Helping in New Ways: Expanded Eligibility Opened Way for *Harry’s Treatment

* (some names have been changed to protect privacy)

“I had tapped out all my resources, there was nothing else, so thank God for Tails of Help.”

Some people aren’t used to needing help. In fact, Lucie was more used to giving help than receiving it. Not only has she welcomed three different rescue pets into her home, but in the past she also has volunteered to help others less fortunate than her – an experience that taught her never to judge a book by its cover.

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“Just because you go to a nice home doesn’t mean that people inside of it don’t need help,” recalls Lucie, adding that just because she has a job doesn’t mean that she can pay all her bills. Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn and anything can change.

That’s what happened to Lucie last holiday season. After some unexpected bills drained her resources, she suddenly had to deal with another extra cost – the cost of saving her cat’s life.

Lucie’s cat Harry was approaching four years old when he started exhibiting symptoms of a blocked urinary tract. Instead of heading to his usual litter box to relieve himself, Lucie noticed he was searching the house, as if looking for somewhere to go. After seeing him unsuccessfully straining, and then howling in horrible pain, Lucie knew it had to be serious. She’d had cats in the past, and recognized the symptoms of urinary crystals. She took him to her veterinary clinic first thing in the morning and they admitted him right away, without hesitation.

“They gave me a sense of what the costs [of treatment] would be and I said, ‘do whatever you need to do’ of course,” Lucie says, noting that she didn’t immediately think things through on the financial side. “Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me, but I’d had a number of other intense expenses around that time.”

Lucie insists that she wouldn’t have changed her mind anyway. “You would do anything for your pet.”

A four-day veterinary stay adds up quickly though. Harry’s condition was quite serious – he likely had suffered in silence for quite some time, as most pets do, before his symptoms became visible. Luckily, he was discovered to have urinary crystals rather than stones – and the vet had a plan for treatment.

While Lucie waited for more information, she noticed a fundraising campaign for Tails of Help in the clinic lobby. They were offering tickets for door prizes, with all donated funds going to Tails of Help. Lucie had never heard of this organization, so she inquired at the desk.

Unfortunately, unaware of expanded Tails of Help eligibility rules, the front staff told her that the aid program was only available to a few specific categories of low-income pet owners.

While Tails of Help from the beginning has been serving low-income Albertans on AISH (Alberta Income for the Severely Handicapped) and GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement for Seniors), in 2017 the eligibility rules were expanded so that, while continuing to assist those on AISH and GIS, many more low income Alberta residents can qualify for funding.

Now there are two main financial need categories under which a pet owner can qualify: first, there is the Specific Criteria Applicants, where the pet owner provides specified documentation to show financial need. This category includes AISH and GIS recipients, as well as those under the Alberta Works program and the Resettlement Assistance Program. Additionally, applicants can provide a letter from a social worker or a domestic violence shelter to show financial need.

The second main category for qualification is Low Income Applicants. This applies to pet owners whose annual household income falls below the low-income cut-off (LICO) rates adopted by Tails of Help.

Though she normally would never ask for any help, all of Lucie’s resources were tapped out at this point. It was the holiday season, and her family was dealing with their own financial issues. Lucie thought she was on her own to cope with this crisis for Harry.

The stress was piling up, and Lucie was frantic over Harry’s condition. People around her were pressuring her to euthanize Harry. “What are you thinking?!” they’d ask her. “You have all these other bills, you should just put him to sleep.”

Sadly, too many Alberta pet owners have to make such decisions every day. Tails of Help is committed to keeping more pets healthy, alive, and with their families. The expanded eligibility criteria for the program have allowed them to do so more often.

Lucie decided she wanted to apply and told her vet, who in turn said she would support the application. Even though neither of them were yet aware of the new eligibility requirements, Lucie held out hope and kept her fingers crossed: “I grew up understanding that if you really need help, you can find a way.”

This time that way was Tails of Help and the expanded financial need eligibility. It only took a couple of days before Lucie was informed that her application was approved. She was able to secure funding to help cover the costs of treatment, and Harry is back home healthy and happy with his family, though he does have to adhere to a strict diet. “He’s absolutely perfect."

“I’m very grateful to [Tails of Help] for their compassion and seeing the need, which at the end of the day was my cat. That was the most important thing,” says Lucie. “All’s well that ends well. Thank goodness we made it through and my kitty is now curled up beside me here purring away.”

Lucie hopes to be able to volunteer with Tails of Help in the future, as it now holds special meaning for her and her family.