Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Food assistance for pets

Chris McGann

Pets provide companionship and stress relief. It's important for
their owners to have access to pet food during the COVID-19
Times are tough enough when people don’t have enough to eat. But the hardship can cut even deeper when struggling households also have pets to feed.

As the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase the ranks of people in need of food assistance, the animals so many rely on for companionship, affection, and stress reduction need support too.

WSDA is working with a collaboration of animal services in King County and a national animal-welfare organization to support a statewide pet food distribution hub and help make sure people have access to pet food. It’s an initiative that not only supports animal health, but also the hunger relief efforts aimed at humans.

Increasing need

With the layoffs and business closures caused by the coronavirus shutdown, hunger relief organizations predict the number of people seeking food assistance in Washington State will soon exceed 2 million.

That means the corresponding population of pets at risk could exceed 1 million. This is based on our region’s estimated 59 percent pets-to-people ratio for those visiting food pantries and other hunger relief services.

Preventing a cascade of other problems

Pet owners unable to meet their own nutritional needs often face a wrenching dilemma, pitting support of their own health against caring for their pets. In some situations, they opt to use emergency food from hunger relief efforts to feed their animals.

WSDA veterinarian Dr. Minden Buswell has helped organize requests for and distribution of the pet food through her work with the state emergency management operations. She warned that the situation leads to concerning outcomes from both people and pets and adds additional strain on food banks already facing an uphill battle to procure enough food to meet the demand.

“My concern is that if we do not continue to fill this void or the void gets larger, people will utilize that human food for pet food,” Buswell said. “That is an issue because people, especially our vulnerable populations, need that food to stay healthy. Human food is not healthy for pets and using it to feed pets is unnecessary if we can help meet their need appropriately. There is no pet food supply-chain issue at this time.”

In some cases, surrendering the pet to a shelter becomes the only option, a choice both traumatic for the owner and costly for the system.

Providing pet food support alleviates higher costs for local government and privately run animal shelters face caring for surrendered pets.

Shelters already had to implement major operational changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They now operate with decreased staffing and donations, and without volunteer programs. In some cases, the shelters also serve as the designated quarantine place for animals of COVID patients.

Source of support

The effort to provide pet food for cash-strapped people during this crisis results from a collaboration of King County Regional Animal Services (RASKC), Seattle Humane Society, and several other King County and local organizations., a national nonprofit organization for people and animals, provided the majority of the pet food. Additional support comes from a Petsmart Charities grant received by King County Regional Animal Services.

The Mobile Pet Food Bank team during COVID-19 operations.  
Buswell is working with Seattle Humane Society, RASKC, the Seattle Animal Shelter, Auburn Valley Humane Society, and Pasado’s Safe Haven to help coordinate the effort.

King County leased a warehouse to store pallets of pet food and supplies, which will be distributed across the state. The team created an interactive map to help pet owners find distribution sites around the region.

Animal shelters and rescues outside King County in need of assistance are encouraged to e-mail the Seattle Humane.

Buswell said the pet food issue is something she has and will “continue to keep a pulse on to ensure that all the hard work that has gone into supplying humans with human food is not derailed into pet food and to ensure we are taking care of the whole family in Washington.”

For help finding a pet food bank in your area, visit RASKC's pet assistance program.