An estimated 23 million dogs and cats live in poverty with their families in the United States, says the Humane Society of the United States. No wonder financial hardship accounts for 25% of the pets that are surrendered to shelters.
For families who face the difficult decision of whether to give up their pet, being able to turn to a pet food bank can make all the difference. A pet food bank provides emotional relief to owners who can no longer provide for their pets. Some pet owners will take food from their own mouths to feed their pets or choose homelessness rather than relinquish their pets. Pet food banks exist to help pets stay with their families
Across the United States, there are at least almost 150 pet food banks, including one run by Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. I chatted online this past month with four of them:
|Kibbles Kitchen is an offering of Ventura County Animal Services in California. I spoke to Katie Navarro.
Pet Food Pantry is an offering of Because Animals Matter (BAM), an animal welfare organization located in Utah. Its primary focus is providing pet services to the community and humane education to school children, but it also does rescue. Because Animals Matter is currently working to alter a program we have called Meika’s Medical Fund which was originally designed to help shelter pets. Because more and more shelters are placing medically needy animals with rescues, they’re changing the focus to assist in providing low-income senior citizens with veterinary financial assistance to help them keep their senior pet healthy.
Critter Cupboard is an offering of Voice for Companion Animals, an animal welfare organization in Nebraska. The nonprofit started in 2011 with the goal of keeping pets in their home with their family. VCA serves 65 pet owners, gives out 70 pounds of food each month, and donates to two food pantries when there are extra donations. When possible, VCA provides kitty litter, soft food, and treats. A holiday gift bag is also given out once a year that includes a pet bed/blanket, toy, and treats. I spoke to Robyn Mays.
Kibbles Kitchen is an offering of K9 Rescue in Florida. The pantry started in 2007. It feeds 50 families and gives out 1,500 pounds of food and 500 pounds of litter. The rescue collects information on pets in the home and then gives extra supplies for the needs of those pets, such as collars, leashes, shampoo, grooming supplies, dog beds, cat trees, bowls, toys, treats, litter boxes, and pet sweaters. In addition, the pantry hands out a holiday bonus, and disaster kits are handed out in times of emergency. I spoke to Sharon O’Brien.
Every town has pets and people who need help.–J.C. Schilling
All four pet food banks were started to assist those that would otherwise surrender their pet due to inadequate finances. Robyn Mays specified that Voice for Companion Animals started “after working in a shelter and hearing the calls that would come in from people looking for options. They just hit a rough patch and needed a little help to get through it.”
Reception has been so positive that all could expand, and two have grown beyond their original offerings. Voice for Companion Animals has grown from assisting 18 people to over 65 monthly, and it works with two food pantries to provide pet food too. It runs an Ani-Meals program, which provides monthly pet food delivered to homes of seniors and veterans.
The group called Because Animals Matter (BAM) offers two pet food services. One is a free pet food bank open to low-income people low-income people who are physically able to come to the food bank. The other is Kibbles on Wheels (KOW), a program that provides free dog/cat food to anyone who receives Meals on Wheels. “Most of these people are elderly,” says Schilling, “and losing a pet for lack of food could be devastating for them.” The group is in the process of changing the KOW program to include low-income people who are physically unable to come to the pet food bank.
We have received some very nice thank you notes from folks telling us how important our programs were to their being able to keep their pets.–J.C. Schilling
Such an overwhelming reception to pet food banks is bound to result in memorable stories. Schilling said that often when Because Animals Matter volunteers make the first delivery to a new pet food bank recipient, “They come back to me and tell me how the family hugged them and cried on their shoulders and have thanked them profusely.” One recipient of the pet food program showed appreciation in a concrete way, by making a wall hanging that depicts her family for the volunteer that delivers her pet food.
Mays also had a story to share from Voice for Companion Animals. “A couple of years ago we gave a holiday gift package to each of the folks on our Ani-Meals program. We asked for more volunteers and they helped deliver the packages. A couple of volunteers returned with tears in their eyes, stories of meeting the people and pets, and the repeated comment was ‘Now I get it. Now I understand why you do what you do.’ “
Our group tried to think of what was needed in the community that wasn’t already there to help keep animals from going to the shelter. The pet food bank was born. —Mary Douglas
My own interest in pet food banks arose from my involvement with Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. Its pet food bank was started by LAA president, Mary Douglas, who initially drummed up a few donations of pet food and operated services out of her garage. Now the pet food bank is in the Center for People in Need building, where 2,000 pounds of food is given out every week.
In previous interviews, volunteers shared many memorable moments. Ron Stow said that he’ll never forget one gentleman: “We had our military ball caps on. He was in the Korean War, and I was in Desert Storm. We were sitting on the loading dock of the old place, relating where each had been, and had been doing so for about 30 minutes. Mrs. Okra was getting a little impatient with our B.S. session and stepped out of the car and said, ‘When are you two gonna quit jack-jawin’ and take me home?’ His response was priceless: ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble!’ Sadly, Mr. Okra passed away a few months later.”
Other volunteers told of dedicated pet owners who take the bus across town to pick up food that they would carry home in a backpack. One client rode a bike 18 blocks in 100-degree heat to pick up supplies. And then there’s a lady who from the moment she would walk in to the moment she left, she said thank you.
In previous interviews, I also personally talked to pet food bank recipients. Sharon owns a lovable six-year-old male rat terrier named Buddy. Once a month, she receives a five-pound bag of dog food, canned food, and treats. Sharon is thankful for the support that allows her to continue to care for Buddy. He follows her everywhere, and the two depend on one another.
Lynn owns a one-year-old poodle that had been brought to the Capital Humane Society after he had been found wandering the streets of Crete, Nebraska. When Lynn took him to the vet, it was discovered that he had digestive problems that required prescription dog food. Lynn prefers not to depend on government assistance, but she knew something had to be done. “I know Lincoln Animal Ambassadors only has so much money, and is all run by volunteers, but I appreciate that they buy food from the vet office for me,” said Lynn.
All the organizations I interviewed depend on volunteers to pick up, package and distribute donated pet food. They also rely on the community for donations of food, litter, and other supplies. Be part of the no-more-homeless-pets solution by supporting your local pet food bank with time and/or donations.
If you’re interested in helping Lincoln Animal Ambassadors specifically, please spread the word about its services, volunteer as a telephone interviewer, and give generously on Give to Lincoln Day this May 31st.