The Toronto Humane Society is offering people the pet food they need through its pet food bank program. It has existed since the early 2000s but has become especially vital for people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We truly do want to make sure that we’re supporting pets and pet owners more during these trying times,” said Toronto Humane Society assistant manager Hannah Sotropa.
She said since many people face difficult financial times and may require assistance in caring for their pets, the THS offers help with temporary animal feeding.
The program is entirely anonymous, people can just come into the shelter and ask for whatever pet food they need for their dog, cat, and other species, such as hamsters and rabbits, Sotropa said.
She said the anonymity of the program is intended to create a judgment-free zone.
“There’s no appointments or anything like that,” Sotropa said. “They [pet owners] don’t even have to explain their situation.”
She said their pet food bank has been operating throughout the pandemic.
The only difference is that now people get their pet food in the lobby or outside the front doors, Sotropa said.
She said the shelter also donates food to other rescue organizations, and that’s why the THS is in need of some financial help from donors and volunteers.
“If you want to help specifically the food bank, donating food is obviously going to be a super way to do so,” Sotropa said. “So we can make sure we have enough supplies for everyone.”
She said the main goal of the pet food bank is to keep animals within their families and protect the human-animal bond.
“Let’s take COVID, for example, someone loses their job and they don’t have the financial means to support an animal’s food intake for that week, they might be faced with that, that potential of surrendering their animals,” Sotropa said.
She said the program also helps to free up space in shelters because people no longer need to give away or surrender their pets to the THS.
“So it’s multifunctional, multifaceted, but the biggest thing is the human-animal bond,” Sotropa said. “It’s meant to protect and help it flourish.”
Another program COVID-19 Animal Response, aimed to help pet owners, was created by Humane Society International as a relief system.
Ontario program project manager Larysa Struk said the program started last April and operates in areas of Quebec and Ontario, as well as First Nations communities.
She said their program is low-barrier meaning people seeking assistance don’t have to apply for it, but can simply contact them via e-mail Onresponse@hsicanada.ca.
Struk said though their program relies solely on donations they don’t set limits to the amount of help they can provide each individual with.
She said their help includes pet food and supplies, veterinary medicines, and even temporary placement for the pet if needed.
“If the same person contacts us a month later and says I still need help, then we’ll go back and help that person,” Struk said.
She said she wants people to exclude the stigma that pet owners, who are in less desirable financial situations, don’t deserve to have their animals.
“I’ve spoken to so many people who will do anything for their animal, they’ll feed their animal before they feed themselves,” Struck said.
She also said judging from their numbers the demand for their assistance is getting higher in periods of stricter lockdowns.
“Stay-at-home orders made things much more difficult for people to get out of their homes,” Struck said.
“Also the fact that the pandemic has lasted this long has really impacted people too,” she said. “We are finding that as the pandemic goes longer and longer the need for help has actually been increasing too.”
Struk said just in the last five months their program helped nearly 4000 people.
She said even when the pandemic ends their hope is to continue running the program.
“There are actually so many communities in neighborhoods that are underserved, in our city, so many areas of our city, that and people and residents living in those communities that need help and support,” Struk said.
She said receiving any donations will help to achieve this goal. People can help by using this link https://friendsofhsi.ca/.
“Even when COVID has gone, the impacts of it will be here for some time,” Struk said.