EDMONTON – As people struggle in a tough economy, their pets can end up feeling the pinch. That’s where the Alberta Helping Animals Society (AHAS) comes in.
The non-profit is designed to help low-income Edmontonians keep their pets when money is tight.
Jill Duncan has been on the receiving end of the society’s kindness before. She has three poodles, Nicholas, Copper and Bella, and never had trouble supporting them until she developed a medical condition that prevented her from working.
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Duncan became homeless and when Nicholas’ teeth began to deteriorate, she was scraping rock bottom.
“I had taken them in to get spayed through the PALS program and his teeth were so bad that they literally could not let him leave without doing something about it,” she said.
Her Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) payments weren’t cutting it when it came to her pets’ needs.
“It was a $3,000 bill and there is no way, ever, that I could have afforded to do it,” Duncan explained.
Instead, the surgery was paid for by strangers, through donations.
Bella also needed teeth removed, and Copper developed a bladder problem. The surgeries and medicine were covered by AHAS.
“These are my babies, they’re my life. Without this medical care they’re getting from AHAS, I wouldn’t be able to take care of them properly.”
The society’s president, Connie Varnhagen, described the work her team does daily: “We are house call veterinary services to provide wellness care for the companion animals of vulnerable people in their homes.”
Varnhagen said pets are invaluable to low-income people.
“They’re there with you 24 hours a day. They’re there for everything. Imagine tearing that away, tearing that animal away, your life support and your social support. What is there for you to get up in the morning?”
Post-secondary students have been helping the group with educational material, fundraising, business ideas and research.
Meghan Senger is one of those students.
“There is no reason that even if you’re low income you shouldn’t have pets. Animals are such a huge part of people’s lives,” she said.
Her group made a video to help raise money for AHAS operations.
“Being able to help the people in your city, especially with animals, is something I’m so passionate about, there’s nothing more rewarding than that.”
Duncan said their efforts won’t soon be forgotten.
“These students have put their heart and soul into this program and it means the world to me.”
To qualify for home veterinary services, clients must be on AISH, receiving social assistance, fall under the low income cut off or have special circumstances.