Crowdfunding the trend for cash-strapped pet owners with big vet bills

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Sparky Malarky
Sparky Malarky

Sparky Malarkey is a 12-year-old Lab, Akita and Chow mix, living the Hollywood dream, as a character actor, certified therapy dog and pet charity spokes dog.

Gabby DogBut for the past few weeks, Sparky has faced a challenge hitting his marks, due to health problems.  On his bad days, he’s wobbled trying to walk and lost his appetite.

With the bills mounting, his best friend Tanya took her human friends’ advice and tried crowdfunding  to keep him going.

The Gabby Dog’s regular readers may remember her Pawfleet pal, Boris Kitty (@BorisKitty), has gone the same route. Boris has a fund on You Caring, while Sparky’s on GoFundMe.

They’re not alone. Crowdfunding has become a last resort for a lot of strapped pet owners. In fact, since the Great Recession, fewer and fewer pet charities have been able to step up.

The U.S. Humane Society now includes social media platforms as one of the ways people can finance medical care. The society still publishes a list of established pet charities. But many of the non-profits are broke, almost broke or unable to contribute more than a nominal sum.

Gabby started researching after Carol Conlogue, of New Hampshire, wrote and asked the Peke-a-Poo diva’s help in choosing a good charity. Conlogue uses the nom de plume Olivia Rose. (I wanted to say pen name, but Gabby likes the French phrases and insisted. Her column: her style sheet.)

When Conlogue’s children’s story, “Furry Faces in Strange Places,” went on sale in the Amazon Kindle Bookstore, she wanted to donate a percentage of her earnings to help senior citizens on fixed incomes pay the vet bills.

Gabby sent her to the HSUS webpage, and Conlogue found a group she wanted to support. But, no surprise, you will find more non-profits looking for donations on the list and far fewer able to assist.

Since the list is organized by state and Gabby’s summering in Rhode Island, earlier this summer, we tried the HSUS listings for the Ocean State.

We found five organizations, and not a single one could help us with emergency bills. Three would help only with spay/neuter.

The others help only pets who truly don’t have a biscuit to their name. In one case, applicants must be on public assistance or at (or below) 150 percent of the federal poverty level; the other will provide $100 to low-income pet owners.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 8.09.03 AMThe national charities are also blunt about their limitations. Paws 4 a Cure, for example, suggests people try several other sources before applying and notes $200 is its top contribution. Donations, their webpage reports, are at an all-time low. Need is at an all-time high.

I hesitate to say the HSUS also lists yard sales as a way to raise money for vet bills. Good luck with that. (After paying the city permit, the Gabby Dog’s incompetent owner lost money at our last such event.) So, HSUS also mentions the Gabby Dog’s old standby – a credit card with a high limit.

As for Sparky, vets initially thought his issue was arthritis, but when the doctors couldn’t agree on a diagnosis, his owner found a new doctor in Malibu. This vet specializes in geriatric medicine and believes the dog may be suffering from spinal cord degeneration.

“Vet care is so expensive and I knew we needed not only new diagnostics but treatments that I currently can’t afford,” she said. “I am waiting surgery and cannot work much due to the pain.”  (She is recovering from a car accident and an injury in a fall after the accident.)

“So everyone kept saying: since we have always been the ones to help others’ animal charities through the years when we could, why not set one up for Sparky in our time of need? I’m very private about my personal life, so I didn’t want to do it for a long time,” she said.

“It isn’t going as fast as we need it,” she said. To be successful, she believes, people need to spend “a LOT of time” on the fundraising and have a high social media profile.

“Or have social media savvy friends who are willing to circulate the petition, she said.

Sparky’s Twitter friends have come through and helped, she said. In fact, his Twitter followers have contributed the most.

Sparky (@SparkysMalarkey) belongs to The Aviators (#TheAviators) and to Zombie Squad (#ZSHQ) and Deputy Sparky Eastwood has more than 2,000 followers.

Thanks to their help, Sparky’s started cold laser therapy and meds and doing a bit better, his owner says.

He’s still barking at the mailman, anyway, and staying in practice in case Hollywood calls. As a character actor, he’s played the “Big Scary Black Dog” in the Indie film, “The Invitation,” and “Blade,” the biker gang dog, in the Internet film, #30 Nods. He’s also hosted a lot of charity events, including pet adoption flash mobs. (See the left coast really is more fun.)

Sparky believes “12 is the new seven,” his owner says. Gabby hopes to see him back on The Green Carpet soon.

Have a tip or story idea? E-mail Margo Ann Sullivan at and follow The_Gabby_Dog on Twitter.

Margo Ann Sullivan

Margo Ann Sullivan is a pet columnist who has written for ZooToo, and numerous publications in New York and in New England. She’s had pets all her life, starting with a rescue collie named Lollypop. The Gabby Dog column chases the news that helps pets and people. It also chronicles the adventures of Gabby, the peke-a-poo, and Asia, the tabby cat, and their many pals, hitting the high spots between Providence, RI, and Manchester, NH.

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