A Virginia veterinary clinic owner recently told USA Today that up to two-thirds of pet owners putting their animals to sleep were doing so because they couldn't afford to care for their pets.
"I've never seen as many people lining up to turn over pets," Mark Kumpf, former executive director of the National Animal Control Association, told the newspaper. "It's heart-wrenching to see so many people come through the door."
But groups across the country are trying to stop this as best they can.
Some provide complimentary pet vaccines, give out pet food and supplies, and spay and neuter for free. Others transport pet owners without cars to and from the vet's office so that their pets can receive the care they need.
Los Angeles families get in-shelter counseling about the many resources that could help them hold onto their animals. And a veterinary clinic in Richmond, Virginia, even offers low-cost surgery -- complicated procedures, not just spaying and neutering -- to help prevent what's called "economic euthanasia."
Here are 13 organizations that are trying to make a difference:
Beyond Breed's Ruff Riders in Brooklyn, New York
's Ruff Riders is a nonprofit organization that delivers pet food and supplies and helps with veterinary care in under-served areas of Brooklyn. The program also works to dislodge prejudice.
"For too long, certain segments of the pet-owning population have been invisible to the animal welfare community. For too long, there’s been an unchallenged assumption that a person’s zip code, skin color or professional status tells us anything about the bond between that person and his/her pet. For too long, fear and hysteria have diverted resources away from the areas that need them most," founder Kim Wolf says. "We want to change that."
Helping Hands Affordable Veterinary Surgery and Dental Care in Richmond, Virginia
Helping Hands Affordable Veterinary Surgery and Dental Care
Veterinarian Lori Pasternak (pictured above with Chilly, her dog and the clinic's mascot) opened Helping Hands
with the goal of preventing "economic euthanasia." The clinic provides what Pasternak calls "advanced surgery" -- beyond spaying and neutering -- as well as dental care.
"If your pet swallowed a sock and needed a $5,000 surgery to get it out, could you afford it or would you consider economic euthanasia?" she says. "No one should ever have to choose between paying their bills or saving their pet’s life."
Helping Hands opened in 2010 to serve pet owners in the Richmond, Virginia, area. But as word spread, folks have brought their animals from as far as Miami and Canada. Helping Hands is now looking to hire a second surgeon.
The Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation's Healthy Pit Bull Clinics in Chicago
The Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation
Chicago pit bull owners can get free veterinary treatment through the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation
's pit bull health clinics.
The program, which partners with the Animal Care League, Animal Ark Veterinary Clinic and 3R Dog Training, focuses on residents of the Englewood neighborhood. Its aim is to keep pit bulls out of the local shelter by providing owners with the resources they need to keep their pets at healthy and safe at home.
Fences For Fido in Portland, Oregon
Fences For Fido
Volunteers for Portland-based Fences For Fido
have built some 800 fences throughout Oregon and parts of Washington since the program got off the ground in 2009, says president Ken Alwine. They've done it for free, and they've done so much more, to boot.
"Our mission is as simple as it is beautiful: We free dogs from chains!" says Alwine. "We attend to all needs by building a fence, removing the chain, supplying a warm dog house, providing critical vet care and spay/neuter and returning yearly to ensure the dog lives a safe, unchained life. One fence, one family, one dog at a time."
Best Friends Animal Society's Pet Food Bank, Spay/Neuter Clinic in Utah
Sarah Ause Kichas/Best Friends Animal Society
Earlier this year, Best Friends opened up its pet food pantry
in Salt Lake City.
Pet owners can get food every two weeks for their animals, which, in turn, must be spayed or neutered. Best Friends
also provides free and reduced-fee spaying and neutering through its low-income assistance voucher program
An astonishing 5,072 pets -- mostly cats and dogs -- were fixed through this program in 2013. According to BFAS staff the group is on track to perform about the same number in 2014.
The Surrender Prevention Program in South Los Angeles
Found Animals Foundation
The Surrender Prevention Program
's whole purpose is to reduce the number of pet owners surrendering their pets to shelters, where the animals may be euthanized.
The project -- which is run by Downtown Dog Rescue
and funded by Michelson Found Animals
-- is simple: A counselor talks to families that are thinking of giving up their animals and helps them find ways to keep their pets at home instead.
SPP began in April 2013. Aimee Gilbreath, Michelson Found Animals' executive director, says that in its first year, the program wildly exceeded initial goals.
"We intercepted 2,622 pets that were at-risk of being surrendered to the shelter within the first year, 6.5 times the original goal of 400 interventions," she says. "This lifesaving program averages 219 interventions per month, 50 per week, and seven per day."
Dolly's Foundation in Central Florida
Erica Matyas from Photohound Dog Photography
The ultimate goal of Dolly's Foundation
is keeping pets out of shelters, but "we're really happy with just helping people in need," says the group's founder and president, Erica Daniel. "There are so many folks out there that are desperate for assistance. They're living in resource deserts and have no information about available resources outside of their immediate communities."
The group, founded in 2011, had an initial goal of helping low-income families with spaying and neutering services. Since then, the mission has expanded to providing vaccines, and other services and supplies, as grant funding allows.
The Pet Project Midwest in Iowa
Pet Project Midwest
"We believe loved pets belong in their homes, not in shelters, so we operate programs designed to address potential causes of separation before they become irreparable," says Sara Henderson, founder of the Pet Project Midwest
, which serves Iowan families and their pets.
The group, founded in 2009, began with a pet pantry that was stocked with food and supplies. Its mission is to help keep animals out of shelters.
"Our first month of operations we thought we might have 30 applicants for our pet pantry program. We had 200. Now we serve approximately 100 families a month," Henderson says.
The group serves 100 more through programs that bring pet food and services to people's homes. In the future, the group hopes to work on educational programs and on expanding the available pool of pet-friendly housing.
PAWS San Diego
PAWS San Diego
Four times a month, PAWS San Diego
-- a project of the San Diego Humane Society -- gives out pet food and other supplies through a program called Keeping Every Person and Pet Together
The group also operates a wellness program that brings food and supplies to folks' homes. Services like dog walking and transportation to vet appointments, as well as vouchers for veterinary care, are also available for the more than 500 low-income seniors and chronically ill and disabled individuals -- and about 700 pets -- this program serves.
Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington, D.C.
Washington Animal Rescue League
Spay It Forward in LaSalle County, Illinois
Spay It Forward
Spay It Forward
provides -- as the name suggests -- low-cost spaying and neutering services, as well as vaccines and microchips, for pets in the greater LaSalle County, Illinois, area.
"We are often called by local vets to assist with funding major emergency surgeries for seniors/low-income folks who love their pets, but cannot afford major medical care on them," says president Jennifer Bilyeu. "We also tend/manage several colonies of homeless cats in our county, providing them spay/neuter, vaccines, micro chips, emergency medical, food, and housing in the winter."
This year, Spay It Forward began providing another service that helps honor the bond between people and their beloved pets. The group is covering the costs of cremation for pets who have died in house fires, "when their people cannot afford this service at an already horrid time in their lives," says Bilyeu.
How can you help? Donate, volunteer, foster and adopt. It's that simple. Get in touch at email@example.com if you know a rescue group that's doing great work!