11/28/10 — When times are tough, group works to feed pets

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When times are tough, group works to feed pets

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on November 28, 2010 1:50 AM

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Humane Society volunteer Del Savage takes an armload of dog food to a car during the pet food giveaway, which is held the third Sunday of each month at Carolina Mini Storage.

Vickie Hare cuddles Coco in a blanket and gently kisses her on the head. When Coco looks up, you can see the staples keeping her left eyelid closed over an empty socket -- the result of a run-in with another dog and subsequent surgery.

Despite the injuries that resulted in Coco losing her eye, Ms. Hare said she didn't think twice about paying for the medical care. After all, Coco had given her unconditional love for the last 14 years, and she said she would be willing to do anything to take care of her -- including rationing her own food.

But thanks to the Wayne County Humane Society's monthly pet food giveaway, Ms. Hare hasn't had had to do that yet.

The pet food giveaway has been going on for a little more than two years.

"We were having a lot of calls from people losing their jobs, having medical expenses and just having trouble with the economy in general," said Barrett Parker, Humane Society president. "They were bringing their animals to the shelter and turning them in. The main reason was because they couldn't feed them."

The Humane Society volunteers knew they needed to do something to help people be able to keep their pets. The pet food giveaway was the answer.

The first giveaway in September 2008 helped 35 families feed their dogs and cats. That number has jumped to more than 700 animals a month now, almost 500 dogs and about 300 cats, said Humane Society volunteer Barbara Alford.

This month's giveaway helped 132 families with 450 dogs and 235 cats. Of that number, 42 came for the first time. The rest were familiar faces.

One of those, Barbara said, was a homeless man who lives on somebody's front porch.

"He has a little dog and he takes care of it," she said. "He walks here to come and get food for the little dog."

Then there was the woman who lives in her car with her small dog. She's another familiar face each month at the pet food giveaway.

Like them, Ms. Hare knows what it's like to love a pet but not have enough food for it. She recently lost her job after 23 years.

"A lot of people think about people who've lost their jobs," she said, "But they forget about the pets you have. It's hard enough to try and make it for yourself and you constantly worry about your pet. To just know that somebody has a big enough heart to remember them and help them just means everything."

Humane Society volunteer Gary Rollins has heard a lot of the desperate stories of people coming to the pet food giveaways.

"What's the saddest thing is when you see someone who's on a fixed income have to choose between buying food or medicine and their pet," he said. "That's their companion. They don't have to give up that companion when we can give them a bag of food and take care of them for a month."

Rollins has seen young and old alike at the giveaways, trying to get whatever they can for their pets.

"It's a matter of either them taking them to the pound and giving them up or coming here for help," he said. "I say don't ever give them up as long as we're here to help."

That's just what Stuart Entsminger is trying to avoid. He has a dog, Lucy, and two cats, JD and Fred. He's on food stamps, which doesn't allow him to get food for his pets.

"If I couldn't come to the pet food giveaways and get food for them, I would probably have to use my food stamps and get cans of tuna for the cats, and I'd have to get the dog hamburger or something," he said. "It would just be less food that we could get for ourselves. But the dog and cats would get fed. They're our kids."

Sharon Crawford feels the same way about her six labs and terriers, her rescue dogs. She took them in before her husband lost his job.

"It's definitely hard to feed them," she said. "The pet food giveaway is wonderful. Without it, I'd have to put them to sleep because I couldn't feed them. All we have is my income.

"I love them. I don't know what I'd do without them, especially my little ones. They're family."

Stories like these are what keep the Humane Society volunteers begging for pet food donations and raising money to buy what they can. They recently had a pet walk for hunger and raised more than $5,500 to buy food, according to Barrett.

They do it because "animals are a big part of our lives," Barrett said. "For many people like the elderly and shut-ins, that's their family."

For Katrina White, her black Pomeranian Pepper, is her only company during the day. Katrina is disabled and can't work. She and Pepper spend their days playing and combing each other's hair.

"I don't know what would happen to Pepper if I couldn't come here and get food for her," Katrina said. "I'd have to give her table food. I might have to cut down on some of my stuff to feed her."

Most likely she wouldn't have a pet if not for the Humane Society's program, and that would mean spending her days alone with only the TV to keep her company.

Pat Lozier wouldn't have her pit bulls, Tootsie, Ellie, Blue and Fat Head, if not for the program.

"I'd probably have to give them up to the shelter and take a chance on them being destroyed," she said. "My pets keep me company. I love them."

Eunice Tucker feels the same way about Febee, her little Pomeranian. If she couldn't get dog food from the Humane Society, she'd have to find Febee food somewhere else. "I live on a fixed income and this helps a lot," she said.

"She's a good dog. I just put up my Christmas tree and she likes to lay under it. That's her favorite place now."

There are hundreds more stories like these from the people who line up as much as an hour before the pet food giveaway starts just to get a little food to help feed their dogs and cats. People who love their pets and don't want to lose them.

"We know we're helping people in Wayne County," Barrett said. "When we see their faces and the smiles, we know we're doing a good thing."