How Strangers Can Help Save Your Pet

Crowdfunding platform Waggle helps when veterinary procedures are unaffordable.

Cocker spaniel dog with plastic dog-cone
If your pet gets sick, other people can help with the cost. Roberto Machado Noa / Getty Images

When Robert Savarese, a firefighter in Connecticut, got an emergency fire alert on his phone, he was horrified to see that the address was his own house. He called his partner Kasey Mezeiski and told her to race home. They knew the kids weren’t there, but all their pets were inside.

Mezeiski arrived to find that seven of her pets—two dogs, four cats, and a rabbit—were killed in the fire. The only survivor was a poodle mix named Luna, who was already on her way to the emergency room.

She survived but the vet bills were spectacular. They had just lost their home and all of their belonging. They needed help and were told about Waggle.

Waggle is a crowdfunding platform where pet owners can share their stories and need. Donors can then chip in with funds are donated directly to veterinarians to pay for services.

Founder Steve Mornelli came up with the idea a few years ago when he was looking for a more fulfilling career path.

“I had not heard this term ‘economic euthanasia’ before,” Mornelli tells Treehugger. That’s when people have to put their pets to sleep because people can’t pay for veterinary services.

“Over half a million pets are lost each year because people can't afford the cost of care. If I had to pick up my little 15-pound Gracie and physically hand her across the table because I couldn't write a $200 check, that was the defining moment.”

As Mornelli started researching, he and his team found that vet hospitals were absorbing thousands of dollars a year in pro bono costs. And compassion fatigue was a huge part of the story as putting down pets took a huge toll on veterinary staff.

The first Waggle campaign launched in October 2018.

How it Works

When a pet owner, an animal rescue, or a shelter has a big vet bill and can’t afford the costs, they reach out to Waggle. They submit their veterinarian's contact info and treatment estimate and Waggle representatives review the material to make sure the pet is truly in need.

If it is approved, they create a page with photos and a story on the Waggle site. Potential donors are then made aware of the pet’s need and can donate. Campaigns are typically capped at $2,000.

“We wanted to help the most possible people,” Mornelli says. “Rather than give $40,000 in the case of one pet, we can help 20 more families by capping the amount.”

Any money raised is released directly to the veterinarian, not to the pet owner. Waggle is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and doesn’t take any fees.

“We take every one of these stories and require that the pet owner give us an update on the pet and share what a difference this is making,” Mornelli says. “People can see the difference they’ve made.”

A Mix of Donations and Maladies

Some people find out about Waggle from their veterinarian when they’re told about astronomical estimates for procedures they can’t afford. Dozens of shelters and rescues are signed up so they’re able to afford vet care for incoming pets. Pet-loving social media influencers and celebrities are also big promoters of the platform and spread the word.

The requests are a good mix of dogs and cats, Mornelli says, and will soon add horses and rabbits.

The requests and the donations run the gamut from small to large, mundane to very unusual.

“We’ve seen every possible malady that one might think of. There are a lot of emergency cases where people have very large bills and we can take a chunk out of that and make a big difference, and sometimes it's spay and neutering,” Mornelli says.

Waggle has helped more than 1,000 pets so far in 2021. The average donation is about $22 and usually comes from friends and family who see the post. But often total strangers will scroll through the Waggle site and donate to pets they don’t know.

“That’s the most heartwarming part of this,” Mornelli says. “We have a countless number of donors who hear about us and come in and they love to donate by just looking around the pets that are there and they see the campaign is almost funded. They like to give the last dollar.”

Some people donate to the organization’s FurEver Fund, which is an automatic monthly donation to pets in need.

Celebrities and Everyday People

Celebrities and influencers (like Lil Bub the cat and country singer Miranda Lambert) really have helped.

“They spread awareness that we are out here as a resource and [pet owners] can come here for help. And let donors know that we’re a safe, transparent way to give,” Mornelli says. “We see one of our social influencers out there and say here’s a pet in need and we’ll get thousands of donations”

It’s not always extreme cases like Luna and the fire. Sometimes people just find themselves in a bit of a jam.

He mentions a woman named Whitney who has a dog named Kousa. She had a series of stressful personal incidents in her life when Kousa was attacked protecting her from another dog. 

Whitney wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to pay for Kousa’s care until her vet told her about Waggle.

“When you’re stressed out and have a lot of things going on wrong in your life, to be able to have people come together that don’t even know you and support you, it gives you hope," Whitney says.

"Having hope and to have your pets with you is the only thing that can get people through to the next day. And that’s what got me through.”