the Community at large and vote on the human factor and not just the budget or money to be made. We do not need one more new, out of scale building that does not reflect the character or quaintness of MV or overshadows it’s surroundings.
    We do not need one less veterinarian. Sometimes it is just kinder to maintain the status quo
    and be grateful the community is being served well. All the people commenting her are thankful for AHCA

  8. The bidding practice is brutal but I think it will be fair unlike the terrible situation with the gas station. It’s not cheap leasing land at the air park.

  9. Why are we waiting for someone to rescue us we should consider rescuing ourselves. Offering Animal Husbandry as a course at the new regional MV school system. PEOPLE WAKE UP. TIMES ARE -a – Changing. I did a survey 20+ years ago and was astonished when I found out how many dogs and cats were on MV. With all the animal lovers and wealthy people we could start a teaching hospital. Think about it for the animals. .

Comments are closed.