Our pets are family members. We throw them birthday parties, give them their own nicknames, hang up their holiday stockings next to the kids', and spoil them silly throughout the year. But when the unexpected happens, our pets often become the silent victims of tough times. Financial hardship due to job loss or divorce, emergency moves and evacuations, and sudden changes in family circumstances can happen to the best of us. Well-meaning pet parents may find themselves unable to feed themselves, let alone their pets, or may struggle to provide medical care and even shelter. When pet parents fall on tough times, where can you turn?
Tightening the Belt
When money is scarce, providing food is often one of the first challenges faced. Heidi Watkins of Winston Wishes, a organization that helps pet owners in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia with pet food during times of need, recommends checking out the local food bank as a resource. "Most people only think about food banks for human food, but most of them receive pet food, too," she notes. "When pet owners fall on hard times and can't feed their pet, they shouldn't be afraid to reach out to their local SPCA or Humane Society. These locations often have small pet food pantries. If not, they would be the best resource to identify where to turn in the specific community."
Affording Vet Care
Many of us have experienced first-hand the sticker shock that can come with annual visits for our furry family members at their normal full-service vet. While there is no replacement for establishing a relationship with your pet's veterinarian and keeping up with regular check-ups, luckily there are more low-cost options than ever before for routine services. It's no secret that the best way to prevent big medical bills down the line is preventative care. Organizations like Remote Area Medical bring free healthcare to patients in need, but also help their pets receive free veterinary services. Low-cost spay/neuter clinics are becoming more commonplace. They may also provide discounted vaccines when pet parents fall on tough times.
When a pet has a medical emergency during a time of financial hardship for the family, the situation gets more complicated. Watkins advocates for having a good relationship with a regular vet, who may be more willing to consider payment plans in times of crisis. Care Credit is another resource where debts can be repaid with interest, but approval is contingent on credit score. Nationwide charitable pet foundations like Frankie's Friends help with medical costs for qualifying situations. GoFundMe accounts are popular, but it can take 30 days to receive funds, and time is of essence in a medical emergency. Watkins suggests YouCaring instead, "because it works just like GoFundMe but you can get payments daily rather than monthly." When possible, the safest route is to encourage donations be sent directly to the veterinarian. Donors feel comfortable when they know where their money is going, which often promotes a more favorable response.
When You Can't Take Your Pet with You
If forced to move, the Humane Society of the United States has a site for pet owners who rent. The site helps you find animal-friendly apartments. The website is part of HSUS's Pets for Life campaign, a program designed to keep pets with their families. But, "when a pet parent becomes truly homeless, finding shelter can be almost impossible, depending on where you live," Watkins admits. Friends and relatives may be willing to temporarily care for pets while a family is getting back on their feet, but if not, some rescue organizations may be open to temporarily fostering these animals in need if space allows.
When all other options are exhausted and it's in the best interest of your pet to find a permanent home that can meet her long-term needs, turn to reputable rescue groups that have the expertise to screen interested adopters. Having an honest conversation about the pet's personality and any special needs or medical conditions will only help in finding her a perfect match as soon as possible.
Bad luck happens to the best of us, and it never hurts to be prepared. So, when pet parents fall on hard times, there are things to do, and resources to take advantage of. Become familiar with veterinary schools that may offer discounted services to the public. Start a savings fund just for unexpected pet expenses that may arise when least expected. Many well-known companies now offer pet insurance that can come in handy especially in emergencies.
We sincerely hope you never find yourself in such a bind, but so many of us do...so we hope if things get tough, some of these suggestions help.