Critter Care

Local group raising funds to help rescue groups pay off veterinary debt

Sophia, before treatment.
Sophia, before treatment.

Brenda Suneson knows her love for senior pets can be consuming. She knows they need love and attention regardless of the high medical care costs.

About six weeks ago, Suneson was surfing Facebook when she came across the picture of Sophie, a poodle shih tzu rescue dog that was attacked by a pitbull and left her with a broken jaw. Suneson fell in love with Sophie, and knew she wanted to give the dog a new chance in life, to experience caring and loving. She quickly contacted the rescue house to set up the adoption.

Suneson said Sophie has had some medical issues, and knew that senior pets can cost more for extra attention. Suneson also knows that one of the reasons people hesitate to adopt senior pets is due to the higher costs pertaining to necessary medical care pets need.

Many previously homeless pets in the care of rescue organizations like Sophie need treatment, both to survive and to appeal to new families, though the burden of paying for those medical costs is often left to veterinary clinics. After a certain point, a clinic can no longer incur the debt, and animals are left without care.

Leslie Rocco, president of SaddleBrooke Pet Rescue Network in Tucson, has been on the mission to support pet rescue pets like Sophie for about seven years.

Rocco said the network began as a small group of six volunteers at Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson. She and her team decided to "leverage the support of SaddleBrooke community, who is very generous in three areas, volunteering, fundraising and pet adoption" to help pay off piling vet debt.

The Network started with a $10 membership and began to connect with various fundraisers and help provide shelter for homeless pets in Tucson.

To help these groups pay their debts and continue to seek medical care for rescue pets, Rocco and her team launched a campaign to raise funds through donations.

"Tucson is trying to become a no- kill community," said Rocco. "Instead of risking the lives of homeless pets, SaddleBrooke saves lives through supporting rescue houses and paying the debts incurred on vets who rescue pets, particularly senior ones, and provide them with medical services.

According to Rocco, vets medical treatment can vary from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars, and involves joint efforts of shelters, rescue groups and local community. To continue providing pets with the necessary treatment; and pay off vets' expenses, SaddleBrooke launched matching campaigns over the last two years.

The inaugural 2016 campaign raised $22,000. The following year, $30,000 was raised. For both campaigns, the network matched all funds raised. This year, they're upping the ante and matching all funds raised two-to-one. This year, the network aims to raise $15,000 in outside contributions. The Network hopes to payoff $45,000, tax exempt, to 15 rescue group vet accounts.

According to Rocco, this year's campaign is different in that "it's huge, and never been done before" to aim to raise this amount of money. The campaign will limit their donations to cats and dogs because "that's what SaddleBrooke Network focuses on," according to Rocco.

Liz Harris, director of client relations at PetDOCTORx, works closely with rescue groups and understands how high costs of medical treatment for pets can be.

As a full-service, low-cost clinic, Harris said that PetDOCTORx Liz has fostered strong relationships with rescue groups in Tucson, and has become a favorite stop to get quality services for pets. According to Harris, the increasing debts for vets are due to many reasons, but mainly to the "neglect on the original owners part, and over-breeding."

"Many pet owners think they can't afford care for animals," she said. "Maybe something seems more expensive and financially straining to them. ... There is always going to be more animals that need to be helped."

One of the recipient's of the funds, Cherished Tails Sr. Sanctuary, works with the network to help locate shelters and potential adopters.

"It's the combination of the funding to help pay for the medical bill," said founder and director Pauline Haas-Vaughn. "Just getting the word out about what our rescue is doing and getting more people who are willing to help support our cause."

The campaign will run from July 7-30 and interested donors can follow the payoffvetdebt Facebook page for more details.

Dalal Radwan is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.

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