Financial assistance

How a nonprofit aims to lend a helping hand to help cancer patients care for their pets

For some people, a pet can be more than just a three-letter word. In fact, a pet can be someone’s only companion. However, in certain situations, some may find it extremely difficult to take care of a pet while taking care of themselves.

At least that’s what Patricia J. (Trish) Goldsmith said she realized eight years ago when she was receiving treatment for cancer. Goldsmith, who has served as CEO of CancerCare for the past eight years, said she was diagnosed with cancer 10 days before beginning her tenure as head of the Manhattan-based nonprofit.

It was a very stressful time, she said, as she feared taking on the role of CEO while wondering what kind of treatment she would have to undergo. Her reprieve during this chaotic time was her dog, Sully. “My dog ​​was an absolute comfort to me; it was like he sensed that I was stressed and worried,” she said in an interview with CURE®. “He was always by my side and that made such a difference.”

That’s when Goldsmith said she realized not everyone has the resources to go through cancer treatment while simultaneously trying to care for a pet. “Individuals might find it difficult to care for their pet,” she said. “(They may have trouble) walking them because they may not have the physical energy, there may be issues with picking up a litter box if an individual is immunocompromised, and the food, veterinary care, or even paying for an animal’s care (can be a challenge) if it’s in the hospital.

Goldsmith said she investigated whether any organizations provided both education and support for cancer patients who also owned pets. His search yielded no results, which ultimately led to the birth of CancerCare’s Pet Assistance and Wellness (PAW) program.

The scoop behind the program

Financial assistance is provided to patients who qualify to receive assistance from the PAW program, according to Goldsmith. She explained that patients receive either a gift card or a check for $200 to help cover some of the costs associated with caring for a pet. Although she said it doesn’t seem like a lot of money, it can help a patient buy needed food or medicine for their pet.

Additionally, the program provides educational resources for patients on caring for a pet during treatment. For example, she said some patients undergoing radiation therapy asked if it was safe for them to be around their pets.

Since the program launched in March 2020, it has helped 1,500 patients retain pet ownership. Goldsmith said it was interesting to find that 34% of these patients said their pet was the only form of support in their household.

Future plans

Goldsmith explained that CancerCare intends to expand the program’s offerings to create a nationwide repository of resources. She said that if someone, for example, lives in St. Louis, there might be a specially designed pantry for pets that the patient can use, or maybe a pet walking service. volunteer dogs in another city that patients can take advantage of.

They also hope to produce more educational content to answer other questions and concerns people may have. For example, Goldsmith said he recently received comments from someone wondering what he should know about owning a pet while caring for a child with cancer. There are also plans to produce educational brochures to provide to physicians and cancer centers across the country who would ask the question of pet ownership right from the start.

“From my point of view, (I want there to be) very little worry for cancer patients, with a few exceptions, in terms of owning animals during their treatment,” she said. . “Taking one less worry off their plate is a very important part of this (program).”

Editor’s Note: The PAW program is only for cancer patients who own a dog or cat. Goldsmith said they haven’t ruled out expanding the program to include other pets in the future.

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