Last week I was half-watching TV while surfing the net, and saw a commercial promoting a charitable venture in Rhode Island that helps lower-income people pay vet’s bills. I was a little surprised because let’s face it, that’s not the sort of thing you see on TV very often. I jotted down the name of the organization and looked them up on the net. Sure enough, there it was: The RIVMA Companion Animal Foundation. Launched in 2004, the Foundation’s mission is to provide funds to the state’s participating veterinary practitioners for compassionate care of pets whose owners are unable to pay. I looked around the web site for awhile, thinking about what a great idea this is, and wondering what other resources are available to folks who love their pets but can’t afford to care for them when they are injured or sick.
Now, I’ve heard all the arguments about why the poor should not own pets, but whether you think this is so or not, the reality is that poor people do own pets. Saying that they shouldn’t doesn’t help those pets one little bit. This article is about finding the means to service animals in crisis, and not about whether their owners deserve to be helped. For me, it isn’t even a debatable question. I decided to do some research to find out just how extensive a safety net is available to low-income pets.
In a general sense, most of the available funding is administered through veterinary practices… they apply for the funds to help defray the cost for a particular patient and are paid directly. This means that office staff is required to do a lot of extra paperwork. I’m guessing that many vets do not have the labor force in place to take on these extra duties. Regular well-care visits and health maintenance procedures are usually not eligible for grant funding. In many cases, eligibility is tied to the pet owner’s participation in government assistance programs, although some grantors will allow veterinarians to use their discretion in selecting a potential grantee, backed up by some other supporting documentation of financial hardship. There’s often a ceiling on just how much funding a veterinary practice can access in a given year. There’s also usually a limit on how much help any one pet family can get.
One of the first sites I visited was the Humane Society of the United States. They do not have funds available for vet care, but they have a page of suggestions for pet owners in distress. Some of the suggestions are pretty good. They suggest having a heart to heart talk with your vet. That’s a good suggestion because vets usually know where financial help is available - they’ve been down that road many, many times. Others suggestions seem less than helpful - things like “use your credit card” or “call your bank” or “ask your employer for a salary advance” are hardly helpful to people with no credit, tiny bank accounts and slave wage jobs.
Some funders require that you apply for a CreditCare card before they will consider your application for assistance. I had a good look at their web site and their application. Not all vets accept CreditCare, so an applicant needs to find out if their vet is among them. The terms for the promotions they had on the site were quite generous by credit card standards, but when the promotion is over, the deal isn’t quite so sweet. However, if a grantor requires that potential grantees apply, I guess there’s not much choice in the matter.
Run a search for “help with vet bills” and the American Animal Hospital Association’s Helping Pets Fund pops up near the top of the list. This program is available only to accredited AAHA practices. The fund provides for both financial hardship cases when the pet’s owner is unable to pay for care, and Good Samaritan cases when no owner can be found and the veterinarian chooses to treat the animal regardless.
IMOM - In Memory of Magic, is actively seeking volunteers to continue its work of providing veterinary care for pets whose owners are facing financial challenges. I spent a lot of time on this web site, and I think it’s among the best of its genre. It has a friendly, personal, compassionate feel that I know I would really appreciate if my pet was in need of medical care and I had no money. An approved applicant gets a “pets in need” page introducing the pet and the family, and sponsors are recruited to fund the animal’s medical needs. The site includes an active online community of pet parents and sponsors. At present, their need for help is go great that they are unable to accept new applications for assistance. I e-mailed them to ask if they’d be amenable to my spreading the word about this, and received a timely reply. They suggest that anyone who is interested in volunteering for IMOM join their online community to get a sense of how their system works before applying. There’s a new training session starting in a couple of weeks, so if you think that it might be something you’d like to do, surf on over there and check it out!
Angels4Animals, a segment of California-based Inner Voice Community Services, administers a “Guardian Angel” program. Potential beneficiaries fill out an eligibility assessment application. Working with a network of veterinary clinics across the United States, Angels4Animals verifies the need for assistance, makes financial arrangements with the clinic and authorizes the treatment needed to save the pet in distress. Donations to the program are gratefully accepted and opportunities for volunteers are available.
The Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program is a funding mechanism to help cats and kittens with life-threatening conditions. It has the stated goals of providing rapid decisions and responses to assistance requests; a minimum of procedures and paperwork to get assistance; and comprehensive help to solve problems through financial assistance, information and/or referral. Their “Kobi Fund” is devoted to helping victims of Vaccine Associated Sarcoma. They have several options for donating to the cause, including donation of items (or buying donated items) for their e-bay auctions.
The Pet Fund provides financial assistance to owners of domestic animals who need veterinary care and cannot afford expensive surgery or medical treatment. Applicants must call the Pet Fund and discuss their needs before applying for funding online. They can’t fund emergency care, and there is a waiting list for funding. I was a little taken aback by their web site, which seems to have a similar mindset to the HSUS site and focuses heavily on pet insurance and credit options.
These are the sites I was able to find with a few hours of research. I think it would be useful to pull together a database of help sites for low-income pets in distress. If you know of any organizations that provide help with vet’s bills, please post it for us!