Pets with Purpose: Protecting pets in times of crisis

Posted on 21 May 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Jed and Jennifer Kanoodling

In times of crisis, vulnerable Australians such as domestic violence victims and pensioners struggling to pay veterinary bills are the people most at risk of losing their beloved pets, says the founder of Pet Medical Crisis, Jennifer Hunt.

How would you describe Pet Medical Crisis?

We’re a lifeline for pensioners in crisis and a lifesaver for pets at risk.

There’s a saying “If you can’t afford to have a pet you shouldn’t have one.” We disagree. The most vulnerable people in our community can’t afford not to have a pet in their lives.

Their pets are often all they have and their only reason to get up in the morning. We believe the special human–animal bond is too precious to lose and it’s our most vulnerable community members who need it the most.

In times of crisis, when critical vet care is needed, these people are the ones most at risk of losing their beloved companion.

They face an unthinkable choice between giving up on their dearest family member and euthanising them because they cannot afford the cost of treatment, and surrendering their pet and never knowing what happens to them. The other alternative is to get into deeper debt, defaulting on rent and even losing their home.

We’re here to change that.

Our mission is to step up and break down the barriers to critical veterinary care, to ensure pets receive the care they urgently need, so families can stay together, happy and healthy.

We believe in a future where every pet owner in Australia has access to critical vet care for their beloved pet, no matter where they live or what financial hardships they face.

How did you come to establish Pet Medical Crisis and why?

In 2009, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and our Border Collie, Jed, was our vital and beloved 24/7 support.

Jed was playing with our four-year-old son, James, on the beach when our world changed. While chasing seagulls, Jed ruptured three discs in his back and we were faced with losing him.

We had a choice: find thousands of dollars to pay for specialist surgery or have Jed euthanised. The thought of giving up on Jed was unbearable.

He was far too important to our family‘s health. We were so fortunate to be able to afford his treatment and keep Jed with us.

It got me thinking, what would pensioners or people in financial hardship do? When I learnt they’d face losing their pet to economic euthanasia or surrender, I established Pet Medical Crisis in 2010 to support pensioners and vulnerable pet owners to meet the cost of critical veterinary care and get their treasured family members home again.

We’ve donated more than $1.3 million to save pets at risk and ensure pets and their families stay together, where they belong.

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"Pets can also become victims in volatile environments, often sustaining injuries while attempting to protect their owners from abuse or being used to control victims from standing up for themselves."

What is the link between family violence and abuse of animals?

Research has consistently shown that in households affected by domestic violence and abuse, there is a significant likelihood of concurrent animal abuse targeting the family's pets.

At Pet Medical Crisis, 41% of our clients report historical or current domestic violence, and we often hear harrowing stories that illustrate this distressing link firsthand.

One client recounted how her dog was injured when her partner was intoxicated and aggressive, throwing things at her.

Pets can also become victims in volatile environments, often sustaining injuries while attempting to protect their owners from abuse or being used to control victims from standing up for themselves.

More than 95% of these clients are women whose solace in their pets can become another tool used to control them.

If they do manage to leave the home and hopefully take their pets with them, they are not only targets of ongoing violence from perpetrators, but they are financially compromised while they start piecing their shattered lives back together.

When their pets get sick the devastating fact is that they are faced with losing their beloved family members who have travelled the journey with them, and the impact of not being able to assist them is heartbreaking and defeating.

These heartbreaking accounts underscore the urgent need for comprehensive support and intervention for vulnerable individuals and their animal companions.

How can an organisation such as Pet Medical Crisis help?

Pet Medical Crisis plays a critical role in supporting individuals and families in crisis.

We specialise in providing crucial financial assistance to pet owners facing crises, including those impacted by domestic violence, who cannot afford urgent veterinary care for their pets.

We’re unique in our unconditional support. You don’t need a case manager to access our services.

We’re here for all vulnerable people and at-risk pets in Victoria.

Our primary objective is to ensure that pets receive necessary medical treatment, alleviating stress and worry for pet owners and safeguarding the well-being of their beloved pets while ensuring their owner can pay the rent and still put food on the table.

While we currently focus on direct financial aid, advocacy and support, our vision includes collaborating with social services and other agencies in the future to establish comprehensive support networks for individuals and families in crisis situations involving pets.

What support have you received along the way to help you carry out your mission?

As a unique charity in Victoria offering one-on-one funding and support directly to pensioners and pet owners in financial hardship, we also support veterinarians' mental health by taking on complex human elements, allowing them to focus on treating and saving the life of the pet.

We operate without government funding, relying on the support of our community of donors and dedicated volunteers.

One significant source of support has been the Petbarn Foundation, whose donations and partnership have enabled us to assist pet owners impacted by domestic violence and financial hardship, expanding our reach to provide vital veterinary care for pets during times of crisis.

May is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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