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United Way Blog

Caring For Pets Is Self-Care, Too

In winter's dark days a few years back, I decided we needed a puppy. We drove 90 minutes to a shelter, looking for a black lab. We were eying a wiggly little guy that reminded us of our long-departed Sadie. But another pup caught my eye – older, not all that lab-like, maybe not <quite> as cute – and I walked over to her cage. Cora lit up – face, body and spirit. As I walked away, she deflated. 

My husband was focused on the wiggly little puppy, so we sat down to play with him. But my mind kept going back to Cora, the last puppy from a litter found behind a local restaurant. Something about her spoke to me. A short time later, my ever-patient husband carried Cora out of the shelter.

Some two years later, she's a big, black, barky behemoth. Part pit bull, part Cane Corso – 100% protector. And the sweetest girl ever. Snuggling with her on our couch (or bed, tbh) is our favorite self-care.

We love our pets. And the benefits of pet ownership are clear: pets decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills.

Of course, caring for a pet can be challenging, especially when it comes to vet costs. The challenge exists across all age and socio-economic groups. Today, Millennials (roughly ages 27 to 43) are the largest pet-keeping cohort. But some 70% are living paycheck-to-paycheck. One unexpected health bill, car repair, or pet emergency puts these families in a scramble.

United Way Worldwide (where I work, full disclosure) is making it easier for people to care for their pets in the face of financial difficulties. It's part of our work to help every person in every one of the 1,100 communities we serve across the globe. United Way and 211, the 24/7 go-to resource supported by United Way that connects people to local resources, are working with Pet Help Finder to make “financially friendly” pet resources more available. 

The Pet Help Finder locator initiative started in February, bringing together private practices, non-profit organizations, funders, veterinary center chains, voucher programs and others under one platform. It connects struggling pet families with a rapidly growing list of thousands of service providers that can offer affordable vet care, clinics that spay and neuter, vaccines, pet supplies and food, temporary pet housing, grooming, behavior and even transportation. Some services are free; others offer payment options over time, without hard credit checks or high interest rates. Support is available in English and Spanish. 

211 is America’s most comprehensive source of information about local resources and services. The 211 network fields some 50,000 calls, texts, emails and web chats a day -- making 19 million referrals for help every year. These requests aren’t answered by technology, but by 2,000+ real people who are part of the 211 network. In a disaster, personal crisis, or daily challenge, these trained specialists connect people to available resources for finding food, paying housing bills and connecting to other essential services.   And now, 211 includes Pet Help Finder among its 1.5 million resources. If you or anyone you know needs help caring for a pet (or is facing any other needs), please call 211, or visit

Our pets will thank us.  Happy #NationalPetDay!

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