When a pet is injured or sick, and the owners do not have the resources to adequately care for the pet, an inordinate amount of stress is placed on the owners, the pet and the veterinary team. The doctors and technicians suffer because they are in the business of helping patients; compassion is what keeps them up at night and what gets them out of bed in the morning. The owner suffers from sadness, guilt, fear, anger and general distress as they watch their beloved pet suffer. They may be grappling with whether to feed their family or to pay for their pet’s care. They may be watching their children suffer at the possibility of losing a beloved pet. Frequently I find that the people who most need pets are the least able to afford their care. In my 20 years of experience, some of the most difficult situations involve veterans with service dogs, the elderly (especially after the loss of a spouse) and families of deployed or active duty military personnel.
As a veterinarian, small business owner, single mother and employer, the stress multiplied for me as I learned that I could not give services for free and still expect to remain in business.
January 14, 2000, seven months after opening my practice, my life changed profoundly. A little boxer had fallen off her patio and fractured her femur. I was explaining to her owner that the broken leg needed to be repaired or the dog would need to be euthanized; it would not heal without surgery. My staff was crying, the owner was crying, her two kids were crying, I was crying. I didn’t have the resources to offer the procedure at no charge, yet I didn’t feel that I had another option. After offering a substantial discount to get the procedure done, a kind and very wise client watching the whole scene pulled me aside saying “Dr. Pam, if you give discounts like that, you will not be in business for long”. She then paid full price for the surgery to help someone she barely knew. The puppy’s owner was grateful for that kindness; I became committed to the idea of having a discretionary fund to assist clients with unexpected or unaffordable expenses. As a result, when a few weeks later a $500 check arrived for me, I created the “We CARE Fund”. The note read “Please take care of someone else who needs care and cannot afford it; please take care of your staff and yourself by staying in business”. I remember at the time thinking that I needed to make $500 stretch a long way because that sort of gut wrenching conflict happened all the time.
Subsequently, I an account labeled the “We Care” fund. Each time I euthanized a pet I made a $25 donation to that account and sent the owner a note letting them know that the donation had been made. We had our first fundraiser during our 2001 annual open house with goods and services donated by clients and friends. Our little fund was growing, but it was never enough. Shortly after the film “Pay it Forward” was released, I received a check from Molly’s owner for $1000. She told me that at the time of her puppy’s injury her family was in crisis; her life was literally saved by that one act of kindness. She also said, “pay it forward”.
Over the years we have raised between $3000 and $5000 a year at our annual open house. Last year, the We CARE Fund was granted 501 C-3 status as a non-profit organization. 2017 was a record year, raising just over $10,000 for the “We Care Fund”.
Our articles of incorporation include safeguards for judicious usage of the funds. Any 3 staff members can agree to use up to $200 for a particular case. For an expenditure over $200, the entire five-member board of directors must agree to the use of funds. The doctor and technician involved with each case donates their time to care for the pet. Additionally, the Animal Care Center only charges the “We Care Fund” for the cost of goods and services. In 2017 alone this has allowed us to care for over 400 pets which would have otherwise been euthanized or relinquished to a shelter.
There is a segment of the population that needs extra care. Large numbers of our war heroes and their families struggle. As a grateful American, l am committed to help where I can. I am asking for you to help me as well. With growth in the We Care Fund, the Animal Care Center will be able to meet our goal of offering no cost care for service dogs of veterans as well as care for pets of active military families. In my experience, pets are imperative for families coping with loss and the uncertainties stemming from their service and sacrifice for our country. The cost of pet care should not be an impediment for a family who needs one. Service dogs for veterans have been shown to heal unseen wounds and yet these heroes are frequently unable to afford the costs associated with a service animal. My team and I can and will make good things happen for those who protect our freedoms.
The need for funds to support both groups, those who simply cannot afford pet emergencies and those who sacrifice for our country, is never ending. We will continue to raise money annually for these causes. We would appreciate your contributions at any time and are grateful for all donations. By clicking the “donate now” button on our website you can make a single donation, or support a service dog for a veteran for one year. Watch our blog for fundraising events and ways that you can participate. Together we can make good things happen for other people!