Carol Smock of Nashville used her own financial setback to launch a nonprofit to help others.
As the founder and national board chair of Brown Dog Foundation, Smock helps families in a temporary financial crunch pay for pressing medical bills for their pets.
How did Brown Dog Foundation get started?
In 2006, I experienced an unexpected job loss followed by a diagnosis of cancer in my chocolate lab. The whole time I owned him, I always had enough money to take care of anything that ailed him. To find out his cancer came back while I was unemployed made it a difficult decision-making process – do I go into debt, or do I let him go and not try to save him? Ultimately we tried, and he was too far advanced and not savable, so he did pass away.
The experience motivated me and several friends to put our heads together and come up with a nonprofit to be a resource for families that experience similar situations. After a year or so, we expanded to include families who are working class, impoverished families. ... Now we help just about everyone that we can financially.
How has the economic downturn affected your nonprofit?
In the first four years, our revenues continued to increase. The first two years we were doubling our income, and by year three and four, it had leveled off and we didn’t see huge increases. This year, we are struggling more than we have in the past. We are not raising as much money, but it has motivated us to find ways to work a little smarter. We have been looking for financial backing to implement a software tool that would allow us to be more efficient to grant applicants.
What's the criteria for pet owners that need assistance?
Because funding is so limited, we give highest priority to situations where we see the pet can truly be restored to a good quality of life. We look for situations where we know we can make an impact and save the pet for what life they have remaining. Age, breed is not a factor. We look at the family’s income status and make sure nobody is abusing our program. We are not handing out money to people who have the ability to come up with the money on their own.
We look for dogs and cats that are owned pets, have been in the family for a while and are not a stray someone picked up on the side of the street. And we look for treatable conditions that are life-threatening if left untreated.
Have you recently seen an increase in requests from pet owners needing assistance?
The economy is having a major effect on pet owners. Economic euthanasia is becoming more and more prevalent. The veterinarians are saying they are sadly being forced to euthanize more family pets because the family is not able to pay for treatment. In 2006-07, we were getting maybe 10 applications a month. Now we get close to 600 a year.
How do you feel about your concept being used to save pets not just in Nashville but in other cities around the country?
It’s very uplifting and exciting. Our country is changing a lot, and the middle class is being expected to do more with less. We are quickly becoming part of the impoverished community, and that saddens me. For us to be able to be a resource to those families makes me extremely proud.