Financial aid for pets: Finding help in tough times
By Barbara Sharnak for WebVet
Unable to afford a life-saving operation for her cat Harley, Katie Batten made the difficult decision to have him euthanized. She was on her way to the vet when United Animal Nations (UAN) called to inform her she'd received a Lifeline Grant to help pay for his treatment, thus granting Harley an extension on his nine lives. Organizations like UAN have saved the lives of thousands of animals by offering aid to caregivers unable to pay for their pets' non-routine veterinary care. With unemployment expected to rise and an economy in crisis, more people than ever are facing cost-critical decisions on behalf of their pets.
Less than two months after losing her job, Carol Smock's dog was diagnosed with advanced canine Lymphosarcoma. Her long-time vet refused to work out a payment plan and it took weeks before she found a more flexible provider. Days later, Chocolate Chip passed away. The angst of facing a decision between debt and her dog's life remained, prompting Smock to start the Brown Dog Foundation, which provides a safety net for those in similar situations.
In the last decade, the net has expanded as established organizations like the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and Petfinder.com branched out to offer assistance programs, while local and breed-specific non-profits like Brown Dog Foundation in Tennessee and Feline Outreach have been established.
How they work
While the AAHA Helping Pets Fund provides funds to accredited veterinary hospitals who apply on behalf of their patients, organizations like Feline Outreach accept applications directly from pet owners. Applications are considered in light of the owner's financial situation and the past care provided to the cat. The organization is funded entirely through private donations and monies are provided directly to the veterinarian handling the specific case.
The amount of money a caregiver receives toward treatment largely varies depending on the non-profit. The Brown Dog Foundation pays 75 percent of the pet's treatment, while the family covers the remaining 25 percent. A typical grant from UAN ranges between $100 and $300.
UAN, founded on the platform of bringing animals out of crisis and into care, launched its LifeLine Grant program in 1997. Not only are pet owners who cannot afford lifesaving care eligible for aid, but Good Samaritans who rescue animals can further improve those lives by applying on their behalf. When Erin Roland saw Wessie Mae abandoned on a busy road in Nashville, Tenn., covered in mats and open sores, she whisked her to a clinic, only to find she would need extensive surgeries to survive. Although the vet described the dog as "one of the worst cases of neglect'' he'd ever seen, with the help of UAN's Lifeline Grant, Roland was able to provide the treatment the dog so desperately needed.
An unfortunate duality of today's troubled economy is that applicants to such animal welfare programs are increasing while the donations that support them decrease. In Memory of Magic (IMOM), which has paid out more than $1 million to more than 1,470 companion animals since its inception in 1998, was forced to stop taking new applications on Sept. 4, 2008 due to a lack of funds. UAN has received 1,141 applicants for its LifeLine Grants in the first two quarters of 2008, compared to 722 during the same period in 2007.
Betsy Saul, co-founder of Petfinder.com, notes that, "The average pet parent has to consider euthanasia as a 'treatment' option well below $1,000. That is really sad -- since our pets are our family.''
Due to myriad health issues, Kim Cavallero has racked up more than $20,000 in veterinary bills for her cat, Annie, in the past year. Through the employee assistance program at her job, she discovered Feline Outreach. "During a time when people thought I was crazy for continuing to care for my pet through very serious and expensive medical care, Feline Outreach validated me -- especially emotionally,'' she said. "With their grant, they let me know that I was doing the right thing for my cat.''
Preventative measures and protective steps
The following steps can be taken to prevent unexpected veterinary costs from causing significant financial damage:
- Consider purchasing pet insurance. There are a variety of plans available to pet owners, so do your research to ensure you’re getting the plan that will work best for both you and your pet.
- Start a special savings account for emergency veterinary care. UAN notes that “even $5 per month can add up to a significant amount.”
- Spay and neuter all animals and practice good routine care, including necessary vaccinations, heartworm and flea prevention.
If, despite your best planning efforts, your veterinary bills are piling up, the Humane Society recommends the following options:
- Ask your veterinarian if you can work out a payment plan. Many veterinarians are willing to work out a weekly or monthly payment plan so that you do not have to pay the entire cost of veterinary care up front.
- Contact your local shelter. Some shelters operate or know of local subsidized veterinary clinics or veterinary assistance programs.
- If you have a specific breed of dog, contact the National Club for that breed. In some cases, these clubs offer a veterinary financial assistance fund.
- If you purchased your dog from a reputable breeder, check your contract to see if there is a health guarantee that covers your pet's ailment.
- Check with veterinary schools in your state to see if they offer discount services to the public. You can find a list of veterinary schools in the Education section of the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Web site.
- Call your bank. Ask about loan programs or other options they can suggest that might be helpful in your situation.
- Ask your employer for a salary advance.
- Alert family and friends and ask them each for a $25 loan.
- Consider taking on a part-time job or temping.
Like some of the organizations mentioned earlier, the following were founded to help those who are struggling to pay for their animal’s care:
- The Pet Fund
- Good Sam Fund
- Angels for Animals
- Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program
Cats In Crisis
- The Perseus Foundation (Cancer specific)
- Orthodogs' Silver Lining Foundation (Orthopedic Cases and Service Dogs)
- Canine Cancer Awareness
- Diabetic Pets Fund
- The Mosby Foundation
Reviewed by Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS