A Valley nonprofit is taking steps to prevent families from surrendering their pets to already overcrowded shelters.
"This program is very unique," said Daniel Gonzalez, shelter intervention counselor with The Arizona Pet Project.
"We're only the third one in the country."
The Arizona Pet Project is a nonprofit that used to be called Friends of Animal Care and Control. The goal was to reduce shelter intake by focusing on out-of-shelter spay and neuter programs.
Gonzalez opened his office in March inside the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control Center. His main job is to keep families and pets together, often providing financial assistance. He wants to help avoid these beloved dogs from ending up in the shelter.
"Maricopa County has a high need for it," he explained.
"A lot of the families I've spoken to, almost all of them don't want to surrender their pets," said Gonzalez.
He explained many of them are desperate and feel like it's their only option.
Some simply can't afford to pay for unexpected expenses.
Their dog may be sick or injured and needs treatment or the family may be moving and the new property won't allow a certain breed.
"The reasons are many. Owners may have lost their jobs or their homes, suffered an illness, or had a divorce or death in the family. Or their pet may have gotten sick and they can't pay the veterinary bills," reads the Arizona Pet Project's website.
"I actually provide pet deposits for people, financial assistance, medical assistance, temporary boarding and food assistance," Gonzalez explained.
Since March, the nonprofit has helped an estimated 500 families keep pets they love in the family and out of the shelter.
"There's still about a 20 to 25 percent rate that will still surrender, and unfortunately, a lot of those are for reasons we can't help," he explained.
Matthew Hendrick was on the verge of tears and about to surrender his mastiff Lola when Gonzalez came to the rescue.
His family was about to close on a house, adopt a child, and there were other unexpected expenses.
"She's very sick and at this point and time we just can't afford the vet bills," he explained.
Gonzalez got Hendrick and his dog into a vet appointment within the hour of making a call.
"(I feel) an immense amount of relief. This is going to mean so much to my kids and my wife," said Hendrick.
Hendrick found out Lola contracted the Parvovirus, but since visiting the vet and receiving treatment, she's doing better.
"I always feel good after situations like that, especially those when you can feel that joy and stress gone from them when they hug you," said Gonzales.
Gonzalez is not able to take phone calls from prospective clients. He said the best way to find out if you can get assistance is by stopping by the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control Center's main shelter at 2500 S. 27th Avenue in Phoenix.
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