At a time of the year when there should be joy throughout the world, there is no joy at all for legions of out-of-work and/or disabled pet owners who are reluctantly showing up at animal shelters across the nation to surrender their beloved cats and dogs because they cannot afford to feed them.
That’s why hundreds of shelters – including McKamey in Chattanooga – have opened dog and cat food pantries designed to help the financially disabled and their pets weather the economic downturn together. Donations around the bottom of the shelter’s Christmas tree this year include bags of cat and dog food destined to help keep the area’s less fortunate pets from going hungry during this holiday season and new year.
McKamey started its pantry in 2009, executive director Karen Walsh said, because people who obviously loved and wanted to keep their pets nevertheless were having to bring them to the shelter where they would at least have food.
Often, she said, the financial emergency which brought them there was temporary: a job loss, foreclosure, serious injury, house fire or some other financial setback which left them unable to provide for their pets while they were struggling to get back on their feet.
So McKamey – following in the footsteps of hundreds of shelters across the nation – set aside an area as a small pet food bank for dog and cat owners who could demonstrate financial need, and then began soliciting donations from more affluent animal lovers to fill up the shelves there.
The goal, Ms. Walsh said, is that when an emergency strikes an individual or a family with animals, McKamey will have the resources to help tide them over with appropriate pet foods.
For example, she said, when residents here were bombarded by tornados last spring, there was a tremendous need for emergency rations for pets owned by people who lost their homes and/or their livelihoods as a result.
Many donors – some of them corporate – rose to the occasion, she said, and money and donated pet foods designated for tornado victims poured in.
Today, when the disaster is long past and people have managed to put their lives back together, recipients of the emergency supplies will still tell you what a big help they were.
Take Ashley, the doting owner of four cats and two dogs, who wanted to keep them despite the tornado that had ripped through the neighborhood where she lived but wasn’t quite sure how to manage to do so.
“Somebody mentioned that McKamey was giving away cat and dog food to tornado victims,” she recalled last week, “which was a huge help at the time.”
Across the nation, from Massachusetts to Texas to California , pet food pantries are finding there is a tremendous need for the emergency rations they provide.
When Animal Care Services in Sacramento , CA opened its pet food bank, for example, more than 500 low-income animal lovers came there for help during the first four months.
Like McKamey, the shelter there relies on donations to provide the needed kibble, and supplies sometimes run low.
Occasionally, corporations like Halo – the pet food company who counts actress and animal lover Ellen DeGeneres among its owners – help out with large donations that supplement those contributed by local animal lovers.
That’s what happened in Sacramento – where Halo, Purely for Pets, donated enough Spot’s Stew to provide 5,000 meals for animals in two shelters: the local SPCA and Animal Care Services.
“Halo was dropped from heaven,” the creator of Animal Care’s food bank, told a Sacramento reporter soon afterward.
But individuals also are a crucial part of the effort to keep food pantries alive and well stocked, according to Ms. Walsh at McKamey.
“Some people just donate once or twice, while others are regulars who show up regularly to drop off bags of food and other contributions,” she said. “We need every one of them.”
Even individuals who cannot afford to help support the effort with donated food or money can help, she noted.
For example, the website Freekibble.com runs a promotion where people can go to answer pet-related trivia questions and, in the process, earn “kibble” that is donated to pet food pantries across that nation, including in Tennessee .
Individuals, civic groups and businesses that would like to contribute to the pet food bank at McKamey can do so simply by showing up at the shelter, donations in hand. For more information on the pantry, call 305-6500.