Non-profit keeps pets and owners together during tough times

URBANA--Animal lovers gathered in Urbana Saturday evening to keep pets and their owners together during tough times.

Those who showed up at Hendrick House know just how important a furry friend can be during a time of need.

"I think animals provide a lot of support for people," said Dixie Whitt, who owns three cats.

Which is why they spent their evening dining and donating to the Companion Animal Resource and Education, or CARE, Center, a non-profit that supports animals whose owners are facing a financial crisis.

"Our most active program right now is our Helping Paw Fund," said president and co-founder, Susan Helmink. "And that's what we're having the benefit for tonight, and that provides financial assistance to people when they are not able to afford the full amount of veterinary care for their pet."

Pet owners can apply for help from the fund if a visit to the vet is too expensive. CARE volunteers work with them to figure out how much they can afford on their own, and whether the group can cover the difference, which can range between a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand.

"Pets get sick, just like humans do," said Helmink. "And sometimes those bills are just more than what someone can afford."

Since the Helping Paw Fund launched in 2007, it has helped 215 animals with more than $35,000 in assistance. And with more than $8,000 dollars handed out last year alone, donors showed up and shelled out at this year's "CARE for a Taste?" fundraiser.   

"It's a unique type of organization," said Whitt, who is also a CARE donor. "And there aren't any others that I know about that fulfill this need."

Offering a helping hand, or paw, to an organization that needs to fill its funds to keep pets and their owners together.

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