“We get calls from people, just crying on the phone because they can no longer afford to feed their pets,” said Carol Bruno, a volunteer with Community Partnership for Pets, Inc., in Hendersonville, N.C., and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville.
The calls have been more frequent as the economic news has gotten worse and as news reports have noted that people have been abandoning pets in foreclosed homes or simply turning them loose. The Community Partnership traditionally helps spay and neuter cats and dogs, but, Bruno said, it is now helping beleaguered owners feed their pets, too. The partnership has begun providing animal food for up to three months until a family can recover from a job loss or other economic pitfall.
And that’s where the children at the Hendersonville fellowship come in. They took it upon themselves this winter to raise money to buy food for pets in need. In the past six weeks they’ve raised $140, which Community Partnership will turn into approximately 1,500 pounds of heavily discounted pet food.
“The children made posters and set up a collection bin,” said Vicki Benavides, director of religious education. “They collected the money, plus a few bags of pet food. They made appeals to the congregation on Sunday morning. This effort was entirely kid-driven.”
Fourth-grader Lina Yokote said she and her friend Cecilia Glaese made a poster to draw attention to their fundraising effort at the fellowship. “It said, ‘Donations for Animals,’ and we drew a dog with its tongue hanging out begging for food,” Yokote said. “It really got people’s attention.” She added, “I feel way better after doing this. I want people to know that even though you can’t take care of a dog you should take it to a shelter or someplace safe. Don’t just turn it out.”
In Massachusetts another UU has stepped up to make a difference for animals this winter. Laurie Drazek is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester and a volunteer at the Second Chances animal shelter in East Brookfield. “People here are just dropping dogs and cats off in the woods because they can’t afford to keep them,” she said. “We have requests constantly from animal control officers and the police to help out people with animals or take the animals.”
Drazek said Second Chances has begun donating food to two food pantries at Catholic and Baptist churches, where, in addition to getting food for themselves, people can pick up food for their pets.
“I’d love to see our own congregations get involved with this,” she said. “Talk to your local animal shelter, or veterinarians. People often call them when they’re having trouble. Don’t wait until pets are dumped. And find out which families in your own congregation are struggling with foreclosure or other crises and might appreciate help with their pets.”
She recommends putting notices in church newsletters letting people know temporary pet help is available. Congregations can also donate a Sunday collection to an animal shelter.
Drazek, who said she’s been involved in animal welfare issues “since I was a little kid,” works with many elderly people as a hospice social worker, and sees what pets bring to their lives.
In December, she told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: “So many elderly people are lonely and their pets are their best friends. When I volunteer at the food pantry, many elderly people are there in line and they are looking down. They aren’t proud to be there. But when I ask them about their pets—‘Do you have a cat?’—their whole face lights up. That’s what it’s all about, that happiness. The food is a way to get there.”