(Mirror) Most people don’t want to think about it, let alone know what their options are. That is: what will happen to their pet after they die or can no longer provide adequate care.
But according to Sue Martino, it’s a scenario to be considered sooner rather than later.
Martino, the executive director of The Pet Project for Pets, said the wheels started turning for her after attending “Coffee and Conversation” events at The Pride Center at Equality Park. Those sessions are part of the center’s senior services activities, and often include topics about financial planning, wills and other end of life issues.
Martino has spoken at Coffee and Conversation about the Pet Project, too.
“On numerous occasions people have come up to me afterwards and said: ‘What happens to my pets if something happens to me; what program do you have?’” she said.
The Pet Project – which provides pet food and other services for economically challenged clients – didn’t have such a program, so Martino started to develop one.
One of her previous volunteers who is now on the board, Rex Vacca, helped to establish the Pet Legacy Program. Vacca had worked for the Neptune Society, which helps people plan for cremation services.
Martino also made inroads with representatives of Our Fund in Wilton Manors, and after a year of research and conferring with two veterinarians, the Pet Project started to offer the Pet Legacy Program to its clients.
Participants are expected to set aside $10,000, whether through a will, life insurance, real estate, or stocks or gifts from a retirement plan. The commitment can be managed through Our Fund or the Pet Project. The Pet Project option also offers a life insurance package.
Martino said 10 individuals have signed up in a little more than a year.
“What a lot of pet owners don’t think about are the potential costs that can arise with their pets, whether it’s cancer or diabetes treatment,” Martino said. “It’s important because people have to be responsible for their animals if something happens to them.”
She said that while family and friends often pledge to take care of a pet if something happens, it doesn’t always work out.
“They’ll say that, but it’s a burden; maybe because they have other animals already and then your animal comes in and disrupts everything or maybe the animals don’t get along. It’s a lot expect or ask from someone,” she said.
As part of the program, the staff at the Pet Project takes a detailed profile of the pet so that when the time comes it can find a home that is most closely associated with the pet’s lifestyle. Site visits are done and all the needs and services are provided for the pet, Martino said.
Martino, 64, has been at the Pet Project since 2007. She was named one of SFGN’s “Out 50” this year, dubbed “The Pet Rescuer.”
Before landing in South Florida as a real estate agent, she operated one of the first lesbian bar-clubs in New York City. She is married to Maggie Martino, the hotel manager at Aqua Hotel at North Beach Village in Fort Lauderdale.
In case you were wondering, the couple has three cats and two dogs.
The Pet Project operates out of a building at 2200 NW 9th Ave. in Wilton Manors. It runs a thrift shop and a warehouse – where clients come on the first Saturday of the month to get pet food and supplies, as well as referrals for reduced cost veterinary services.
The nonprofit was founded in 2002 to assist pet owners living with HIV.
“[Those living with HIV] were saying: ‘Our social workers, our people are telling us we can’t afford to keep our pets, what do we do?’” Martino said. “Some people had no family, everybody turned away. All people had was their animal.”
The Pet Project places pets in foster care if someone is in the hospital and in permanent homes when someone dies.
It’s not a shelter, but Martino has developed relationships with the Humane Society of Broward County and Broward County’s Animal Care and Adoption Center to provide vaccines and other services (like spay/neuter, heartworm tests, flea and tick medication) for those who qualify.
“We give [clients] food, we help with vet care, we are a unique organization. We keep pets in their homes with their families. We give the people what they need,” Martino said.
As HIV diagnoses have transitioned out of being a death sentence, particularly since the late 2000s, the Pet Project expanded to help people with any disability or illness who are financially strapped.
Today it serves more than 1,500 clients and pets between Broward and Miami-Dade counties. About 95 percent of clients are part of the LGBT community.
Prequalified clients pick up a two to three month supply of pet food and supplies. For those in Miami-Dade, a box truck is used to distribute the food. Clients qualify by providing a Social Security or disability award letter. Martino said she will also help people who are temporarily out of work.
“My passion has always been for animals and people who are seniors,” she said. “My mom had [multiple sclerosis]. I know what disability is, so I have a soft spot for those things.”
Martino said that while the thrift store provides some funding, at best it is about one-third of the budget. Another third comes from writing grants to foundations and corporations and the final third comes from involved with events, like the “Bowl-a-Thon” and “Pushups for Pets” (Nov. 23).
Martino said the Pet Project is always in need of pet food, donations and volunteers.
There is a large backyard at the facility where she needs volunteers to help with pet parties on the weekends.
“We want to let the community know we have this space. You want to do your dog’s birthday party: here you go, we’ll give you a couple little swimming pools, we have doggie toys, we have a BBQ grill, you know, knock yourself out, rent the backyard,” she said. “It’ll help us with pet food and it’s a great thing for the community. The community can come anytime actually.”
For more information, to qualify, donate or volunteer, go to ThePetProjectfl.org or call 954-568-5678.