As the animal care and receiving manager of Humane Society of Sarasota County in Florida, Rhys Miller was no stranger to people surrendering their pets. But five years ago when the recession hit her area particularly hard, she saw an influx of pet surrenders that were particularly unsettling.
“I was confronted almost daily by tearful pet owners who were absolutely desperate to keep their pets, but felt like they had no choice [other] than to surrender them because an emergency had arisen and they were unable to afford the veterinary care that their pet needed,” says Miller. “It was heartbreaking to see the depression and anxiety of both the pet and owner. Knowing that the pet was truly loved and simply displaced because of finances, I felt helpless; even in my position, I was limited in what I could do. Loved family members shouldn’t have to end up in a shelter, and so I decided to do something about it.”
Miller put her plan into motion, and on June 18, 2010, Fairy Tail Endings (FTE) incorporated, earning its 501c3 nonprofit status that following March. Today, the organization provides low-income pet owners in Sarasota and Manatee counties with financial assistance for emergency, surgical, diagnostic, and routine veterinary care. Applicants are screened using a number of factors to ensure they truly have no other ways to pay.
Once FTE accepts an owner and their pet, they are matched with a partnering veterinarian who will provide care at a cost the organization can cover. Thanks to a combination of financial assistance and veterinary partnerships, FTE has been the No. 1 reason that 470 pets were not surrendered or euthanized due to an owner’s inability to afford care — 470 lives saved to the tune of a quarter million dollars.
Unfortunately, FTE’s mission hasn’t been without its trials.
“I wasn’t prepared with the fundraising struggles” says Miller. “Too often, we hear the sentiment that if someone can’t provide for their pet, then they shouldn’t have one, but many pet owners are simply going through a temporary struggle such as a divorce or illness. The people we are helping are not irresponsible, but the problem is that other people don’t want to donate to a pet who already has a home. They wait until the pet owner has fallen behind on their care and the pet has ultimately been given to a shelter, and then they are appalled that the animal didn’t get the care it needed.
“It’s only once the pet has lost its home do people eagerly donate to save its life, but the same donation could have helped the animal and kept him in a home that loved him — while also freeing up a space in a shelter for another pet who may be risking euthanasia,” says Miller. “Our challenge has been to convince donors and grantors that they can have just as much impact on animal welfare when they support organizations that help pets before they get to a point of crisis.”
Thankfully, the fact that many people have yet to realize the importance of funding safety-net organizations like Fairy Tail Endings has not swayed Miller’s dedication to the mission.
“Right now, we are staffed by volunteers who are so committed to the mission, that even though we all work full-time jobs, you will still find us fundraising and managing the program into the wee hours of the night on our laptops and in our pajamas!”
And that dedication has made the world of difference to animals like Princess Jazabella, a puppy who ingested her owner’s medication while the family was at a Christmas Eve church service. Unresponsive and unable to lift her head, Princess Jazabella’s family reached out to FTE in a last-ditch effort to afford the care she needed.
“Princess Jazabella’s twin [human] siblings offered to trade in all their Christmas presents to save Princess Jazabella” says Miller. “I couldn’t imagine the heartache of the twins’ momma knowing that her daughters might wake up Christmas morning without their beloved companion.”
Thanks to the compassion and kindness of FTE’s supporters, Princess Jazzabella was able to get the care she needed and make a complete recovery.
Without financial support from donors, there would be no happy ending like these. And you never know when you might land in a crisis yourself.
Miller recalls an amazing chain of events where a dog named Remmi was in need of extensive medical care. Remmi was a sweet Pit Bull mix who had escaped from her home and been hit by a car. With a broken leg and fractured mandible, Remmi required extensive emergency care as well as a veterinary dental specialist to rebuild her jaw, and in an effort to raise the funds needed for Remmi’s budget-breaking care, FTE posted a picture of her on its Facebook page and asked for help.
A new mother named Gina — with little money to spare — saw Remmi’s shocked doggie eyes staring out at her from Facebook and made the decision to not just scroll past. She donated what she had, and Remmi was able to get the care she needed. Little did Gina know that just two months later, her own beloved cat Max would be involved in a freak accident and this time it would be she who needed financial assistance to save her pet. FTE was able to help, and when Max recovered, Gina held a fundraiser at her workplace for the organization that raised six times the amount of what Max’s ER bill had cost.
And that is how the cycle continues. If we as pet owners were more willing to help out those who are struggling financially, we wouldn’t have shelters filled with pets who would have loved to remain in their homes and owners who would have loved to keep them.
Can you imagine the horror of watching your precious pet become deathly ill or suffer a horrific accident, and knowing that the only option you have in getting them care is to abandon them at a shelter or to a rescue group?
I can’t, and neither can anyone at FTE, but it can’t achieve this mission alone. With illnesses and accidents occurring every day, the organization needs help. They are always looking for volunteers with skills in marketing, fundraising, event planning, and photography, but because their main activity is providing financial assistance for veterinary bills, they are in desperate need of monetary donations and business partnerships.
The unfortunate reality is that even with organizations like FTE, there are still pets in dire need of veterinary care that aren’t able to get help.
“We often have to make tough decisions based on funding” says Miller, meaning that when cost vs. prognosis along with the staggering number of animals needing help is balanced out, some pets will not get the lifesaving treatments that they need. While understandable, it certainly isn’t any less devastating to the families who get turned down.
They need help, and you can help them.
Beginning today, Sept. 1, at noon EST and running through tomorrow at noon EST, Fairy Tail Endings will participate in the 24-hour Giving Challenge. During that time, new donors can have an especially big impact by making a donation, because every dollar given will be matched (up to $250) by the Patterson Foundation. So that means that for 24 hours, every (tax deductible!) dollar you give will double its value. This is the perfect opportunity to give even a little and make it count for a lot!
We’ve all heard the phrase “people shouldn’t have pets if they can’t afford them,” but we all know that situations change in light of tragedies, illnesses, job loss, and death. We judge people for surrendering their pets when times get tough, but Miller is right — we don’t often step up to help when they are trying to keep them.
It’s time to change that, and FTE is paving the way. If we truly want to change the lives of shelter pets, then we need to help keep them out of the shelters to begin with. It’s not about just saving their lives, it’s about saving their place in their home and with their families.
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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+.