Shadow Fund Organization Helps Low Income Pet Owners Pay for Medical Procedures

In 2007, Diane Sullivan was flipping through the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune when she came across a story about Robert Burke, an ex-marine who was having trouble paying for his dog Shadow’s $3,800 leg surgery. Shadow was in pain and could barely walk after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg.

Sullivan wanted to help, and after reaching out to Burke, she set up a fund with her students at the Massachusetts School of Law and found a veterinarian who was willing to do the procedure for a discount.

The surgery went well, but Sullivan and Burke had $2,000 left over. They decided to use the extra money to set up a fund to help others who could not afford medical bills for their furry friends. They decided to name the fund after Shadow, the labrador retriever.

Over the past nine years the Shadow Fund has evolved from a local group helping one pet owner facing medical surgery into a non-profit that financially assists hundreds of pet owners statewide.

According to Sullivan, who is in charge of the animal law program at Massachusetts School of Law, the fund was named after Shadow, the yellow five-year-old Labrador retriever rescued by Robert Burke, a Vietnam veteran.

Robert Burke worked as a manager at the Methuen Papa Gino’s.

“I called Robert and said that you cannot quit your manager’s job at Papa Gino’s,” Sullivan said. “Where would you and Shadow move to?”

“The dog is my friend and my family,” Burke told her. “I would quit my job and cash in my 401k to pay for it.”

Sullivan pointed out that Dr. Richard Lindsay of the Andover Animal Hospital read the article and contacted the Eagle Tribune to be put in touch with her.

Dr. Lindsay stated that he would do the surgery for $1,000 if we could raise the funds, Sullivan said.

Sullivan highlighted that she spoke to her animal law class at the school about raising funds and they spread the word. People sent money to the school to help Shadow. She got the support of Massachusetts School of Law Associate Dean Michael L. Coyne and that is how the fund began.

“We raised at least three times the funds needed,” Sullivan said. “Dean Coyne suggested that we set up a fund to help other pet owners.”

The Shadow Fund focuses on helping four specific groups of pet owners.

“We focus on helping the elderly, disabled, single-parented households and sick children,” Sullivan said. “We evaluate all applications and prioritize how the surgery will help the pet. Cancer is not covered due to the cost and success rate. We try to focus on the North Shore first and then the state. The Shadow Fund helps not only dogs but also cats. Sometimes we help birds and hedgehogs.”

This fund works with a group of participating-partner animal hospitals statewide. It also works with the Andover Animal Hospital and the MSPCA-Angell in Boston

Sullivan said that the fund is relatively small compared to national nonprofits.

“We do a lot of fundraising. We do a lot of creative events with a local and national flavor,” she said. “We have golf tournaments, animal day and many yard sales. We published ‘Please Keep the Donkey,’ a book about the predicament of Robert Burke and his dog Shadow needing surgery. The proceeds from the book go directly into the fund.”

Sullivan emphasized that the organization assists a wide range of pet owners. She added that the Shadow Fund recently go an electronic letter from a dog owner in the Berkshires that had a large outdoor dog that swallowed a household object. We assisted the family financially to cover the surgery. In addition,  the organization received a letter this month from a local family with a spouse living with cancer that had a sick indoor dog.

“We put them in touch with one of our veterinary partners and helped them financially,” Sullivan said.

Remembering the dog the fund is named after, Sullivan remarked that the surgery for Shadow went well.

“Shadow got back on its feet. It walked again. It went back to going swimming. It went on to live with my sister after Robert moved into a hospice living out his life with cancer. Shadow lived though 2014 at a respectful 12 years old,” Sullivan said.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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