Be Generous, But With Care


We’ve all seen them: online pleas for donations on charity fundraising sites, supposedly to benefit a person or pet in need. Sometimes it’s a fantastic cause, but please be aware that sometimes, it’s a scam!

I recently saw a short article on the website of my local TV news channel, telling the story of a dog who had been reported missing in February, who was found in late April, trapped in the basement of a home that had burned to the ground some time ago. The Lab-mix had apparently survived by drinking rainwater, but there was no food, and she had lost nearly as much body weight as she possibly could and still survive. She was reported to be more than 60 pounds when she went missing, and was down to 26 pounds when found, not much more than skin and bones. Dramatic photos accompanied the article, including one of the dog still trapped in the basement.

The article reported that the dog was found by a police officer, and that the dog was taken to a local veterinary clinic for treatment. Best of all, the owner was found, the dog and owner were reunited, and the dog is improving. Happy story, lucky dog!

However, in the comments of the online article, there appeared a link to a “gofundme” fundraising page to help “save” the dog. What? It sounded to me as if the dog had already been saved, so I couldn’t resist clicking on the fundraising link. Inexplicably, the fundraising page claimed that the dog was CHAINED in the abandoned basement and was being kept alive, barely, by having been fed scraps. Donations were being solicited to help cover “vet costs, future appointments, and expenses for her special fatty foods.”

I re-read the news article. Nothing about a chain, or being deliberately starved. But the comments section of the online news article were full of comments made in response to the facts that had been asserted on the fundraising page, so clearly I wasn’t the only one who clicked on it. Comments like, “People are sick and need to be punished BIG time for animal cruelty and neglect…” and “person should be found and chained up to see if they can fend for themselves for two months…” And nearly $1,000 had been raised.

I’ve participated in enough fundraising efforts for my local shelter that I’m painfully aware of how difficult it can be to raise $1,000 for a legitimate cause – a whole shelter full of animals that need food and medicine. The idea that animal lovers in my community were being manipulated to donate to a single dog who was currently, by all reports, recovering just fine in her owners home, really bugged me. I couldn’t let it go.

I left a message with the police department for the animal control officer who found the dog, and she called me back a day later. She confirmed the original news story; she found the dog in the basement of that abandoned, burned-down home. The dog was trapped; no chain. She took the dog to a local veterinary clinic for treatment. The dog was given IV fluids and nutrition and was reunited with the owner within a day. It was her understanding that the owner’s employer paid most of the clinic’s modest bill of about $300. She had seen the “gofundme” page, and didn’t know where the story about the chain on the dog had come from – but she was prevented, as a policy of the police department she was employed by, to publicly comment.

I thanked the officer for her time, and added that I volunteer at another shelter in the area, and that $1,000 in donations are hard to get. She said, “We have a dog in the shelter who was seized in a cruelty case, a pit-mix who was beaten with a baseball bat and had broken legs and a broken pelvis. We are trying to raise $2,000 for a surgery that this dog needs, and it’s slow going.”

It’s wonderful that people who love animals will respond with generosity to campaigns that benefit specific needy animals whom they will never meet. But people who are in the trenches of saving animals year in and year out, in shelters or rescue groups, will also tell you how difficult it is to raise money for this work on an ongoing basis – and that animals with stories that are just as compelling are coming into their hands every week. Please consider this before piling on to help one specific animal, who may not need as much help as the fundraiser triggered. Or make a donation to a rescue group in that dog’s name!

If the story that is being presented sounds fishy, trust your instincts. Seek some sort of confirmation from a reliable source, such as a law enforcement official who had knowledge of the crime that was perpetrated against the animal or the veterinary clinic that treated the animal. Has the bill already been paid? In that’s the case, does the animal’s owner or rescuer really need any more money? Did the veterinary clinic forgive the bill? In that case, a donation to the veterinary clinic, rather than the owner, might be more appropriate! A veterinarian who was unexpectedly rewarded for her generosity toward an animal in need would be more likely to forgive a future bill for another animal in need – but a vet who forgave a bill later saw that the owner later raked in thousands in donations would understandably be unlikely to be as generous again in the future.

And don’t take it for granted that the person who posted the charitable plea is actually planning on turning over all the donations to the person in need. If it looks as if the person who created the fundraiser is a friend or relative of the owner who is in need, if possible, confirm that the owner still actually needs the donation, and has, in fact, received some funds from the person who created the fundraiser.

There are countless animals in need, and while it feels good to contribute one whose story has really touched you, there are many more animals in shelters and rescues who would benefit from even very small but regular contributions.