By Erin Crowell
These days, people cant afford to keep their pets a reality that happens in Northern Michigan and across the country every day due to a bad economy.
The Cherryland Humane Society managed to keep its doors open this June, thanks to a community effort of donations and fundraisers that helped counter a $20,000-per-month budget shortfall discovered by the organization in May.
While annual donations for the Traverse City shelter have been down, animal drop-off numbers are up a record number due to job losses and foreclosures in the area, according to Jess Reed, CHS president.
According to the ASPCA, annual costs for a medium-size dog averages $695; a cat totals $670; even a small bird costs $200 per year.
Now consider a home with multiple pets.
While its responsible to drop off a pet at a shelter rather than denying its needs, the process is painful heartbreaking for most owners who have found love, companionship and even a family member through pet ownership.
I thought, gosh, how terrible would it be having to give up a pet? My pets are like my children and I couldnt think of not helping them, said Susan Reabe, founder and president of Helping Owners With Pet Expenses (H.O.P.E.), a Traverse City-based non-profit that assists pet owners with food and vet expenses.
Before Reabe established H.O.P.E. in February, she made the decision to bake dog cookies and sell them in return for pet food to donate to pet owners who were faced with giving up their animals because of financial burdens.
To date, weve probably helped 35 owners with vet bills and, oh gosh, a lot more with food, Reabe said about the young organizations progress.
H.O.P.E works with several area veterinary offices, receiving discounts on medical procedures, including Bay Area Pet Hospital on Front Street, which is also the location of their pet food pantry.
Bay Area lets us use a room in the lower level of their building, said Reabe, a retired registered nurse who is married to a local veterinarian.
Because the organization is still in its infancy, Reabe said they only assist pet owners of small animals, which run the gamut from dogs, cats and birds to guinea pigs, ferrets and lizards.
Food assistance is open to residents of Grand Traverse County only; however, H.O.P.E. will also accept applications from Benzie, Leelanau, Kalkaska, Antrim and Wexford regarding vet care.
Pet owners fill out an application stating their financial status and whether they need assistance with food or a vet bill. They receive assistance based on their individual need.
We look at everything on a case-by-case basis, said Reabe. We dont really have a time frame. For food we will help usually three to five months and have them reapply generally until they can get back on their feet.
The people who are seeking help are very grateful. A gal had a dog with infected ears. They had four kids and were a working family and were still barely able to make ends meet. It was so bad, they either had to put the dog down or give it away to a shelter, said Reabe, who added they were able to help the family keep their pet.
Nikki White was referred to H.O.P.E. by Bay Area Pet Hospital after her six-year-old dog, a greyhound/shepard/lab mix named Skyler, needed surgery for a uterine infection a procedure that costs $300.
I cant work because of disability and my fiancé is the only one supporting us, White said about her family that includes two children and two dogs.
White filled out an application, with H.O.P.E. covering the cost of surgery.
It would have been very, very difficult. I would have had to give her up, said White. Shes one of the best dogs that anyone could ask for. Even people who dont like dogs say they love her.
So far, the response from the community has been very positive, said Reabe.
We recently had a fundraiser and raised close to $4,000. Most of our food is donated by Square Deal Country Store and McGoughs of Traverse City. If they have nearly-expired food or a bag is ripped, they cant sell it. Theyve donated pallets of food to us.
Several pet owners who have used H.O.P.E have either volunteered their own services or say they will donate as soon as theyre back on their feet. However, Reabe adds the organization is still in need of a treasurer and project manager in order to keep moving forward.
If you are interested in volunteering for H.O.P.E., the next open meeting will be held Wednesday, July 13, at 5:30 p.m., in the lower level of the Bay Area Pet Hospital. It is a potluck event. Pet food and kitty litter may be dropped off directly to Bay Area Pet Hospital (located at 844 E. Front Street in Traverse City). More information on H.O.P.E. may be found at helpingownerswithpetexpenses.com.