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Would You Crowdfund Your Dog’s Medical Costs?

When the vet bills pile up, GoFundMe, Plumfund, and PetChance allow you to ask friends and family for financial help through social media. Is that okay, or would you never?

Heather Marcoux  |  Feb 17th 2015


When your dog experiences an unexpected illness or injury, dealing with veterinary bills can be a daunting task. Sometimes insurance and savings accounts just aren’t enough to get a beloved pet the help they need, and that’s why more and more dog lovers are swallowing their pride and turning to online crowdfunding.

“It was something that was difficult for us to do — reaching out and asking people for this kind of charitable help,” explains Andrew Todd of Toronto, Ontario.

Todd and his wife decided to set up a GoFundMe page to pay for the physiotherapy their 14-year-old Collie-Retriever mix, Riley, needed after a tumor prompted a leg amputation just before Christmas.

“The surgery itself was over $4,000,” explains Todd. “We had planned for it, and we felt that we could definitely afford it.”

What the couple hadn’t planned for was the early birth of their daughter, which interrupted Riley’s recovery.

“The day after he came home from the hospital — he was literally still trying to get out of his anesthetic — my wife’s water broke, and she went into labor.”

Friends stayed with Riley while the Todds were at the hospital for the birth of their baby, and when the family returned home, it became clear that the senior dog was not bouncing back.

“What we came to realize was that he needed so much more in terms of professional help to get him back to somewhat of a normal way of life.”

Committed to getting their dog back on his paws, the Todds pursued the necessary physiotherapy, aquatherapy, and specialized equipment Riley needed.

“The bills were really getting, at that point, outside of our means,” Todd explains.

According to Kelsea Little, GoFundMe‘s Public Relations Manager, what the Todds experienced with Riley is far from uncommon.

“Anything medical related is usually a serious and expensive chapter in someone’s life, even when it comes to a pet,” Little explains. “Inviting the support of family and friends is a natural response. In our experience, loved ones are more than willing to chip in.”

That certainly was the case for the Todds, who say their Facebook friends were not annoyed by their campaign, but jumped at the chance to help Riley.

“They were just so happy to contribute and pleased that we did reach out. It made the whole thing a lot easier for us to mentally kind of go, okay, it’s not tacky, it’s not shameful.”

Nine-hundred miles south of the Todd home in Toronto, Tresa Bradley was busy setting up a GoFundMe page for her dog, Jesse, in Greenville, South Carolina.

After learning Jesse needed an expensive CT scan to confirm a possible cancer diagnosis, the Marine-turned-dog-groomer vented her financial frustration in a social media status update.

“People on Facebook were like, go to GoFundMe. Try it,” Bradley recalls. “My next idea was to go get a car-title loan. That was all I had. That was the only other option I had.”

Within seven days, Bradley’s GoFundMe page had raised $1,000 to help pay for the $1,500 CT scan. Bradley shared the link with both her personal Facebook friends and Facebook fans of her grooming business.

“There’s only a few people I don’t know who have donated. Most of them are friends on Facebook.”

According to Little at GoFundMe, it usually is those closest to a user who help a campaign reach its goal.

“There is a common misconception that strangers will donate to your campaign. In reality, most giving on GoFundMe occurs between personal family and friends,” she says. “The more often a campaign organizer shares their campaign link, the more likely they are to receive donations.”

If asking often is the key to creating a successful campaign, then how do users avoid simply spamming their social media circle and inducing crowdfunding fatigue in their friends?

For Todd, the answer was simple — he had to show, not tell, how the donations were helping Riley.

“Keeping him as our priority in this is what helped us get over the pride issue of it,” the new father explains. “I wouldn’t say aggressively, but certainly we regularly shared it, and what we discovered is that people enjoy seeing their contributions going to good use.

“Posting photos and videos of him getting that physio gives us peace of mind that people can see us using the money wisely for what they contributed to, and it also gave people enthusiasm to start sharing it more.”

As of this writing, Riley’s campaign has raised $1,050 of a $3,000 goal, and the tripod dog is making positive progress.

The same cannot be said for little Jesse in South Carolina. Her vet believes the CT scan results likely indicate cancer, and Bradley upped her fundraising goal to $6,500 after initially raising $1,000 in just one week.

“The first radiation treatment [course] is anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000, and that’s not counting the office visits with the oncologist or the radiologist,” Bradley says.

Bradley is lucky to have the ongoing support of her large social network, and continues to share campaign updates, as GoFundMe suggests. The crowdfunding platform recommends frequent sharing, but doesn’t attempt to predict how much is too much.

“It is up to each person to determine what frequency of sharing makes them personally comfortable,” Little explains.

GoFundMe it isn’t the only crowdfunding platform available to pet owners. Plumfund is a spinoff of honeymoon crowdfunding site, Honeyfund, for U.S. and Canadian residents. With a fee of 4.9 percent plus 30 cents per donation (GoFundMe charges 7.9 percent plus 30 cents per donation in the U.S. and Canada), Plumfund has campaigned for the medical bills of pets to varying degrees of success. Like GoFundMe, Plumfund suggests frequent social media sharing, but also suggests campaigners send thank you notes to donors and express genuine gratitude in updates.

Funds raised by GoFundMe and Plumfund both go directly to the campaigners, but another fundraising option, PetChance (with a fee of 6.5 percent) sends the money directly to a pet’s veterinarian — something that might encourage potential donors by assuring them that their donation will be going where it should.

For U.S. organizations, LoveAnimals.org provides a no-fee crowdfunding platform specifically for nonprofits. Rescues, shelters, and even veterinary clinics raising money for specific pet surgeries are currently campaigning through LoveAnimals.

Both the Todds and Bradley are still thousands of dollars away from reaching their final fundraising goals, but the early success of both campaigns can be attributed to knowing their audience and tailoring their solicitations in a way that would not offend most of their connections. Both dogs have a long road ahead of them, but it’s clear they also have a lot of people who care.

Let’s hear from you, readers: Have you ever crowdfunded to pay for your dog’s veterinary bills? Would you? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.