Have you ever wished for a fairy godmother to get you through a rough patch? (If you haven’t, then congratulations; you’ve led an exceptionally charmed life!) Well, some dog owners could use a little extra help, too, but until recently, there was no one to call upon to wave a magic wand. That’s why Marlo Manning founded Fairy DogParents, a nonprofit that has made wishes come true for over 300 dog owners (“DogParents”) since its founding in March 2009.
Fairy DogParents has a simple and unique mission: to keep Massachusetts dogs with their families and out of the shelter system. To that end, it offers temporary assistance to DogParents who are facing financial hardship and are on the verge of surrendering their dog to a shelter. These are people of modest means who dearly love their dogs, but can’t afford the extra cost of acute medical treatment, medications, or a special diet. Based on the South Shore, the all-volunteer organization also lends a paw to qualified DogParents for whom even dog food and routine wellness care have become unaffordable.
Fairy DogParents’ prevention strategy makes sense, both financially and emotionally. With seven million homeless dogs entering U.S. shelters annually, the system is overburdened, and too many dogs never find a forever home. The cost of warehousing dogs in shelters often exceeds what it would cost keep them with their loving families and out of the system. For DogParents living paycheck to paycheck, life is already stressful enough without the additional worry that they can’t afford to keep caring for a four-legged family member. Plus, research shows that dogs help relieve stress, so having a dog actually helps people cope with the emotional anxiety of financial problems.
Marlo was inspired to start Fairy DogParents in early 2009, when having recently made the wrenching decision to put down her beloved 14-year-old rescue dog, Ladybug, she found there was nowhere she could donate Ladybug’s leftover medications and supplies. Ladybug had battled chronic liver disease, a stroke, dementia, and cancer, and her care had cost Marlo and her husband thousands of dollars over the years. Marlo realized how fortunate they were to have been able to afford Ladybug’s vet bills; moved to take action to help less fortunate DogParents, she launched Fairy DogParents within a few weeks of Ladybug’s death. (The ladybugs in the organization’s logo are a tribute to Marlo’s inspiration.)
Fairy DogParents has sponsored about 100 dogs in each of its first three years, and with awareness growing among referring vets and shelters, the number applications for aid keeps increasing. In just the first four months of 2012, Fairy DogParents has already sponsored 100 dogs and distributed about $100,000 — as much as in all of 2011. Donations come from individuals, local businesses and foundations.
Marlo personally reviews every application for assistance and interviews applicants to make sure they’ve exhausted all other means of paying their dogs’ bills. Marlo says over two-thirds of funds go toward acute medical care, with the money paid directly to the vet, not the owner. Fairy DogParents also delivers medications and food to qualified DogParents at home, rather than mailing a check. (For acute care, there is an $800 maximum per owner per year, and owners are asked to pay 15% of the total bill. For general wellness expenses and food, the annual cap is $300.)
The organization, which has no paid staff, has a small but expanding corps of dedicated volunteers (now including yours truly!), who help with deliveries, community outreach and administrative tasks. Marlo estimates that she devotes about 35 hours a week to Fairy DogParents — on top of commuting three days a week to Boston, where she works as a human resources manager, and caring for her own dogs, Scout and Daisy (both rescues). Her biggest frustration is that, for now, she must turn away appeals for help from out-of-state DogParents, but she hopes that will change by 2014, when she plans to begin rolling out her program in other states.
A real-life fairy godmother’s work is never done, but Marlo’s passion and energy appear boundless, and she closes each of her emails with the cheery reminder to “Keep your tail wagging.”
Watch a “Making a Difference” segment on NBC Nightly News about Fairy DogParents: