MARLO MANNING is the founder and director of FAIRY DOGPARENTS, a 501 c3 charitable organization in Massachusetts dedicated to keeping families and their dogs together, as well as assisting them with food and medical care under unusual or trying circumstances. Recently distinguished with as a CNN Hero from a pool of more than 10,000 nominees, Marlo generously took some time to sit for this interview about the tireless and remarkable work she continues to do for so many.
In the interest of full disclosure I would be remiss not to express my personal thanks to Marlo and FDP for their generous assistance in underwriting surgery nearly three years ago for my Irish Setter, Justice. The invaluable help made possible to so many by Fairy Dogparents is immeasurable. I encourage one and all to do whatever you can in aid of its extraordinary programs.
The invaluable help made possible to so many by Fairy Dogparents is immeasurable. I encourage one and all to do whatever you can in aid of its extraordinary programs. Thank you. – John Bell Young
JBY: When did you found FDP, and what would you say is the singular event that inspired you to do so?
MM: I started Fairy Dogparents in March, 2009 after the loss of my dog, Ladybug. We rescued Ladybug from our local town shelter in 2005. She was an older dog, probably 8 or 10 years old, and was found wandering a main route along the town border during the worst snow storm of that season. She was incredibly sweet and quite thankful for her new retirement home. Like many older dogs she developed medical issues, which were fortunate enough to afford to have treated by a vet. After battling kidney disease, vestibular disease, a brief run in with fleas, suffering a stroke leading to doggie dementia, and then cancer, her time had come; we had to let her go and be in peace. It was the most difficult decision I had made at that point in my life.
The day we picked up her cremated remains I inquired about donating her many medications and prescription food, and asked our vet if he knew of a charity that would let us sponsor other dogs might otherwise go without. The vet didn’t know of such an organization, but he took the medications and food to donate to another family he knew was unable to afford it otherwise. Coincidentally, the vet tech suggested I read the local paper that day, as there was an article about dogs whose owners, no longer able to afford to feed them, had surrendered them to shelters.
With Ladybug’s ashes in my lap, I read the article and knew that I had to do something to help. I began an extensive search to find an organization that offered families one last chance to keep their dogs, rather than compelling them to surrender them to shelters due to financial circumstances. After a month of searching came up empty, I listened to that little voice that we all have, and knew I had to fill the void. And here we are, almost four years and four hundred and twenty six sponsor dogs later.
JBY: Can you describe the principal objectives of your organization and something about the demographic to whom you provide assistance?
MM: Our mission is simple. We prevent dogs from being surrendered to shelters and keep dogs with their families. We do this by providing temporary assistance with food and/or veterinary costs, which includes funding for general wellness, chronic care and acute care needs. Where euthanasia is thought to be the only alternative to keeping a dog, we do what we can to prevent it and explore other, life saving alternatives.
Our demographic includes a wide range of people who have found themselves in challenging financial situations. This includes the elderly, disabled, unemployed, underemployed, divorced, single parents, veterans returning from duty, and other dog owners. The one thing they all have in common is having demonstrated responsible dog ownership; they want to do right by their dog. In order to be sponsored by us, they must also agree to spay and neuter all dogs in their household. Sometimes we can assist with those expenses through low cost clinics.
JBY: In your experience in the years since you founded FDP, what has been your most touching and memorable experience?
MM: That is a tough question. And I always have difficulty choosing just one. Every day I am reminded of the amazing bond and co-dependence between dogs and their families. Three dogs come to mind straightaway.
Our first two sponsor dogs, Maxy and Adam, were rescued greyhounds, 7 and 8 years old. The family that rescued them was doing fine financially when they got the dogs, and had a home well suited for the dogs to play and run around in. But as time went on both parents lost their jobs, and worse, their home was in foreclosure. They could not afford medical care for either dog. The dogs’ teeth were so bad they couldn’t eat, and they had no way of paying $1000 for dental surgery. And so they called the rescue where they had gotten the dogs to see if it would take them back, of if anything could be done to help. Their options were to surrender them to a shelter to get the care or euthanize them. They had two options: to surrender the dogs to a shelter that would care for them, or have them euthanized. At that time Fairy Dogparents had been in existence for only two months. We stepped in and were able to get a discount at an amazing vet in Boston called Alliance for Animals, which provided both dogs the dental care they needed, including extractions. And so at a time of such sadness and desperation we were able to give the family some hope. Last time we checked, the family had found a rental that allowed dogs, and though they were still struggling financially, at least they had their dogs, whose presence consoled them.
The second story concerns a woman who was undergoing cancer treatment. Her dog, Dakota not only helped her get through her pain and extensive treatment, but was also her confidant and support system. Just as she was moving towards remission, she learned Dakota had cancer, too, which news crushed her emotionally. As she had been out of work due to her illness, she had run out of her disability payments, and had no money at all to pay for his treatment. Her story was so heart wrenching that we got in touch with her within a few hours after we received her application. Through our sponsorship Dakota received chemo and other treatment. Coincidentally, his dogmother said it was the same chemo she had been treated with when she was sick. Dakota recovered and his mother is now in remission.
Finally, there was Skywalker. This dog was given several chances in this world, but in the end we lost him. Skywalker was rescued from a drug raid in New York, then brought to Massachusetts to live with his new family, where he was to be trained as a service dog for an autistic boy. It was discovered he had a hole in his heart (PDA) requiring heart surgery to save his life. We went public with his story on Valentines Day 2012 and raised more than $6000 to cover his medical expenses. He was admitted to Tufts and the surgery went well. But only six months later during a check up it was discovered the hole had reopened. We used the remaining funds from the first fundraiser to help pay for the second surgery. He was recovering and resuming his service dog training when he suddenly fell ill and died from a heart attack last month only three weeks before Christmas. He was fourteen months old.
I share this story because Skywalker touched so many lives and was an inspiration to so many people. He was the first story we shared on our Facebook page and newsletter , which help us to raise money beyond our maximum sponsorship. We feel honored to have met him and to include him in our 2013 Calendar.
JBY: Do you ever have to turn anyone away in search of assistance, due to lack of adequate funding? In such cases, which must be difficult, what informs your decision, if anything, beyond strictly financial considerations?
MM: Yes, we have. We struggle day to day with fundraising. There are more dogs in need than money coming in. This means we often have to choose which dog gets help and which does not. It isn’t easy to sleep at night when we have to make those decisions. But I know there is plenty of money out there to be donated. This paradox boggles my mind. In a $51 billion dollar per year industry (the pet industry), organizations that try to help pet owners or shelter animals get only a small piece of the pie. The money is out there, obviously, because many people spend money on a new outfit for their dog, or a 3rd or 4th collar, which they have every right to do. But that same amount of money could feed a shelter dog, save dogs from euthanasia, or allow them to stay with their families. These dogs either have humans who have failed them or humans who are fighting like hell not to fail them, such as those we sponsor. What if that dog in need was their dog? Wouldn’t they want an organization like ours to give their dog a chance to stay with their family?
We are all guilty of buying our dogs things they don’t need, but I think if you love dogs in general, there are many worthy organizations to give the money to instead of buying them another sweater. Some dogs required thousands of dollars in treatment, but our maximum sponsorship is $800 per year. For example, spinal surgery, can range from $4000 to $12,000, and the odds of the dog walking again are often 50/50 Although our $800 is usually a lot more then they could get on their own, it’s often not enough to get the dog the treatment they need.
JBY: What are the limits you must necessarily impose on financial assistance in any given area, such as veterinary care, or the provision of dog food?
MM: Our annual sponsorship limit is $800 per year per dogparent. This is based on a rolling 12 month cycle that we monitor as the year goes on. Since more than 60% of dogs we sponsor are in emergency care situations that, that $800 is spent all at once for life saving surgery instead of euthanasia. Chronic care issues usually involve monthly payments towards prescriptions, or vet exams and testing. Our limit in support of a dog with general wellness needs such as food, vet exams and shots is $300 per year per dog parent. We do not deduct donations of food or flea and tick prevention treatments from the $300 limit, since we did not spend money on those items.
JBY: Does FDP provide any assistance to dog owners who have no choice, for whatever reason, to give up their dogs, and if so , what kind of help?
MM: Our goal is to keep dogs with their families. If the owner still feels compelled to is still having to surrender their dog, then we try to talk things through, have a look at the reasons why and examine what options they have. We may refer them to an all breed rescue or suggest they use a trainer, if it is behavioral. But sometimes people have to move to a place where they can no longer keep their dogs. On rare occasions we might offer to pay for boarding at a kennel until they make that transition, but the $800 runs out quickly in those circumstances. Fairy Dogparents is not a rescue or foster program, so we cannot take in dogs or place them in temporary housing. To our knowledge there is not a program out there that will temporarily foster dogs until owners get back on their feet. Maybe someday we can grow in that direction but right now we can’t keep up with the demand as it is. In any case we’re not sure if we are the right team to offer those additional services.
JBY: In an ideal world where you had all the funding for FDP your heart desires, how would you use it and what new programs and measures of assistance would you provide?
MM: This is the easiest question so far! We would hire a resource to manage the day-to-day operations. We are a virtual operation so we don’t require a facility or office space for a dedicated person to work out of. I say this first because I have a career as a HR Director for a market research firm in Boston and I am at work or commuting to work up to 12 hours per day. I tend to FDP related items during my commute or when I get home at night and on weekends, which amounts to about 40 hours or more per week. But I can never keep up with all of the demands or administrative requirements. Our board works full time; some go to school or are raising families at the same time. We would set up a training fund to educate our volunteers about the challenges of shelters and rescues, and how volunteering for FDP can alleviate these stressors. We would also get a storage facility for all the wonderful in-kind donations, and get an FDP mobile unit to travel to locations so as to provide food and supplies to those in need.
Additionally, we’d set up community and educational programs (for kids and adults) with regard to the necessity of spaying and neutering, or partner with someone already doing this. We feel it’s very important to spread the word;the fact is many of the male dogs we help have been hit by cars precisely because they had not been neutered, while un-spayed females suffer from pyometra. We would also move quickly towards expansion, insofar as we have a model that works and which we would like to share with other communities outside of Massachusetts. We would hand select the expansion divisions and train them to run their own chapter of Fairy Dogparents. And most importantly, we wouldn’t have to turn down an application for sponsorship because we could not afford it.
JBY: What would you say you could use the most now so as to make FDP an even more effective and helpful organization?:
MM: We could definitely benefit from skilled, dedicated, professional level resources as volunteers. Like a fundraising guru who can assist with strategy and tactical details; an event specialist who enjoys throwing events and managing all of the details thereof; a professional grant writer who knows the ins and outs of grant writing and foundations; a researcher with patience and the ability to uncover opportunities and/or potential
partnerships with organizations and corporations; an accountant who is fluent in QB, Excel and reporting to help us enter all of our day to day transactions; and not least, a strong leader and manager who is local enough to work with our current volunteers and help allocate their time and give them the attention they need. If we could secure just three of those I’ve listed, we will be able to meet our 2013 goal of sponsoring an additional 300 dogs.
JBY: Do you have plans to expand the reach and programs of FDP, and if so, can you elaborate what these might be?
MM: Yes, we do. The challenge is deciding where to expand and how to do it. We would want to assume a leadership role with any additional chapters, yet require them to be responsible for their own events, including application review, approval and sponsorship, as well as fundraising and administrative duties. We have received many inquiries that express interest in establishing new FDP chapters, but once they learn just how much time, effort and fundraising is required it tends to let the air out of their balloons. As we move forward I hope we can have another chapter up and running by 2015, but need to find the right team who can run a dynamic, fully volunteer and donation funded program.
JBY: In a few words, or perhaps a sentence or two, what it the principal message that you’d like to FDP to convey?
MM: Too many dogs end up in shelters through no fault of their own. Many of them were loved by their families, which either had no choice but to give their dogs up, or didn’t know about FDP. Given the chance, we can help these dogs stay with their families.
JBY: You were recently nominated for a CNN Heroes Award, and your work has been featured on several occasions on the national news. How has this sort of publicity affected your work and your reach, and what would you say would be the most helpful thing the media could do now to help?
MM: Our exposure through CNN had a global reach we never had before. Being selected as a CNN Hero, from 10,000 nominations, was quite humbling while giving us an amazing platform to share our program. At the award ceremony in LA last month, I met many fellow CNN Heroes and was humbled by their programs and their genuine interest in ours. It was the most inspirational night of my life.
The initial reaction to this type of recognition is a boon in donations, emails inquiring about our program and if others exist across the states, and then a large influx of
applications for help. Prior mention on Making a Difference segments on NBC Nightly
News had a similar effect. The influx of inquiries and applications is incredibly challenging, considering we do not have any staff to manage the flow. However, both opportunities lent credibility to Fairy Dogparents and gave the public the opportunity to donate to our cause to help dog owners who need it most.
The most helpful thing the media could do to help would be to help tell our story, share our mission and invite others to participate. Oh, and if they could get a direct line to Ellen DeGeneres or someone else with a similar passion and platform, that would be cool too!