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When there’s no place like home

Duxbury nonprofit helps strapped pet owners with cost of care

Sharon Conlon of Quincy gets a kiss from Bailey. Fairy DogParents helps pay for Bailey's care. Sharon Conlon of Quincy gets a kiss from Bailey. Fairy DogParents helps pay for Bailey's care. (Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe)
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / July 15, 2010

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QUINCY — Nearly 10 years ago, a lovable German shepherd/golden retriever mix named Bailey was put up for adoption. For Sharon Conlon, the timing was right. She had recently lost her own dog when she saw the ad saying Bailey was “free to a good home.’’

Conlon took him in, and a longtime friendship blossomed. But a year ago, her life got a lot more difficult.

“I lost my job and I was finding it harder and harder to pay for everything,’’ the 66-year-old Quincy resident said recently. “I went through my unemployment and then my 401K.’’

Meanwhile, Bailey’s health took a turn. The dog had kidney disease and kidney stones, and was placed on a special diet available only through the vet. Conlon didn’t have the cash to meet Bailey’s needs but refused to give up her buddy. “I’d starve first,’’ she said.

Enter Fairy DogParents, an organization that helps dog owners keep their pets when times get tough. Conlon read about the Duxbury-based group in a regional magazine. “They’ve helped me with Bailey’s vet visits and with his food,’’ Conlon said. “It’s been a godsend. I didn’t know there was anything like this out there.’’

Duxbury resident Marlo Manning is the dynamo behind the nonprofit, which she founded in March 2009 following the death of her own dog.

“Ladybug had been a rescue dog and had tons of diseases,’’ Manning said. “When I went to get her ashes, I told the vet tech I was used to the expense of my dog, so could I be a silent donor for someone else? The vet tech mentioned a newspaper story about all the pets being surrendered due to the economy.’’

That story was the spark. After a good deal of research, Manning found only a handful of organizations nationwide that offered support to owners to help them keep their pets. By June last year, Fairy DogParents was up and running. “When people say those words, ‘I’m bringing my dog to a shelter because I can’t afford to take care of him,’ that’s when Fairy DogParents comes in,’’ she said.

Manning operates with just a couple of volunteers, storing supplies at her home and making most deliveries herself. “We’re still small enough where I can name every single dog we’ve had,’’ she said.

To date, the group has helped 32 dogs stay in their homes. “We’ve had requests from Wilbraham, the Cape, and along the Connecticut border,’’ Manning said. “And 17 of our requests have been from the South Shore.’’

One came from a Dedham owner whose German shepherd suffered from severe — and expensive — health problems. “I got in touch with a vet at a nonprofit who removed an 8-pound tumor from the dog’s uterus,’’ Manning said. The surgery was successful, and the dog is now healthy.

Referrals have come from shelters, rescue organizations, and even food pantries. “The MSPCA has us on their website, and they refer to us all the time,’’ Manning said. She has developed financial connections with area pharmacies and veterinarians, and her organization foots the bill for everything from cancer treatments to simple annual wellness visits, along with the cost of medications.

“The money is given directly to the vet or pharmacy,’’ she said. “The dog owner is responsible for 15 percent of the cost.’’

Manning gets frequent food donations from small pet boutiques, as well as shelters when their supply exceeds demand. She and her volunteers sometimes set up a table at a mall or grocery store, to raise cash.

“We sell T-shirts and we have these goofy wands we make out of pipe cleaners,’’ Manning said. “They have a foil star on top with the dog’s picture on the front and his story on the back.’’ She said such visibility has helped raise awareness about her group and cause.

She has traveled all over the state making deliveries. “When I show up, people are just overwhelmed,’’ she said.

James Almeida, the owner of Dusty, an 11-year-old golden retriever/greyhound mix in Brockton, is one of the grateful beneficiaries.

Almeida, 33, is disabled, legally blind, and has undergone two operations for brain tumors. He survives on Social Security, which is not enough to cover the cost of Dusty’s treatment when the dog developed health issues a year ago.

“Dusty’s family was in tough shape,’’ said Manning. “James was crying when he called me. His family had given up. I called around and found a vet in Brockton that would take the dog. It turned out he was going into diabetic shock.’’

“He’s on medication, and Marlo has been helping with the co-pay,’’ Almeida said. “She also supplies us with syringes for Dusty and food. I think it’s a great service.’’

And so Dusty has cheated death twice now. Almeida remembers the first time: “He was 6 months old, and he was going to be put to sleep,’’ he said. “My brother took him in, but then I took over his care.’’

Manning says she plans to pursue grant funding over the next year, so more help can be made available. “Last year, we raised $24,000, but I personally put in $10,000 of that,’’ she said. “So far this year, we’ve raised $13,000 and our goal is $33,000.’’

In Quincy, Bailey is thriving at home, thanks to Manning’s group.

“He has one trick,’’ Conlon said. “I put a small dog biscuit on his nose and tell him to stay. When I say OK, he tosses it in the air and catches it and eats it. My grandkids just love it.’’

For more information on Fairy DogParents, visit www.fairydogparents.org. Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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