A single conversation with her veterinarian changed Marlo Manning’s life — and those of hundreds of fellow dog owners.

For Manning, that talk revealed a painful side effect of the recession: Some owners, when faced with veterinary costs that they can’t afford, surrender their pets to shelters, and even euthanize them.

Inspired to help prevent such painful separations, Manning launched Fairy Dogparents, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity staffed by volunteers that provides assistance to financially strapped dog owners in her home state of Massachusetts.

Since its founding, the organization has come to the aid of nearly 400 pups, contributing funds for veterinary bills, prescription drugs, food and other necessities.

“We try to create happy stories for people,” says Manning. “How in their darkest hour, someone whom they’ll never meet made it possible to help them when no one else would.”

Ladybug's Legacy

In early 2009, Manning and her husband had to put down their rescue dog, Ladybug, after years of various illnesses. Through the grief process, the couple realized just how lucky they'd been to have kept Ladybug healthy and comfortable for as long as possible, thanks to medical checkups and treatments.

Since they had prescription food and medication left over, Manning asked her veterinarian about donating them to a family in need.

“Our vets were supportive, but they didn’t know what to do when I asked the question: ‘How can I help a dog that would otherwise not get care?’ ” recalls Manning, who also couldn’t find an existing organization that would help cover medical costs for struggling pet owners.

So in March 2009, in Ladybug’s honor, she founded Fairy Dogparents. “It was such a no-brainer for me,” she says. “The goal is to keep the dogs with their families.”

The vast majority of the charity’s funds come from individual donors, along with a few corporate gifts from companies like Petco. Volunteer fund-raising efforts, such as an upcoming calendar sale, also help fill the charity's coffers.

Charity Success Stories — Both Canine and Human

Most often, Fairy Dogparents gets a call when a beloved pet faces a medical emergency.

“This is challenging because these situations are incredibly expensive, happen quickly and need to be addressed quickly,” says Manning. And as the primary point person, Manning constantly fields applications — and many heart-wrenching stories.

One family, for instance, had learned that their autistic son’s therapy dog needed open-heart surgery. The procedure was prohibitively expensive, but Fairy Dogparents raised several thousand dollars for the service dog’s treatment.

Another highlight was what Manning calls the $12K Tuesday: “We sponsored almost 16 dogs that day, and spent $12,000 to keep them at home with their families.”

Most monetary donations go into a general fund, which is used for unpredictable urgent-care requests. So far, Manning flags four common emergencies: dogs hit by vehicles, canine cancer, torn ACLs that require surgery, and pyometra, a severe uterine infection that's most often seen in unspayed females.

Applicants must show that they can’t afford necessary medical care for their dogs — and they have to also demonstrate responsible ownership. “We make sure the money goes where it should,” emphasizes Manning, who shares success stories of sponsored dogs on the charity’s website and Twitter and Facebook accounts.

But, as Manning notes, “it's never about just the dog.” She also sees the human vulnerabilities that go hand in hand with the pets’ needs, recognizing that these canines are essential companions.

“[It’s also about] the disabled 9/11 responder, teetering on being homeless, with his service dog,” she explains. “It’s the mom whose only bit of her daughter, who was killed in a car crash two years ago, is her daughter’s dog. That stuff takes a huge emotional toll.”

The Fairy Dogparents Future

So far the nonprofit operates only in Massachusetts, and can support only dogs. But Manning hopes to increase donations and other resources to keep up with demand — the volume of requests has doubled with each year.

As word of mouth grows, shelters, animal assistance leagues and veterinarians from all over the state increasingly recommend Fairy Dogparents.

These days, when Manning goes to her own vet’s office, she and the staff talk about how that first, inspiring exchange took off.

“Can you believe that all this has come from that conversation?” she marvels.