The internet is a wonderful place, full of kittens and kindness and humor and uplifting stories and hard news and legitimate science, baby. It’s also full of grifters, misinformation, calumny, distortion, prevarication, obfuscation, falsification, misrepresentation, sophistry, lies, damn lies, and statistics. You all know this.
But I also know that you all have big hearts. You see stories about animals in need and feel moved to help. I understand this compulsion. It’s the same for me when I see stories about animals that are abused or in distress or pain, especially when accompanied by a photo of a very sad-looking dog or cat. Or cow; I love cows.
Over the last 10 years or so cyber-begging has become more and more common. Personally, I divide online requests for money into two camps:
- Those that are asking for personal funding for things I personally consider avoidable with a little personal responsibility, like paying off credit cards or purchasing “wants” that exceed means, and
- those that ask for funding for startup projects, inventions, publishing projects, or unexpected and unpredictable personal debts like huge medical bills and the like.
I think the former group is largely just personally unethical. If you have debt, work harder. Get a second job. Sell some stuff. Move to a less expensive home. Borrow from family if you have to. But don’t beg from strangers; that’s just shameful. Just my opinion, of course.
Pleas for veterinary funding tend to fall into a gray area (to me). There are a lot of requests from pet owners for money for emergency surgery, or medical treatment. Pet insurance would probably have met the needs of most of the patients, and I’ve always advocated insurance for those who are not independently wealthy. I have pet insurance myself, because there’s no way I could pay a $5,000 vet bill for my pets.
But… not everyone (obviously) has insurance, and then what do you do? Especially in cases where you have a medical problem that is curable, or a procedure that would be curative. Do you euthanize a healthy young dog with a broken leg? A middle aged dog with diabetes? An old dog with cataracts? Where’s the money going to come from? The vet shouldn’t have to fund it. Maybe begging isn’t the worst thing in the world. I might do it to save my pet, I don’t know.
Now, it may come as a shock to you, but not all requests for help with vet bills are legitimate, especially on sites like GoFundMe or IndieGoGo. Pet scams are a pretty lucrative source of money. There is an online guide to begging that contains this gem:
“Get a cute pet, give it a beautiful name and attach an eye watering story to that pet. Blast this information to all the pet owners in the united states (sic) and watch the dollars come piling in.”
There are many instances of people being ripped off because they are kindhearted and want to help someone out with their pet, but the pet turns out not to be sick, or not to even exist.
So how do you avoid giving to scam artists, and maximize your chances of actually giving to a legitimate medical cause?
- Assume that most requests for funds for veterinary care are bogus. I read something somewhere written by somebody who may or may not have an ounce of credibility that only 35% of the begging on GoFundMe is legit.
- The “asker” should be prepared to provide details about the situation, including specifically what is wrong with the pet, which veterinary clinic is treating the pet, the anticipated costs, and a time frame for the procedure or treatment. They should be willing to post a written estimate from the vet.
- Watch for vague descriptions of the problem. “Cancer” isn’t exact enough. What kind of cancer? Where? A “tumor” can be benign or malignant. Big difference. Likewise “life-saving surgery” isn’t exactly an informative term. That could, technically, apply to neuter surgery, if you stretched the point.
- Look for consistency in the story, and general believability. If the story keeps changing for vague reasons, if the diagnosis is shifting, if the dollar amounts are a moving target, beware.
- Make sure that the vet clinic actually exists. The owner may be able to get the clinic to post something to their Facebook page or website to which they can direct potential donors. (Don’t call the clinic looking for medical info on the pet – you won’t/shouldn’t get it.)
- Send funds directly to the veterinarian rather than the client, and make sure that you specify the patient it is for and the procedure. That way you know that the funds are going to the pet, not to a large screen TV, and if the vet says, “Huh?” then you might need to do some more verification.
I’m sure there are more thoughts out there on how to avoid scams, and there are probably people who disagree with my opinion on crowdfunding “begging”, and that’s great. I welcome all suggestions and comments.