Think about it: What would your holiday season be like without Trooper, your beloved mutt running around the house wearing those silly reindeer antlers, greeting all the visiting family and friends? Or your cat, Pookie, sleeping on top of the presents under the Christmas tree? It’s unthinkable, right?
This year, thousands of people relinquished their pets because of economic hardship. But here’s some good news: many who were on the brink were able to keep their animals thanks to their local pet-food pantries.
In metropolitan environs such as Chicago, pet food pantries are nothing new. They’re usually run by animal shelters and receive pantry supplies through donations. The Animal Welfare League (AWL) has provided a helping-hand pet food pantry for those in need since 1990. Diane Spyrka, the AWL shelter manager, says that currently, more than 360 people show up once a month to get pet food for their animal companions; that’s down from a couple of years ago, when more than 700 people signed up for the program. To qualify, participants must be over 60 years old or provide documentation to prove they’re on Medicare, Medicaid, disability, or public assistance. The supplies doled out don’t quite cover a month’s worth of meals—still, Spyrka says, it’s enough of a helping hand to take a sufficient financial load off the participants, so they can keep their pets.
“Pets are the only thing that some people have left,” says Spyrka. “And those are the people who, more than anyone else, need their animals to get through these tough times; they need that unconditional love and support.
“There was this one woman named Marie; she was 99 years old. And every month, regardless of the weather, she’d be waiting in line to get food for her dog. She told me once that if it wasn’t for us, she wouldn’t be able to keep her pet,” says Spyrka. “Can you imagine…?”
Doris Hoffman can’t. She’s been a regular customer at the AWL pet food pantry for more than 10 years. As she makes her way closer to the front and sees Diane, she hollers, “Let’s give this lady a big round of applause…come on, everyone, she’s the nicest lady in the world and we owe her this.”
Everyone in line for food applauds. Spyrka smiles as Hoffman comes up to give her a hug.
“Seriously,” says Hoffman. “I was able to keep all my dogs and cats because of this program. I am blessed.”
Kylie Shafferkoutter and Sandy Lynn opened the Bi-State Pet Food Pantry (BiStatePetFoodPantry.org) in St. Louis this past April. Their first distribution took place in June; they gave out 300 pounds of food to seven people. In October, 77 people showed up and carted off 4,445 pounds of pet food and 669 pounds of litter.
“We’ve grown because there’s a real need,” notes Shafferkoutter. “Word has gotten out. We hear a lot that people heard about us through their friends or neighbors. We’ve also been on the news. And, you know, the support from the people in St. Louis has been fantastic. We get all our food through private donations.”
Over the past couple of years, many shelters have opened, some in small towns and rural parts of the country hurt by the poor economy. The Lincoln County Animal Shelter (LCAS) opened a pet food pantry last year in the small Maine coastal town of Edgecomb. Like the big city pet food pantries, the LCAS relies on donations for their supplies. Unlike the big city pet food pantries anyone can show up whenever they want to receive food. To qualify, people need do nothing more than tell the shelter staff they’re in need.
“It’s a very small community,” says Alesia Norling, LCAS kennel technician. “And the saddest thing I see is how hard it is for people to ask for help. This woman came in … I could tell she was frazzled and dejected. I had just received a donation of a 65-pound bag of dog food, so I gave it to her. She said, ‘I don’t know what I would do without you.’ And that’s the whole idea; when everything else is going to hell, we still have our pets.”
If you or someone you know is looking to hook up with a local pet-food pantry, check out these helpful sites: SaveOurPetsFoodBank.org offers a state-by-state pet food pantry guide. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has compiled a fairly comprehensive resource guide of national and state pet-assistance programs that include pet-food pantries, low cost spay/neuter clinics, and other support services at HumaneSociety.org.
And, if you have a little extra to give this holiday season,
donate some kibble, cat chow, or “green” to your local pet-food pantry and help someone keep their beloved animal companion. Giving so others may keep love in their lives is the greatest gift of all.
For more on the Animal Welfare League, visit AnimalWelfareLeague.com.
For more on the Bi-State Pet Food Pantry, visit BiStatePetFoodPantry.org.
For more on the Lincoln County Animal Shelter, visit LCAS.Me/