Cindy Gaffney remembers all of the animals she’s helped save, but the ones that stick with her are the ones that don’t make it.
She recalls a senior veteran’s dog.
“You always want to help everybody,” she said. “It broke our hearts we weren’t able to save this dog. For this gentleman, this was his life-long companion. ... He just didn’t know what the problem was. By the time we took over, the dog was too far gone.”
The dog’s bladder erupted before he could receive surgery.
It’s just one of many stories Gaffney could tell about the dogs and cats she’s encountered in McHenry County as part of a Guardian Angel Program.
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The relatively new program is part of Gaffney’s Animal Services & Assistance Program, based in Marengo. ASAP fosters, shelters and adopts cats, distributes donated food and supplies to animal welfare organizations and runs a Trap-Neuter Return Program for stray and feral cats.
But what ASAP also offers is a service unlike any other in the area.
Funded solely through donations and grants, Guardian Angels swoop in to save near-death cats and dogs. For the most part, the animals otherwise would be euthanized.
A kitten found frozen underneath a car in a parking lot. Another 1-pound kitten found at a farm, barely alive. A young cat with burns on its face and ears and singed hair on its back, abandoned in a carrier in an emergency room on New Year’s Eve.
“It’s really life-saving,” Gaffney said. “It’s not something where the animal just has a cold.”
The program has provided the funds for needed amputations of legs and tails and taken animals others no longer wanted.
“We step in and say, ‘We’ll take care of the animal and try to find it a good home when it has recovered,’ “ Gaffney said.
Most recently, the program also has started offering medical care for the animals in low-income homes. Families are referred to the program by area veterinarian offices and agencies, including Family Alliance Inc., based in Woodstock.
The Guardian Angel program originally started as a way to provide life-saving medical care to animals at shelters and rescue facilities. But through social media and donations, the shelters have been able to raise their own funds and often find the means to help the animals, Gaffney said.
The program in the past several months has honed in on abandoned and homeless animals, as well as those owned by area families but not receiving the care they need.
Many of the animals are referred by animal emergency and veterinarian offices.
The difficult part, Gaffney said, is vetting all the animals in need. She doesn’t want to turn anybody down, but sometimes, families can afford to help their animals and choose not to.
The goal always is to keep the pets united with their families, she said.
“That’s a difficult line to walk,” she said.
“You don’t want to compromise the care of the animals, but in some cases, they just don’t want to pay,” she said. “They just don’t recognize that’s a valued family member.”
In those cases, families typically are asked to relinquish the animal.
But in many cases, families simply have hit tough times and no longer have the funds to provide regular veterinarian care, Gaffney said.
Marcia Kinsman of Woodstock lives in subsidized housing on Social Security and suffers from scoliosis. When her 8-year-old cat, Tyler, started losing weight quickly, she took him to a veterinarian. She found out he suffered from diabetes.
His medical care, including $400 worth of monthly insulin shots, was too much for her to afford. A date – June 14 – was set for Tyler to be euthanized.
“I changed my mind and couldn’t do it,” Kinsman said. “I didn’t want to put him to sleep.”
Referred to Guardian Angels, volunteers now visit weekly to give Tyler the insulin shots he needs.
Along with donations, a $7,500 grant from the McHenry County Community Foundation has helped fund the program.
Gaffney always has tried not to compete for donations and other funding available to the county’s many animal rescue groups and shelters. She said she seeks out corporate sponsors and other funding sources.
“Our expenses have gone up, but we’ve managed to take in enough in-kind donations to support it,” Gaffney said. “I don’t know what will happen if it out-runs itself.”By JAMI KUNZER - email@example.com