Dogs are people, too .. aren’t they?
To many canine owners, pets are just as much a part of the family as the kids. But when times are tough and food is in short supply, if you have to pick between feeding your kids and feeding your pet, of course, the pet is going to be the one that loses out. That’s when one of the many pet food banks can step in to help. Organized similarly to food banks for people, these missions of mercy provide families with food for their four-legged friends. Pet soup kitchens are not new, but they’re becoming more prevalent as families try to keep their pets, even if they can’t keep their homes.
Unfortunately, the pet food banks are facing the same economic hardships as the food banks established for humans. (See People, Not Funds, Pouring into Food Banks ” Part I and People, Not Funds, Pouring into Food Banks ” Part II.) There’s an increased demand for supplies by the public but donations are slow to come in. Fortunately, animal lovers across the nation are rallying for the cause.
Here are some stories about pet food bank successes around the country.
In Frederick County, Maryland, many families are finding the burden of having another mouth to feed is just too much to bear ” even if it’s the family pet. That’s causing an increasing number of people to visit the emergency food bank run by the Humane Society. “People are still placing their pets as a priority, which is wonderful,” said Brigitte Farrell, executive director.
“From our perspective, a pet owner that can keep their animal but needs a little help is far better than relinquishing the animal to us,” explains Harold Domer with Frederick County Animal Control. The shelter takes in about 6,000 animals a year, so anything they can do to keep owners and their pets together at home is well worth it.
The Charlotte-Mecklinberg Police Department’s Animal Care and Control Unit in North Carolina is setting up a pet food bank for those who can’t afford to feed their animals. “Our goal is to help keep animals with their owners”said Melissa Knicely, spokesperson for the unit.
The alternative: people either turn in their pets at the animal shelter, or turn them loose. “That is not what we want,”Knicely explained.
One of the clients they helped was Susan Furr and her “family.”Furr had six dogs, a cat and two potbellied pigs. When a car wreck sidelined Furr’s job as a beautician, her husband’s salary had to cover everything, including upkeep for the animals. That brought her to the pet food pantry.
Knicely has seen many people like Furr. “The people are coming to us in tears. They are just out of options,” Knicely said.
The Kibble Konnection, a pet food pantry run by the Humane Society of Kent County, Michigan, is helping people with squeezed budgets. “In 2008, about 14 percent of the animals brought in were due to some sort of economic hardship,” said Humane Society Organizer Jennifer Self. “When you’re talking about 8,000 to 10,000 animals, that’s a pretty substantial amount.” The Kibble Konnection helps keep more of those animals in their homes.
Free food from the Kibble Konnection was a blessing for pet owner Carolyn Bachan. “I’m not sure how much is in my bag, but it would probably be half of his food for the month or more,” said Bachan, a senior citizen who is on disability and has a limited income. She said the most important thing is that it helps keep her family together.
“He’s my companion. For an older person, we need companions too,” she said. “So this is wonderful. I think it’s wonderful.”
The Salvation Army in Kenosha, Wisconsin recently started a pet food bank to help their clients with the rising costs of feeding their cats and dogs. The idea was spurred by Loretta Vojtech, who was concerned when she heard a story about an elderly woman who couldn’t afford to pay for both her prescription medication and food for her pet. Vojtech contacted the Salvation Army to see if there was a way to help local low-income pet owners.
Cappy Moore, captain of Kenosha’s Salvation Army, said he thinks the effort fits with the organization’s goals of helping people of the community. “Our primary concern is people and people’s needs. And this does reflect people’s needs,”Moore said. “Some of these animals are service pets. We’re doing more than just keeping families together. It’s helping people that depend on these animals”
The program helped 77 pets in February and 116 animals so far this month. Vojtech said they had already moved out about two palettes full of dog food through the program. Each client gets enough food to feed his or her pet for a month.
In metro Atlanta, Ann King, owner of Blooming Cookies is passionate about trying to keep pets in their homes, instead of being dumped at a shelter or just abandoned. That’s why she joined with others to open Save Our Pets Food Bank. Their mission is to ensure that their community’s companion animals never go hungry or lose their homes. So far this month, more than 4,000 pounds of food has been distributed. King works closely with two existing Atlanta pet food distribution programs: Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen. and Meals Fur Pets.
While most of the pet food banks were seeking donations to keep up with the demand for food, Seattle had a different problem ” at least temporarily. Last summer, more than 1,600 bags of dog food weighing 12.7 tons were delivered to test a new conveyor belt system at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. When testing was completed, the food went into a warehouse, but severe snowstorms prevented it from being moved. Local officials just approved its donation to local animal shelters, but since no shelter has enough storage for the 40,000 pounds of food, it will go to area food banks for the pets of families in need.
Pet food banks are starting to play an increasingly important role in maintaining a sense of normalcy in the lives of people who have been affected by today’s recession. “There have been quantitative studies that show the quality of life for people who have pets is higher,”said Ben Brown, a retired social worker and former state senator who is volunteering at an Oklahoma City pet food pantry. Brown, who has a dog and cat of his own, said, “Pets are justifiably important to many people. .. they don’t want to give them up if they can afford not to. ”
From a practical and economic standpoint, pet food pantries will save money in operations costs for their communities by cutting back on the need for animal investigations, long and short-term boarding, adoption efforts and euthanasia. They’re good for pet owners, who in addition to losing jobs, homes and self-esteem, won’t have to lose their treasured family friend. And without doubt, pet food banks are good for the animals.