Laurie Kaplan will never forget July 18, 2000, because that was the day her beloved Siberian Husky, Bullet, was diagnosed with lymphoma. Many people say they would do anything to save their pet, but when actually faced with the reality of losing Bullet, Kaplan had to seriously consider the costs that would come with saving Bullet’s life.
Deciding that Bullet deserved nothing less than a fighting chance, Kaplan arranged for him to begin chemotherapy. Bullet went into remission quickly, and 75 weeks later when the protocol ended, Bullet was doing great. But even when Bullet was out of the woods, Kaplan couldn’t forget all the people she had met during her journey to save Bullet’s life — other owners of dogs with cancer, many of whom were unable to afford such expensive care. When Laurie took Bullet home each night after a treatment, she knew that it was a luxury others could not afford.
“I realized how lucky I was that I was able to pay for Bullet’s treatment,” says Kaplan, “and my heart broke when I thought about how I would feel if I could not.”
Bullet went on to live four more years in remission before passing away at 14 years from old age. He had faced cancer and won the fight, and in 2004, when Kaplan was getting ready to release her book Help Your Dog Fight Cancer, she knew she wanted to give a portion of the proceeds to an organization that would help people give their dogs the chance that Bullet had.
“But what I found,” remembers Kaplan, “were organizations that support cancer research and organizations that were going to find a cure for cancer, but nothing that helped real-life dogs having real-life struggles. I wanted to help them and their families, and an organization like that just didn’t exist.”
Kaplan decided to change that. In 2005, she founded the Magic Bullet Fund (MBF), an organization that raises money to pay for chemotherapy treatments and surgery for dogs. How the fund works, Kaplan explains, is that “we open a campaign for each dog who comes into the fund, and then for 30 days we and the owners work to raise the amount needed for that dog. We then use those funds to make payments to the clinic for each of the dog’s treatments.
“Sometimes it is a one-time payment for a surgery,” she says. “Sometimes it is many payments, as for a chemo protocol where the dog needs 16 treatments over 25 weeks. We don’t just give the owner a check, we pay the vet directly, and each payment is based around what the owner can afford to pay, what other help might be available, and, if possible, whatever nonprofit discount the vet can provide.”
Erika Segobiano knows all too well how important MBF is because she turned to it when her Boston Terrier Lucy was diagnosed with cancer. Today Lucy is turning 10 years old, reaching an age she never would have seen if Segobiano hadn’t been able to pay for her treatment. As Segobiano explains, “I really am grateful for what MBF has done and continues to do for us. It is the worst news in the world when your fur babies get sick, and having something like this fund for them not only helps financially but also helps emotionally to know how many friends, family, and kind strangers are out there! Lucy has more spunk, attitude, and personality than any dog I have ever owned, and MBF has had a big hand in keeping her this way.”
With funding coming from a variety of places — including a Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo grant, MBF donation boxes in clinics across the country, and regular sponsors of the fund — MBF is able to keep dogs alive. Not wanting to take any chances that not enough funds will be raised for an animal in need, MBF regularly reaches out to the news media, from newspapers to TV stations, about each and every dog in its care. Media Manager Nicole Jerner is determined to get every dog’s story out there — 15 minutes of fame that might literally save a life. Owners of dogs receiving assistance from MBF are also asked to help contribute to their dog’s medical costs by doing their own fundraising.
The method seems to be working. “When I first had this idea 10 years ago,” says Kaplan, “a veterinarian friend told me that it would never work and I should not waste my time trying to do something impossible. I remember telling him, ‘You may be right, and if so then hopefully I will have helped a few dogs before I close the fund. But you might be wrong. At least I have to give it a try and find out.”
As it turns out, Kaplan was right, and nine years later, staffed with a team of 20 volunteers, MBF has paid out more than $400,000 to help 393 dogs get the treatments they need. “No application is ever turned away due to lack of funding,” Kaplan says. “As long as they can prove financial need, we will help them raise the funds.”
It’s sad to think that dogs are dying simply because their owners can’t afford treatment. “It was a devastating experience to learn that she had cancer,” says Barbara Kuc of her golden Shar-Pei mix Sheba. “She is 5 years old and has more wrinkles than I do at 65.”
When Sheba was diagnosed with melanoma in her ear, Kuc knew she needed to ask for help. “Sheba is soft like velvet, but fierce. She is very loyal and protective of me. As a legal immigrant from Europe, I am familiar with tough journeys full of sacrifices, and I had the determination to help her. Her treatment was going to be more than $1,000, and when the vet told me about MBF, I was so relieved. MBF is an incredible group of people and sponsors, who are a voice for those who can’t speak.”
Today Sheba is doing well, but her fight is not over. She still has four more treatments to undergo, and only time will tell. But thanks to MBF, at least she has a chance.
As Kaplan points out, roughly 10,000 dogs are diagnosed with cancer each day, a staggering number, especially when you think about what that means for all the affected pets and their families. When you consider that the MBF is the only organization aiming to get these dogs the treatments they need, you really realize how vital the group is to the canine community.
“Most cancer funding is about humans,” says Kaplan. “People don’t always think about canine cancer, and they don’t think to fund it.”
Thankfully, Kaplan did.
Magic Bullet Fund is in need of volunteers from all over the country as well as financial contributions for the dogs in its care. If you would like to contribute, visit the Magic Bullet Fund website to see real-life dogs who need your help. Also visit MBF on Twitter and Facebook.
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About the author: Eden Strong is a quirky young woman with a love for most animals with fur. Read her blog, It Is Not My Shame to Bear.