Rising medical expenses and health insurance prices have sparked a lot of talk in recent years but most pet parents can also tell you that vet bills have climbed, too. It’s not just inflation; improvements in veterinary care and various treatments explain the rise in cost.
The good news is now more options than ever exist for dog and cat medical treatments. The problem comes in when pet parents want top-notch care but can’t afford it. As a result, many folks are turning to crowdfunding to help pay for their pets’ care.
Crowdfunding happens by raising money for various causes via online donations. People post their stories for various causes — everything from school tuition to independent movies to medical expenses. Friends, family members and even Good Samaritans can donate money by sending in what they can afford.
Often, fundraisers offer incentives to people who donate. In the case of Zelda, female cat who has kidney and heart problems, his mom offers art in exchange for help with his veterinary care. Zelda’s mom Ann Marie Strucke is an artist, and when a donor offers $50 or more she’ll do an ink portrait of the person’s pet. For $150 or more she’ll create a varnished acrylic or watercolor painting of the pet. She even offers larger pieces for larger donations. Currently, she’s raised a little more than half of what she needs for Zelda’s veterinary bills.
But there are many ways to get the word out. Alex Ross Perry, a moviemaker in New York, started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for his cat Fluffy, a 10-year-old male tuxedo cat, whose nose began running in June 2014. Alex and his fiancé weren’t initially concerned but blood began appearing in Fluffy’s snot. That was just the beginning of Fluffy’s medical journey.
“This continued throughout July and in August Fluffy’s breathing became labored, due obviously to the obstruction that was in his nose,” Alex says. “Of course, at the time we still thought it was simply an allergic reaction to something or perhaps some kind of lasting flu.”
By September, the veterinarian diagnosed Fluffy with lymphoma. It turns out there was a cancerous tumor in his nose, which was causing the breathing and labored breathing.
“We had been taking him to a specialized animal clinic in Manhattan (Animal Medical Center) and they suggested what was referred to as the ‘Cadillac treatment,’ which was two months of radiation treatment with chemo alternating on some weeks, followed by another four or so weeks of chemo,” Alex says. “This was the most elaborate and, we were told and hoped to believe, effective course of action. It was also the most costly, with the subsequent treatment and costs totaling about $10,000, this in addition to the four or five thousand we had already spent by this point just to arrive at this diagnosis.”
Without hesitation — and without much of a plan — it was decided to do everything possible to save Fluffy, so the Cadillac treatment was given the go-ahead. Alex signed up for Care Credit, a line of credit for people with medical emergencies, but knew he’d only have six months to pay off the debt. Alex and his girlfriend had been discussing crowdfunding as a possible solution and now he began assembling a campaign.
“Simply put, we turned to [crowdfunding] because we had no other options other than let him suffer or put him to sleep and neither of those were acceptable.,” Alex says. “I believe in crowdfunding and had, during this time, been looking at other examples of charitable causes that were able to raise money this way.”
The good news was that Fluffy had costarred in one of Alex’s films, “Listen Up Philip,” [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3093546/] which starred Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman. Because Fluffy had been a popular element of the film, he was able to appeal to the movie’s fans. The film’s human stars also made a video to support the cause.
“They are both friends and not only liked and appreciated Fluffy, but also know how much he means to me and were happy to lend their celebrity to something that would help him,” Alex continues. “Once the video was finished and the campaign was live, the publicist who worked on my film (and who is listed on IMDB as Fluffy’s official publicist) got the word out and fortunately, many of the film websites that supported “Listen Up Philip” were willing to write a short article about his cause and post the link to his donation page.”
The campaign to raise money for Fluffy’s bills has been largely successful. While it’s true that not everyone has a following thanks to a movie career, there are still options to help in just about any campaign. Offering incentives, like art, is one. But Alex also has some suggestions to help make anyone’s crowdfunding campaign successful.
“I would highly advocate for doing it, first of all,” Alex says. “But also I would say to look at the other campaigns on GoFundMe and study which ones make how much money and why. Some do much better than others and I really think that the more personal you make it, and the more photos and story about your animal you provide people, the more likely they are to help. I have since given to several similar cats in need just from my browsing and empathizing with the position these people are in. But really, I would say to know how much the total you will need is likely to be, don’t rush the campaign, like wait until you know what the whole treatment is, and then post when you are able to explain the whole story. If we had rushed it and posted right away when we started treatment, I wouldn’t have been able to write about it in an authoritative and informed way that people trust when looking to donate or support.”
Fluffy’s treatment has much improved his condition. His chemo treatments ended about a month ago and Alex says Fluffy was “stronger and braver during the whole ordeal than we could have ever imagined.”
His personality, energy and appetite have returned. His runny nose has returned, which is “disconcerting” but Alex remains optimistic. “As long as his energy is there and there is no blood, we will be optimistic and positive about him being healthy for as long as possible. But he was suffering so much by the end of [last] summer and has been happy and strong since October with no signs of sickness, so every day with him now is just something really special that wouldn’t have been possible had we not felt we could raise money for his treatment, and thus justify doing it.”
Alex’s last piece of advice? “Be diligent about getting your pet to the doctor if anything seems awry. We never would have thought that a runny nose would lead to a tumor diagnosis, so you never know. And also, obviously, be smart about your options and check every clinic and treatment center you have access to in order to learn about which one offers treatment that is best for you.”