Provisions available throughout the year
Of course, as the cost of living rises, people who own pets have to contend with additional expenses. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), annual food costs can average $200 to $400 per dog, per household. Cat food can cost $200 a year per cat, per household.
Other costs—such as veterinary expenses, license and supplies—increase the average yearly cost of owning a cat or dog to a range of $1,100 to more than $2,000. Furthermore, research conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy shows that the cost of pet ownership is one of the top 10 reasons people relinquish their animal companions.
Fortunately, food pantries for pets are available in Southwest Florida. The Community Pet Pantry Program, for example, was established by Lee County Domestic Animal Services. It is “designed to temporarily assist pet owners in financial crisis to help keep them in loving homes rather than surrendered to shelters,” explains Tim Engstrom, public info specialist for Lee County government. The program provides complimentary pet food and supplies for Lee County residents.
“I actually got hit hard last year with extra expenses, on top of losing my job, and the program helped me out for a while with dog food,” says Marie Adler of Fort Myers. She owns a 5-year-old Labrador mix named Russell. “I am grateful that they were able to help me during that time of need, and I plan to donate food this year to pay it forward,” adds Adler.
The program assists more than 1,400 pets a year—and all donations are from the community. There are a number of drop-off locations throughout Lee County, and staff members recommend brands from Costco/Sam’s Club or Publix, or Purina Dog Chow or Diamond Maintenance.
Gulf Coast Humane Society (GCHS) is sometimes overstocked with pet food donations. In those cases, it donates the food to a variety of community assistance organizations. GCHS community relations coordinator Brian Wierima says, “We guarantee to all of our donors, the food they are donating will be reaching the people and pets who need it. We do use lots of donations, but sometimes we have the opportunity to share with others, because it is a cooperative effort to make sure people’s pets are not going hungry.”
According to the ASPCA, more than a million U.S. households are forced to give up their pets each year. It is hoped pet food pantries, and other services designed to assist pets and their owners, will enable more and more pets to stay where they belong—right at home. Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.
Clockwise from below left: Excess dog and cat food donated to Gulf Coast Humane Society is distributed to local agencies and th en to needy households; the Community Pet Pantry Program is currently low on supplies; pet food was distributed by GC HS after Hurricane Irma.