Travis used to spend his days wandering the streets of Menlo Park. Homeless, the little rat terrier/chihuahua mix with sad brown eyes was abused, neglected and had a badly injured jaw and mouth, bad teeth and a skin infection.
With the love of a local woman and help from Daisy's Day — a veterinary-care program offered by the Palo Alto Humane Society — Travis got a new home four years ago and a happier, healthier life.
On Sept. 30, Travis, who is now 9 years old, celebrated his fifth "re-birthday," said Rhea Sampson, who rescued the white, black and tan dog. He is one of 100 animals aided by Daisy's Day, a program that helps pet owners who can't afford the high costs of veterinary care.
The fund was started by a donation from Stanford resident Sue Klapholz in honor of her beloved dog, Daisy. Klapholz, her husband and three children adopted the scrawny, scared 2-year-old German shepherd and chow mix in about 2000 from Palo Alto Animal Services. Daisy had given birth when animal-control officers found her, but they didn't find her puppies.
She was so shy, the family decided to take her home in part because they thought she was less likely to be adopted. At first, Daisy hid under the bed. But she loved hugging and cuddling, and with training and much attention, Daisy soon became a happy part of the family, going everywhere with the family and wearing a matching T-shirt in family photos, Klapholz said.
"We were all amazed how you could communicate so well with another species," said Klapholz, who had always had cats and hamsters but never a dog.
But then Daisy developed two cancers, requiring surgery, hospitalization and weeks of expensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Klapholz realized many people can't afford the kind of care for their beloved pet that her family gave to Daisy. Routine veterinary services such as checkups, immunizations and preventive care alone can cost hundreds of dollars.
When Daisy died about 10 years ago, Klapholz began thinking of a way to honor her. Five years ago, Klapholz started saving money to start the Daisy's Day fund with a $10,000 donation. The fund would help pet owners, mostly those whose incomes fall below the federal poverty line, to defray veterinary costs. Many recipients are out of work, have a disability, are homeless or on a fixed income, said Carole Hyde, the Palo Alto Humane Society's executive director.
The fund, now in its third year, complements other safety-net programs the 111-year-old nonprofit organization offers to low-income individuals and families with pets, according to Hyde.
"We like to say that we keep families together," she said, noting that pets are often a person's only family or source of companionship and comfort. Daisy's Day funds have helped a woman with severe depression to keep a pet she credited with saving her life; seniors who live alone without family nearby and persons with disabilities. In some cases, the funds helped save a homeless pet by making it possible for someone to adopt them.
"We've treated dogs, cats, rabbits. Our tiniest client was a hamster named Butterscotch," Hyde said.
Grants cover expenses such as emergency room visits, lab tests and X-rays, anesthesia, wound care, surgery and end-of-life care.
When Sampson, who is in her 60s, found Travis, she couldn't afford on her own to pay for the $1,100 in veterinary costs to restore his health, she said. Her partner, who was just retiring, couldn't contribute any money.
A $200 grant from Daisy's Day and a $300 discount from the Palo Alto Animal Hospital helped Sampson with the bills. She paid $500 to $600 out of her own pocket, she recalled. Travis was neutered, had four bad teeth extracted and received treatment for the skin infection. He also received shots.
"It really helps animals in need get medical care for people who can't afford it," Sampson said of the fund.
She has since returned that gift many times over. Sampson has volunteered for Palo Alto Humane Society for five years. She wrote a children's book, "Saving Travis," which is sold at Menlo Park's Cheeky Monkey toy store and raises money for the fund. Travis was also the "poster dog" for a Daisy's Day fundraiser in 2016, which raised thousands of dollars, Sampson said.
Last year, the annual event drew $60,000 in contributions. This year's Daisy's Day fundraising event will take place on Oct. 13 from 1-4 p.m. at Quadrus Conference Center, 2400 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park. Tickets are $75 and online registration is at paloaltohumane.org. People can donate to the fund at any time, however. In addition to the Humane Society's Daisy's Day fund, there is a veterinary-assistance program for stray and rescued animals and a spay and neuter program for strays.