WASHINGTON, D.C. — On a cold winter morning, a line starts to form. People are waiting for food, but not for themselves; instead, it's for their furry friends.
The line is to get goods from a pet pantry.
“Everybody on my block got a dog and everybody got a cat,” said Tony Blyther, a resident of Washington, D.C.
Blyther and others are waiting at one of the weekly mobile pet pantries run by the Humane Rescue Alliance in the nation’s capital. Lisa Damiano is coordinating it.
“We provide free pet food for cats and dogs and anything else that we have donated to us, in terms of treats, toys, cat litter, etc,” she said.
Pet pantries are not new and are located in communities across the country. What is new, though, is the level of demand.
“It's definitely been an increase in need,” Damiano said.
That explosive growth started when the economy took a tumble from the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Humane Rescue Alliance alone, the numbers are startling.
For comparison, in November of 2019, the pet pantry handed out 2,900 pounds of pet food. This past November, in 2020, that number more than doubled to 6,000 pounds.
Just since the pandemic began, they’ve handed out a whopping 296,000 pet meals.
“There have been clients that have said that they've gone hungry or have not brought their own food in order to provide for their pets,” Damiano said. “So, these programs, they're very important. Often overlooked, but very important.”
Christine Parker waited in line for her sister, who is homebound with a cat.
“Got a bag of cat food. Got a bag of cat litter right here,” Parker said. “My sister can’t come out to get the food, so I come out for her because she can’t do it. It’s very expensive. I try to help her when I can, but when we can’t, I come here.”
Those running the pet pantry say they hope the food assistance helps owners hold onto their pets.
“We've seen an increase, not in the District, but there has been an increase in animals being given up or abandoned because people couldn't care for them,” Damiano said.
It is a fate everyone there wants to avoid, especially, the four-legged ones.
For more information on pet pantries in your area, click here.