Summer 2013

Work Perk

Massachusetts firm subsidizes specialized care for employees’ pets

By Heather Stephenson

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Caryn Goulet, the human resources manager at Cummings Properties, snuggles with Smokey. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Nine-year-old Smokey usually runs and plays ball even more than the puppy that shares his house. Last autumn, though, the 85-pound shepherd mix started limping.

“We brought him to our local vet, and Smokey tested positive for Lyme disease,” says his owner, Caryn Goulet. After two rounds of antibiotics, the Lyme disease was gone, but the dog still wouldn’t put weight on his right rear leg.

The most likely culprit seemed to be a torn ligament, which would require surgery. Goulet asked her vet to refer her to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts, about 45 miles from her home in Wilmington, Mass., so she could take advantage of a new employee benefit from her company. Her employer, Cummings Properties, paid 25 percent of the bill.

A commercial real estate firm based in Woburn, Mass., Cummings Properties started offering the benefit in November to full-time employees with at least one year of service. More than 335 people who work at Cummings Properties and its affiliates, the New Horizons retirement communities in Woburn and Marlborough, Mass., are eligible for the benefit, says Goulet, the firm’s human resources manager. The reimbursement covers specialized treatment, not routine veterinary care, and there is no cap on how much the company will pay in specialized-care subsidies.

“Without this benefit, I never would have thought to bring Smokey to Tufts,” says Goulet. “I don’t know anyone else who has a benefit like this.”

Company founder William S. Cummings, A58, is a major supporter of Tufts’ veterinary school as well as a trustee emeritus of the university. In 2005, the school was renamed the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine after Cummings Foundation, for which Bill Cummings serves as president, committed to investing $50 million in New England’s only veterinary school over 15 years.

The inspiration for the benefit came from an employee who knew about Bill Cummings’ support of Tufts.

“It’s strictly a question of doing the right thing,” Cummings says. “Household pets are very dear to people. When a pet needs expert specialized services, we are delighted to be able to assist our colleagues in obtaining those at the Cummings School by providing some financial relief.”

For Goulet, Smokey’s health issues created unexpected challenges and expenses, so she was even more appreciative of the specialized-care benefit. An X-ray did confirm that Smokey had a torn ligament, but Tufts veterinarians also discovered he had two tumors, on his spleen and on an anal gland.

“One of the students first noticed it, and drew it to the attention of the doctor,” Goulet says. Surgeons at the Foster Hospital removed the tumors; one was malignant, and the cancer is likely to recur. “On the positive side,” she says, “they found it when it was small—it was marble-sized—and it hadn’t metastasized.”

For now, Goulet and her family have decided to let Smokey recover from his cancer surgery and then assess whether to have the ligament repaired. Their local veterinarian, Christine Pelletier, V01, who practices at VCA Wakefield Animal Hospital, has been in regular contact with her colleagues at Tufts about Smokey’s follow-up care.

Just two weeks after the surgery in February, Smokey seemed to be on the mend, Goulet reported. “He’s on all fours. When warmer weather comes, we’ll see how active he is. We hope he’ll be running and jumping and his normal self.”

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