Pet food pantries help pet owners in need

Posted March 21, 2011, at 6:14 p.m.

FAIRFIELD, Maine — As a volunteer at the Pet Food Pantry, Alyce Pincoske hears the stories every day. Pet owners who lost their jobs. Who are in crisis. Who can’t feed their pets.

One recent caller told her he had cooked his last box of pasta and given it to his three dogs the day before. That gone, he had no more food for himself or his animals.

“They’re sharing with their pets, taking food out of their own mouths,” Pincoske said. “Everybody has a story.”

The 2-year-old pantry provides pet food to 80 to 100 families a month. It isn’t alone. In an attempt to fill a need, pet food pantries are popping up in Maine.

“To some of us, our pets are like our children. I’m old and I have wonderful children, but they live out of state. I don’t know what I’d do without my dogs, and I think there are a lot of people like that,” Pincoske said. “We get people who aren’t really in favor of pet food pantries and say, ‘Well, if they can’t afford a pet, they shouldn’t have them.’ But a lot of people could afford their pets, didn’t have a problem feeding them, until the economy tanked. People lost their jobs. It’s a matter of they’re going to have to take [their pets] to the shelter or, God forbid, abandon them. Or somebody’s got to help them.”

Some regular food pantries carry pet food, but the inventory can be small and the supply unreliable. Although many would like to take care of pets, their main concern is feeding the humans in a family.

In recent years, volunteers began opening pantries for dogs, cats and other pets. There are now at least nine permanent pet food pantries in Maine — largely split along county lines — plus a few others that operate seasonally or when donations allow. Several have started within the last couple of years.

Brogan Horton, founder of the Maine-based Animal Rescue Unit, opened her pet food pantry in Bridgton in December.

“We really were finding that a lot of owners who were contacting us looking to place their animals [in adoptive homes] really needed to place them because they couldn’t afford to feed them,” she said. “And nine times out of 10, the situation was temporary. They were in between jobs, in between checks.”

Open by appointment, Horton’s pantry provides food for cats, dogs and small pets, as well as horses and livestock, both statewide and nationally. Horton said she has bought food for people living as far away as Florida and California.

Horton’s pantry is funded with donations and the online sale of T-shirts and other items. When that’s not enough, she pays for food herself.

“We just get email after email from people who say, ‘I am having a hard week.’ Unfortunately, a lot of who we see are elderly who live check to check. You know, heating costs and gas, it’s just thrown everybody for a loop,” she said. “We get those calls and we do what we can.”

The 10 volunteers who run the Fairfield Pet Food Pantry also pay for food themselves when donations aren’t enough. Open the fourth Friday of every month at the Victor Grange, that pantry largely serves Somerset and Kennebec counties, along with part of Franklin and Waldo counties. The Fairfield pantry focuses solely on household pets, including cats, dogs, birds, rabbits and other small animals.

Like many pantries, the Fairfield nonprofit has rules to ensure there’s enough food for everyone. Each month it will provide three weeks’ worth of food for up to four animals of each kind per family. It also help in emergency situations, like the man who ran out of food for both himself and his dogs.

Permanent pantries don’t seem to be enough to meet the need. Some temporary food programs have started up, too.

Last fall, Pack Life, a Lewiston-Auburn nonprofit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of stray, abandoned and abused dogs, collected 1,500 pounds of pet food and donated it to both needy families and traditional food pantries. Last week, the Girls Talk program at the Academy Hill School in Wilton held a one-day pet food pantry in which the fifth- and sixth-grade girls gave away the $300 worth of pet food they had bought with money they raised. At the end of the day, they brought leftover food to the local animal shelter.

Although small and temporary, the Girls Talk pantry had the same goal as any other: Help families hold onto their pets through a rough financial time.

“I think a lot of it has to do with — and we talked with the girls about this — the economic times. Some people have a hard enough time trying to feed themselves, and what about the people who have pets?” Jody Cook, co-director of the Girls Talk mentorship program, said. “We hate to see people have to give up a pet because they’re having difficulty feeding it.”

Need help feeding a pet or want to donate? Here are some pet food pantries:

To see more of the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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