MARYSVILLE – If you’re a dog or cat lover, it can break your heart to have to put your animal down because of a needed, costly medical procedure.
Karen Brothers knows that all too well.
Brothers, who has eight cats, had one a few years ago named Dora, nicknamed, “The Explorer.”
“She was into everything,” Brothers said.
Dora swallowed a piece of rubber from the base of a fan and had to be taken to emergency veterinarian. Her bill was $1,900.
“I could cover the amount needed, but not everybody could,” she said.
It was then she decided to start a nonprofit organization called Four Paws Lifeline. It raises money through donations to help people who can’t afford necessary treatment for their pets.
Brothers used to work at a vet lab. She said it saddened her to see the number of times people would not have needed blood work done.
“They couldn’t afford it,” she said. So the pet would not get “additional testing that would have been helpful to isolate a cause” for an illness, she added.
“It happened all the time. They would cancel a test because they couldn’t afford it, and put the animal down,” she said. “Cost should not be a factor” in keeping an animal alive, she said.
Brothers said as a volunteer at Perfect Pals no-kill animal shelter she saw owners surrender animals because they can’t afford medical care. She said it’s especially tough for people with low incomes or fixed incomes like seniors.
“They don’t love their pets any less,” than those who can afford medical care for pets, she said. “A vet trip is devastating to them.”
Brothers said it took awhile to get the nonprofit up and running because she had no idea what to do. But there is now a website where supporters can go to donate. They also take part in local pet events, such as Marysville’s Poochapalooza, to try to get donations and tell their story.
“Our primary concern is the welfare of the animals,” she said.
There is an application to fill out, and vets are paid directly for up to $350. In its first year, the nonprofit has helped five pets: cats Kayleigh, Bird and Luna, and dogs Kodiak and Tripp. Their ailments included everything from a broken tooth or knee surgery and an amputation. Next on the list to help is a rabbit in Alaska.
“We do not discriminate,” Brothers said, adding the first pet they helped was from Ohio.
Four Paws Lifeline will only help pets whose prognosis is for continued quality of life.
“We’re not going to prolong the animal,” she said. “But we can help put an animal at peace.”
Brothers added that in itself can cost hundreds of dollars people may not have.
Along with donations, the group sells items to bring money. There are pet collar charms for $5 each, handmade gemstone zipper pulls and proceeds from the book, “Four Paws and 31 Tales,” which tells stories from the animals’ perspectives.
Christine Sissel’s 6-month-old kitty Luna was helped by Four Paws Lifeline in December.
She was pooping blood, so Sissel took her to a vet in Tumwater. While she was waiting she read an article about Four Paws Lifeline in Pet Connection magazine. She emailed Brothers and got a response three minutes later. They talked and Sissel provided Luna’s diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan. The nonprofit provided more than $300 toward the bill.
Even so, Sissel still had to take back Christmas gifts for her children, ages 23 and 18, to pay the vet bills, but they understood.
“Do what you have to do for Luna,” she said they told her. “I’d do anything for my kitty. Pets are like children to me.”
Sissel said Brothers showed so much compassion because she’d been through the same thing. “She knew my pain.”
Sissel said she has a medical background so she was able to save some costs by taking IV bags home and giving the cat shots by herself.
“There was so much testing,” she said. “Something was lodged in her stomach.”
Sissel said she has tried to give back to Four Paws Lifeline with some donations, but she wishes she could do more. She has spread the word about the nonprofit, but has found people reluctant because donors are always worried how much goes to administration.
Sissell does tell friends that if they are in a dire emergency, even if Brothers can’t help, she will direct people to other available resources.
Sissell said Brothers is a lifesaver.
“I could not let her go,” Sissell said of Luna.