MainStreet is on a mission to help you find organizations that can improve your daily life while also helping your budget. We profile charities that help worthy causes while at the same time saving you money and/or advocating on your behalf.

This week, we look at organizations that help people who are struggling to afford veterinary care for their pets.

The economic impact: As the economy worsens, many people are finding it difficult enough to feed and care for the human members of their household. Sadly, animal shelters are being overwhelmed with pets surrendered by owners who simply cannot afford to care for them. The good news? There are organizations that can help with the costs of pet care and treatment, so you may not have to give up your four-legged friend.

(Note: Most of these programs send payment directly to the vet or clinic, and will not send money to pet owners.)

American Animal Hospital Association: The AAHA has a foundation that helps pay for vet care for sick or injured pets whose owners are experiencing financial hardship. AAHA-accredited veterinary practices submit the application request on behalf of the owner. Owners must provide proof that they are currently a recipient of a government assistance program (SSI, food stamps, unemployment compensation, etc.). Families cannot receive more than $500 in assistance per year, with a lifetime limit of $1,000. Although it recently had to stop taking applications temporarily, the organization hopes to resume granting funds this summer. Watch for updates online.

United Animal Nations: This organization’s Lifeline Grants program provides funding to good Samaritans, animal rescuers, non-profit organizations and pet owners to help them care for animals in life-threatening situations. Owners must prove financial hardship. (Generally, that means showing they are recipients of public assistance or are unemployed).  Grants typically range from $100 to $300. Once an owner receives a grant, they are no longer eligible to apply again. There is also is a list of assistance programs and organizations on the UAN website.

Angels4Animals: Their Guardian Angel program is designed to prevent animals from being abandoned or euthanized because the owners are having financial challenges. Although the bulk of their work involves cats and dogs, they are open to helping any type of pets. Participants must fill out an eligibility assessment application.

Precedence is given to those that have the shortest amount of time to make a decision and/or to those that can demonstrate the greatest amount of negative impact on family life if the pet was gone. The organization has a network of vet clinics across the U.S. and the clinics alert Angels4Animals to cases where an animal owner is having a financial crisis. (The organization relies upon vets to help determine which owners are most financially needy.) The program then pays for the needed services, so the pet can remain with its family. The organization also has a Lost & Found program, which pays for microchip implantation for pets whose owners cannot afford the procedure.

The Pet Fund: This organization provides financial assistance for pets who need care, with the hope of avoiding euthanasia. Because the application process takes a while, this group does not fund emergency treatment. All applicants must call by phone at 916-443-6007 before submitting an application. Applicants must provide proof of income in the form of pay stubs, SSI statements, etc.

The Capper & Chris Save the Animals Fund: This group provides help to pay for pet care at Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. The Small Animal (dogs and cats) Fund, created by Capper Thompson, was established as a memorial for Chris Stehouwer, a Texas A&M University student and animal lover who was killed in an accident. Animals must have a treatable disease or injury. The fund may contribute up to 50% of the total cost, with a maximum of $1,000 per case.

Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program: This group covers care for cats and kittens in California, but they do have a nationwide program specifically for cats suffering from Vaccine Associated Sarcoma (VAS), a group of feline cancers believed to be caused by vaccinations. The cat or kitten must have a life-threatening illness, injury or condition, or one that seriously compromises the quality of the cat or kitten's life. The vet’s prognosis should indicate the likelihood of a positive outcome, with proper treatment. Owners must provide proof that they receive public assistance, disability or unemployment benefits.

Breed-specific programs: The HSUS has a list of breed-specific assistance groups. You can also contact local or national organizations dedicated to your specific breed. The AKC also has a list of breed-specific organizations, for dogs only.

Local organizations: There are numerous small local organizations that help pet owners in need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of some of them on its web site.

Pet insurance plans: Pet insurance can help with vet costs, but there are important things to keep in mind. First, just as with insurance plans for people, some things aren’t covered. Also, pet insurance plans generally require you to pay the bills out of your own pocket first, then submit claims for reimbursement.

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