Fund Helps Youth Volunteer to Exchange Work for Pet Veterinary Expenses at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital

A fund has been established at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital to help people and their pets stay together when families cannot afford veterinary medical bills. Ella’s Fund, the idea of a former veterinary student at CSU, allows youth and, in some cases, adults, to volunteer at the hospital and other local animal-oriented organizations to trade their time for veterinary costs.

Shortly after being established, Ella’s Fund already has helped eight youth keep their pets instead of relinquishing the pet in the face of an emergency or necessary preventative procedures with the hope that it will be adopted by someone who can pay for its care.

“There are many families who love their pets but cannot afford the cost of veterinary care – particularly when the expenses are unexpected. This program is really a win-win for our clients, the pets we care for and the hospital,” said Dr. Dean Hendrickson, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “We have the opportunity to keep pets with the people who love them, inspire future generations to continue to be good pet owners and possibly take an interest in a career in science or animal care, and to provide a high level of veterinary care to animals in need.”

In 2010, nearly 3,000 animals were relinquished to the Larimer County Humane Society – only a fraction of which came through the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The inability to pay for veterinary care is a leading cause of surrender.

The fund’s namesake, Ella, is an Australian shepherd who came into the VTH as an emergency case last year after her leg was fractured when a horse stepped on it. To save her life, the four-month-old puppy needed extensive – and expensive—surgery to ideally reset her leg, or amputate it. Because the surgery was something her 15-year-old owner and family could not afford, they made the difficult decision to give her up to the Larimer County Humane Society. That’s when she was noticed by Melissa Gelman, a CSU veterinary student at the time, who adopted her, paid for the surgery to reset her leg and, upon learning of her story, found a way to get Ella back to her family.

“The decision to relinquish Ella had been a painful one for the family,” Gelman said. “I wanted to find a solution for this family so Ella and her owner, Sydnee, could be reunited while not making the family feel obligated to me. It occurred to me that no matter what our financial status is, we can all volunteer our time to help others. Volunteer hours could be a form of currency. As a child, my family experienced similar opportunities through trading work and volunteering. I believed that if Sydnee was willing to work as a volunteer, she could essentially pay for Ella’s care with her time and be reunited with the pet she loves.”

Gelman added that she hopes the program will help children and teens learn more about how to care for animals during their volunteer work as well as learn about the power of giving to others. She said the experience evoked her own childhood memories of her first pet, and she was consumed with finding a solution that allowed Sydnee to keep her pet and take part in her medical care and recovery.

Volunteers work for an assigned number of hours to "pay" for their pets care. An initial donation of $27,250 from Banfield Charitable Trust establishes the fund, and others can donate to the fund to keep the program going. Participants can volunteer at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Larimer County Humane Society, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Raptor Program or Fort Collins Cat Rescue.

To qualify, cases must meet some eligibility requirements including the likelihood that the animal’s prognosis, with the required veterinary care, is good; that the family intends to relinquish the animal rather than pay for recommended veterinary care without financial services; the family has a mature and responsible youth to carry out the volunteer work who lives close enough to be able to complete the required hours; and, in some cases, meet minimum income levels.

Volunteers must work for a minimum of 40 hours to participate in the program.
Ella has been reunited with Sydnee for several months and continues to thrive at home.

To donate to Ella’s Fund, send a check to the CSU Foundation with “Ella’s Fund” in the memo. Those donations may be mailed to PO Box 1870, Fort Collins CO 80522-1870.