Ronald McDonald-like House Opens for WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University veterinary clients are
offered something more than just state-of-the-art medical treatments at the
Veterinary Teaching Hospital; now they have a veterinary version of the
“Ronald McDonald House” to stay in.

The Lucas House is nestled among the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse
region of Eastern Washington. Located near Pullman, the Lucas House is an
extraordinary sanctuary. Carmel Travis, a local realtor, was so moved by the life
and death of her pet that she built the Lucas House to honor his memory.

Modeled after the Ronald McDonald Houses for families with terminally ill
children, this is a house for people with pets requiring extensive medical
treatment. It is a place where the bond between a human and an animal is
understood absolutely, and the needs of each are met.

Travis is quick to talk about her dog that the house is named for. “Lucas was a
gentleman. He was very careful not to offend anyone.” Lucas, a sheltie, was
fifteen when he was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. Carmel spent hours
in the waiting room of WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. While Lucas
received treatments, she waited and reflected on the magnificent life they

“Lucas always got ice cream on his birthday,” said Travis, “and he loved to
hike Kamiak Butte outside of Pullman. We always had our ice cream there.
Later in life he became deaf, so I worked out hand signals he understood so I
could still talk to him.”

One day in the teaching hospital’s waiting room, Carmel began to think of
other owners with pets requiring extensive hospital stays. In contrast to other
people, she had the luxury of taking Lucas home, where she could comfort him
and he could be with the person he loved. Owners who traveled hundreds of
miles had to leave their pets for the night and return alone to their hotel. Some
local hotels that allowed sick pets weren’t set up to deal with the animal’s
needs. Ill animals need a lawn or easily cleaned floors for the accidents that
can accompany chemotherapy and other conditions.

With owners and pets in mind, Carmel converted the basement of her home
into an apartment and the Lucas House was born. Her thoughtfulness is
evident in every aspect of the house. The pet owner guests have their own
private entrance and private bathroom. The bedroom has a linoleum floor for
easy cleaning and so a feverish animal can lay on a cool surface. An open
railing separates the bedroom from the TV room so the pet can always see their
owner. A small library of books on animal health is provided and there is even
an exercise area for the owners, complete with weight machines. A fenced
outdoor dog run has also been set up.

Rates are more than competitive for the area, starting at $25 per day. The fee is
even more reasonable given that 20 percent of all proceeds are donated to local
animal groups and the Good Samaritan Fund at WSU’s teaching hospital.

For the animal, proof of current vaccinations is required. RV parking is
available at the home. The Lucas House is less than twenty minutes from the
WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Perhaps the most thoughtful part of the Lucas House is Carmel’s presence. She
offers a serenity that comes from living though the experience of nursing and
losing a terminally ill pet. “I know what it is like to take care of and lose the
companion animal you love. I think my experience is one of the best things I
can offer people.”

She often speaks of sitting down with previous guests to talk at the end of the
day and act as a sounding board. She smiles as if to check her emotions. “I
know how they feel.”

Carmel is a patient non-judgmental listener who understands how painful it is
to have a terminally ill pet and how hard it can be to ask for support. The
phrase, “It’s just a pet,” is never spoken in the Lucas House.

The Lucas House is a warm, safe retreat where owners and pets can stay
together and know that both their needs will be met.

Karen Scott and her dog, Zander, stayed at the Lucas House in September. “It
was such a pleasure to have a place to relax,” Scott complimented in a thank
you letter. “…what a relief to be able to take Zander out of the hospital to take
care of him instead of having to leave him there for the length of his stay. I just
can’t thank you enough.”

Lucas has his final resting place at a site that faces Kamiak Butte, so he is
forever off-leash in sight of his favorite hiking spot. Not only does Lucas’s
spirit live on in this special house that bears his name, but his heartbeat can be
heard strong and proud in Levi, the young dog Lucas sired and who is now
the official greeter at the Lucas House.