Over the past five years or so internet crowdfunding sites have become a pretty big thing; from charity donations to personal donations and start-up funding, there are a wide variety of ways a person can ask strangers for money over the internet. While this has become a pretty big topic over the years, particularly on the side against donation websites. You’ve probably heard a handful of different views on that topic before; the ease and convenience of asking strangers for money and how it can be used badly, abused by people unwilling to work for things, and a variety of other ways in which people have a tendency to abuse systems meant to help those who are in need. However, like with so many things, we’ve focused so heavily on the bad that it seems we’ve forgotten the good; the triumphs and power of having a way to reach a mass audience when you have no other way to get or do something.
A few days ago a story broke in the central-northeast Ohio area about a police officer named Matthew Hickey who is retiring in Marietta. He worked alongside a K9 named Ajax for the past 3-4 years, and over that time the dog became his partner, friend, and an important member of his family. As his retirement grew near he learned that he wouldn’t be able to take Ajax with him when he left, though the police department doesn’t seem to have any plans to partner Ajax with another officer or to keep him around to continue work in any capacity. Instead, they plan to auction him off to the highest bidder at an upcoming auction. After realizing this, officer Hickey offered to pay the stated amount the department had told him Ajax was worth; $3,500. The department refused to take the money.
The sad and bizarre truth is that, Ajax is not seen by the system or the law as a living dog. Though K9’s are sworn in, given gear, and in so many other ways treated like part of the police force, in these types of situations they’re treated as property. Marietta Law Director Paul Betram III is quoted in one article saying, “The dog is property of the city of Marietta. Because it is personal property, it is treated like a shovel. That’s just the way it is.” Officer Matthew Hickey has been planning to attend the auction to try and “win” his companion, but he voiced concerns over another person bidding higher than he’s able to go. Just after this story started making its rounds on news websites and social media, a GoFundMe was created to help the officer be able to win his dog at auction.
Today the GoFundMe has been up for approximately two days, and the turnout has been astounding. The goal of $3,500 has been surpassed by an amazing, almost unbelievable amount. To date officer Hickey has received over $25,000 in donations through the popular funding website, hopefully making it a certainty that he will be able to take Ajax home once the auction has concluded. Along with the generous donations there is an outpour of support from people all over, as is evident by the comments on the GoFundMe page. Some only gave small amounts, a dollar here or there, while some gave larger donations. Either way, the message was the same: we’ve seen this horrible, unjust thing happening to you and we want to help.
While the fact of people abusing and over-using websites like GoFundMe remain a fact of life, this story can serve as a reminder of why these websites and companies were created. All of the start-up and crowdfunding companies were created to help people fulfill dreams and find assistance when they need it. Officer Hickey’s story is an example of that idea in action; GoFundMe and sites like it have made it possible for a retired police officer from a small Ohio town, afraid of losing his companion, partner, and family member able to reach thousands of people for help. So while we remain skeptical about the crowdfunding requests we see flooding our timelines and Twitter feeds, we can remember that these websites really do work sometimes, that good people still benefit from them and achieve amazing things because of them.