As the economy struggles, animal shelters across the nation are facing a staggering increase in surrendered pets due to the economic downturn, and many shelters, and even food banks, have started offering pet food. According to the HSUS, 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need, many supported by grants from the Humane Society’s Foreclosure Pets Fund established last year.
In California, the Santa Cruz SPCA distributes more than 7,000 pounds of food each month at Heather’s Pet Food Bank. Named after local songwriter and dedicated shelter advocate Heather Zir, the food bank has become one of the largest and longing running in the nation since opening 10 years ago.
This year, Heather’s Pet Food Bank has seen a 25 percent increase in demand. “People who used to donate are now coming to get food and supplies,” says Santa Cruz SPCA Executive Director Lisa Carter.
On the opposite coast, at Long Island, N.Y., Little Shelter’s Animal Soup Kitchen has also observed a striking demographic change in the past year.
“While once restricted to low income areas, people [looking for help] are now coming from all neighborhoods,” explains Little Shelter Communications and Events Manager Jodi Record. “Without assistance, many families would have no choice but to surrender their pets to the local animal shelter.”
Tom Wargo has made it his life’s mission to help Georgia families care for their pets during hard times. His volunteer-run organization, the SOS Club, has been distributing supplies for the past 11 years, and as the recession deepened, Wargo found that pet owners needed more formal assistance.
In September 2008, the SOS Club opened Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville, Ga., to keep up with increasing demand. During their first month, Daffy’s distributed 4,000 pounds of food in addition to pet supplies and discounted medical care. Now the soup kitchen averages 8,000 to 12,000 pounds each month and feeds 1,500 animals. With the growing need, plans are in the works to start five new locations in Georgia; the group is also working with others across the nation to open soup kitchens in other states.
“The goal is to keep families and pets together,” says Wargo, “We get calls every week from rescue groups with people who need to surrender their pets because they can’t afford food. It breaks their heart. Now shelters can refer owners to us for supplies and veterinarian care.”
Pets aren’t the only ones receiving support through the soup kitchen. Daffy’s encourages donation recipients to do a minimum of five volunteer hours each month at a local organization. It can be humbling to need the food pantry’s assistance, and the suggested service requirement fosters a sense of responsibility and importance. In tough times, Daffy’s has proven to be much more than just a food bank.
“At first some people are embarrassed to come,” explains Wargo, “but once they do, everyone sits in the office and swaps stories, ideas, and advice to help each other out. We have become a family for most and everyone acts like they’ve known each other for years.”