When pet care supplies and veterinarian bills get expensive, some families strapped for cash believe their best option is to surrender their pet to a humane society or shelter.

The Carver-Scott Humane Society (CSHS) doesn’t think that always needs to be the case.

Its new program, Fur Keeps, aims to keep pets with their families through hard times. It helps with expenses like pet food and offers grants for emergency services, such as major pet surgeries that families may not be able to afford.

“People have always been connected to animals. It doesn’t matter how much money you have,” said Mandi Wyman, executive director at CSHS. “[Pets] don’t care if you have a million dollars; all they care about is being safe and loved.”

About 85 percent of people who decide to give up their pet truly need to, Wyman said, but Fur Keeps wants to help the remaining 15 percent keep their pets through education about re-homing or maintenance options. The main goal is to keep pets with the families they know and like.

That, in turn, opens up room in shelters for pets that truly need the space. The program is a win-win, Wyman said.

Fur Keeps is in its pilot phase, offering mostly education and resources until more funding is received. Pet food assistance should be ready by December and emergency funding for vet bills in January, Wyman said.

Partner programs like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Maddie’s Fund and the Scott Carver Dakota Community Action Partnership (CAP) will provide grant money for emergency veterinary care and pet food donations.

Wyman said that this type of support and education program is “the next trend in animal welfare.” Fur Keeps may be the only program of its kind in Minnesota and one of a few like it nationwide.

“The big picture is that it’s saving animals from being passed around on Craigslist or through shelters,” said Emily Rohady, manager of Fur Keeps.

Although some may think that people with marginal incomes shouldn’t have pets, it’s not always that simple, Rohady said. Not everyone who brings in their pet for an exam can pay for everything a vet suggests. That doesn’t mean they are bad pet owners, she said.

For that reason, Wyman said that she wants the program to have a “nonjudgmental” feel for pet owners who may need financial help or education. She also aims to make it easy for them to use.

According to animal welfare organization American Humane, many animals are euthanized due to overcrowding, sickness and aggression. For years, about 15 million dogs and cats were euthanized nationally each year, but rescue and adoption programs have brought that number down to 3 million annually. Wyman hopes that programs like Fur Keeps will reduce the numbers further.

Rohady said that an open dialogue with pet owners who are struggling would help with education on both ends. CAP will provide data on families and pet owners to help the program better assist the community, Wyman said. The program will analyze whether a family is getting any other assistance, has been out of work, or shows other signs of needing help.

Household grants may be limited at first, especially for emergency vet care, Rohady said.

An anonymous donor pledged to match up to $25,000 donated to the Fur Keeps program for Give to the Max Day on Thursday. CSHS launched a campaign calling attention to the event, calling it Pets for Pawsident.

Wyman said that Give to the Max donations should fund the Fur Keeps program for two to three years and will continue to be accepted through Nov. 30. She hopes donations rise as word of mouth about the program spreads.

“I have no question that this will be a sustainable program,” she said.

 

Destanie Martin-Johnson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.