The Helping Pets Fund, a source of aid for strapped pet owners needing veterinary care for their animal companions, has closed.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which founded the fund seven years ago, pointed to economic hard times as the cause.
“The current economic climate has made it difficult for many non-profits, and closing the fund was a difficult and painful decision for the (AAHA) Foundation Board of Trustees,” AAHA spokeswoman Kate Spencer said by e-mail.
Spencer said she was unable to provide details on the nature of the decline in donations, but noted that the fund awarded a total of more than $1 million in assistance to more than 4,000 pets with medical needs. “Some examples from this year alone included helping with the cost of exploratory surgery for a dog in Ohio, helping pay for medication for a service dog in Alaska who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and providing grant funds for a schnauzer in Texas who had severe infections in both ears,” she said.
The fund provided assistance to owners for urgent, non-elective care. Mostly dogs and cats were recipients of the care, plus a “smattering” of exotic pets, according to an interview posted on YouTube with Dr. Kate Crumley, chair of the AAHA Foundation, the charitable arm of AAHA, which managed the fund.
As recently as that interview, conducted in March 2011 at a conference in Toronto of AAHA and the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, Crumley indicated that the fund was in good shape. “It started out as very small and is beginning to grow and get some following. We have some nice corporate sponsors helping us,” she said.
At the same time, Crumley noted that “Funds are still tight. We’ve had to narrow the criteria to make it so we can have funds to fund everybody who needs it the most.”
AAHA Foundation tax statements show that the organization’s expenses outpaced its revenues every year from 2007 to 2010, resulting in diminishing fund balances.
Spencer said the foundation board voted on April 20 to close the fund. The closure was effective June 30.
The Helping Pets Fund had been available to clients of AAHA-accredited hospitals, which number about 3,200 in the United States and Canada.
For those hospitals, the charitable fund was not only a resource for clients needing financial assistance but an outlet for expressions of goodwill and sympathy.
Clays Mill Veterinary Clinic in Lexington, Ky., for example, would make a small donation to the fund whenever a patient died. The practice was established before Dr. Melanie Blair bought the clinic five years ago, and she continued it. “Clients commented favorably about it,” Blair said. “People really liked the idea of it a lot.”
With the demise of the fund, Blair is pondering another charity to support in similar fashion. She said she’d like it to have standards comparable to the Helping Pets Fund’s. “The biggest thing about AAHA was that they did needs testing,” she observed. That helped to distinguish between clients who simply might not wish to pay for medical care and those who genuinely needed assistance, she said.
Blair also is wary of charities with high administrative overhead. “I think some set up benevolent funds and then they end up going for someone’s salary,” she said. “I felt like with AAHA, I trusted them. They were so strict about it, and it really went to the animal.”
According to an interview with fund administrator Tamara Fox published on About.com, the Helping Pets Fund originated from a proposal by a veterinarian on the AAHA Foundation Board of Trustees who was inspired by the Farley Foundation, which administers a benevolent fund for pets in Ontario, Canada.
That veterinarian was Dr. John Tait, a past president of AAHA who is a part-time faculty member at the University of Guelph and a veterinary consultant.
In an interview, Tait said that at the time he proposed the Helping Pets Fund, he was aware of several existing funds, but they were associated with veterinary schools or available to applicants only within a specific local region, not national or international in scope.
Since then, Tait said, benevolent funds in veterinary medicine have proliferated around the globe. While they don’t all serve the same purpose of providing assistance to pets belonging to owners of limited means, their existence has created more competition for donations.
“Then you hit a recession and there’s limited dollars, period,” Tait said.
Not every fund is having difficulty raising funds, however. Nadia Vercillo, manager of development and public relations at the Farley Foundation, said the charity raised a record amount of funds last year and is hopeful the trend will continue this year.
“Regardless of the economy, our supporters (pet owners, veterinary teams and the veterinary industry) can really empathize with people who cannot afford necessary treatment of their pets and they understand the role that animals play in our daily lives – providing companionship to people who may otherwise have limited interaction with other people; motivating mentally and physically disabled individuals to get up each morning, care for another living being, go out and get some exercise etc.,” Vercillo said by e-mail.
The Farley Foundation was established by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association in 2002. Since its creation, the organization has disbursed more than $1.3 million to assist nearly 3,500 people with sick or injured pets, Vercillo said.
Other such funds have been founded by pet owners in honor of cherished pets. They include iMom, which dates to 1998; and a new fund established this year, the Buddy Care Foundation. According to its website, iMom has experienced a decline in donations and currently accepts applications only for cases involving life-threatening emergencies. How Buddy Care is faring in the unsteady economy is unclear; the VIN News Service was unable to reach organization founder Brian Mayes for comment.