By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Few things generate as much sympathy as a helpless, stricken animal. But caring and curing these creatures isn’t cheap.
Nevertheless, so far, roughly 50 sick pets have hit the health care jackpot thanks to Keeno.
No, Keeno is not a game of chance. Keeno is the late, lamented cat of Paul Boudreau and Helen Smith of Peabody. Suffering with liver disease, Keeno found relief at the Northeast Veterinary Hospital on Lowell Street.
“They loved their cat,” Dr. Douglas DePiero said of the couple. “And we did everything we could.”
When the end came, the owners were so moved by the experience that they made an offer that took DePiero aback at first.
They wanted to set up a fund, containing “a substantial sum of money,” to help defer some of the cost of care for pets belonging to people caught in the economic downtown.
“I thought it was amazing,” DePiero said. “Giving all this money for someone else.”
Boudreau credits Keeno with inspiring the gift.
“He was just such a sweetheart,” he said.
By way of example, he explained, “I had an accident where I hurt my ribs. He’d come up and cuddle up — very gently — against my ribs. He wouldn’t move from my side. He just had a way with him. ... Somehow, he seemed to know when things were wrong. When you had bad days, he was always there for you.”
When Keeno needed care, the couple discovered that it cost several thousand dollars just to find out what was wrong with him. Eventually, no amount of money could save him. The difficult business of letting go followed.
Meanwhile, they learned of a family on Washington Street in Peabody who had adopted a three-legged cat named Snaps only to learn that it had likely fatal intestinal problems.
“The surgery to correct it was $125, and those people didn’t have the money,” Boudreau said.
Despite the pleas of a 9-year-old girl who loved Snaps, they faced the prospect of letting the animal die.
Boudreau and Smith stepped in, offering money to supplement Snaps’ care, saving the cat’s life. And that felt good enough that they asked, “If we can do that for one little girl, why can’t we do that for others?” Thus, they made their first donation, meant to supplement payments for those in need.
DePiero was a bit hesitant, worrying that some customers might pretend poverty and perhaps take advantage. “It’s tough to screen for that sort of thing,” DePiero said. On the other hand, he added, “It’s hard turning people away.”
So he accepted the donation, and he feels gratified by the results.
“I think in general people are really good,” he said. “I can say 95 percent of them are good.”
Customers got in the spirit of the fund, he said, and accessed it only if really needed. The cash purchases care not only for cats, but dogs and “any mammal that walks through the door,” DePiero said with a laugh.
Some who used the plan when they needed it reimbursed the fund later when they were able.
Then Boudreau and Smith impressed DePiero for a second time. When the money ran out after a year, they made a second, generous donation.
Meanwhile, the “Keeno” Fund was so useful that DePiero decided to see if there was a way to perpetuate it. He put out a jar for the purpose of allowing other customers to contribute.
Again, people responded generously, eager to ease the suffering of hurting animals. The jar soon filled with coins and bills.
“It’s going strong,” office manager Donna DiMare said. “It’s been really nice to see that people are so generous.”
Something about troubled pets touches people. Customers are more than anxious about animals they regard as close companions, members of the family. DiPiero sympathizes. He can speak at length about the personalities of his cats, including one that likes to curl up on the bed with him.
“The people who come in here can be very emotional,” he said. “Some are crying.”
About 50 individuals have withdrawn $50 apiece to help defray costs that are typically as high as $60 to $150. DiMare describes the fund as “growing.” The generosity of the Peabody couple has inspired more generosity and real gratitude from those who benefit.
As for Smith and Boudreau, DePiero said, “They are special people.”