In 2005, Marlo Manning and her husband, Ed Foley, adopted a dog from a local shelter in Kingston, where they live. Ladybug was a mixed breed, maybe 8 to 10 years old. For four years, she gave the couple love, licks, and joy. But as she aged, she developed a host of health issues: vertigo, kidney and liver problems, dementia, a stroke, and ultimately cancer.
When Ladybug died, she left a heartbroken family and hundreds of dollars of medications. Manning didn’t want them to go to waste and asked the veterinarian if he could give them to another dog owner.
She and her husband had spent a lot of money on Ladybug’s care, and they were grateful that they could afford it. But what about those who aren’t so lucky? Manning searched everywhere for an organization that would help dog owners who can no longer afford to care for their dogs. Those dogs often end up in a shelter or are euthanized.
“I couldn’t find anything, and I even looked overseas,” says Manning, who is head of human resources for a market research firm in Boston. In 2009, she started the nonprofit Fairy Dogparents and signed up some dog-loving friends to be on its board.
“We would be like fairy godmothers, swooping in and making sure the dog has what it needs, and then we exit,” she says. “Our one and only goal is to keep dogs out of a shelter or not have them euthanized just because their owners can’t afford them.”
One of their first cases was a couple who had lost their jobs in the recession and could not afford the medical bills for their two greyhounds. The dogs could no longer eat because of infected teeth. The couple learned about Fairy Dogparents from their vet and applied for help.
“We ended up paying $1,100,” says Manning. The money came out of her own pocket. “I just felt if we could get it going, people would jump in and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, here’s $5 or whatever.’ Fund-raising is painful.” There are no paid staff, only volunteers.
She is applying for grants and has a couple of pet product sponsors who donate money and food. But most of the funding comes from individual donors. After NBC Nightly News reported on Fairy Dogparents, $40,000 poured in.
Many owners are referred by vets; others found the Fairydogparents.org website. In general, each case can receive up to $800 in help: food, medication, vet bills. But in “extreme circumstances,” Fairy Dogparents will describe the case on its website and ask for donations for that particular dog.
“People rise to the occasion and help out,” Manning says.
One such occasion occurred when an autistic child’s service dog had a hole in its heart, which required open heart surgery. After contributing to the surgery, Fairy Dogparents put the story on their website, raising $4,000.
There’s the diabetic Labrador retriever who needed insulin and syringes, but both its owners had been laid off; the two dogs whose owner in Hull had lost her pension when her company went under and needed help; the small poodle in Weymouth who needed prescription food, but whose owner couldn’t afford it.
A retired couple in Bellingham had no money for dog food. A Westborough high-tech company heard about it and held a food drive for Fairy Dogparents.
“We had eight months of food delivered to this elderly couple,” Manning says. “It was awesome.”
They’re among the 342 dogs in 182 cities and towns across Massachusetts helped by Fairy Dogparents.
To get help, owners must fill out an online application, which asks about household income and expenses, how they got the dog, and vet information. Dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered are denied.
“It’s a requirement,” says Manning. “There are 12,000 dogs a day euthanized in the US; that’s eight a minute.”
The average applicant makes a maximum of $2,000 a month before taxes. There’s the occasional middle-income applicant, like the woman whose household income was $140,000.
“My dog needs surgery, but my husband refuses to pay for it,” she said. Case denied.
Fairy Dogparents’ highest priority is people whose unemployment benefits have run out, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Some owners will give up their own medication so their dog can get their meds or special diets, Manning says.
Ann Marie Ducey of Dedham was in desperate need of medication for her German shepherd’s chronic skin disease that left him a miserable mess from scratching and biting his sores. The plant that manufactures the meds was behind on orders, and there were no drugs to be found anywhere.
“That’s when Marlo helped,” says Ducey, who has a dog-walking business. “Somehow, she got me the medications that saved Gus. I feel he would have been put down without Marlo’s help. If she can save a dog, she leaves no stone unturned.”
Manning has fielded the question many times: Why so much fuss over a dog? She has a ready answer that we dog lovers understand completely.
Most of her clients, she says, have lost everything, and the dog still loves them. “For many of them, it’s their only companion due to age or disability or divorce. It’s the last bit of normal they have holding them together, giving them a reason to get up every day and try again.”
Manning has two dogs now: Scout, a 10-year-old springer spaniel found in the woods in Norton, and Daisy, a rescued German wire-haired pointer. They are two lucky dogs, as are all of those who have Fairy Dogparents like Marlo Manning and her volunteers.