Tired of seeing Albertans being forced to give up their pets to make ends meet, volunteers at the Alberta Lost Pet Locators Rescue started a pet food bank.
In late December, they started a Facebook group to connect potential pet food donors with pet owners in need.
“Our goal is for anyone that’s struggling financially to make sure they can still feed their pets,” said the Edmonton area coordinator, Jennifer Edmonds.
On average, Edmonds said the pet food bank is feeding between 20 and 30 animals each week.
“There is a huge need in Alberta right now. There’s so many people out of work because of the oil sands, and the oil sands trickle down,” she said.
“We’re looking at 30 pets a week that don’t have to go into the shelters and don’t have to go to rescues.”
It’s not just for dogs and cats, either. The ALPL pet food bank will help any and every kind of pet.
“We’ve been doing some bunnies and guinea pigs. I had one request for a snake,” Edmonds laughed.
The volunteers don’t judge, and see requests coming from people from all walks of life.
“We’ve seen some people that have very nice houses and cars and they don’t have a job right now and those nice houses and cars cost a lot of money. We have other people that are barely not living on the street. A very diverse age range: I’ve helped a 16 year old that’s on her own and I’ve helped some seniors.”
She also said pet owners don’t usually require assistance for long.
“There are people that are getting back on their feet or being able to re-organize. Sometimes it’s just a bill popped up so their EI isn’t going to stretch the whole month – so we’re able to help them get through. We’ve only had a couple people that are repeat users.”
Often, Edmonds finds people are hesitant to ask for help.
“There’s several people that are embarrassed to use us. Please, no, that’s why we’re here. Please use us.”
One of those people is Dawn Boyd. Boyd owns Talia, a 13-year-old bull mastiff-pitbull cross. Talia was saved from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and adopted out of an Alberta rescue.
But after a few years, she needing rescuing again, from a mentally ill owner.
“He ended up abusing her and neglecting her so I took her in,” Boyd said.
For the last five years, Boyd and Talia have done everything together, including going to work.
“She definitely is my best friend. She comes everywhere with me.”
But the duo recently fell on hard times with the recession.
“In April of last year, I ended up having to close my business down due to the economy. I owned a heavy duty truck and repair shop,” Boyd said.
Still reeling from losing her job, Boyd said three men with guns broke into her house one day and robbed her. Talia eventually scared them off.
“I got behind on bills, I got behind on rent, I got behind on absolutely everything. They had taken basically everything. Anything that I could’ve sold to get by.”
Even as the debt piled up, Boyd continued to put her best friend first.
“It came to a point where I was not eating for three days to make sure I had enough money to feed the dog,” she said.
Boyd said she lost 30 pounds over the last three months from not eating enough.
Talia weighs 120 pounds and has both poultry and grain allergies – so her food is especially expensive.
Boyd estimates it costs between $250 and $300 a month to feed her dog, money she struggled to find.
“It was a constant thought – whether I was going to have a roof over my head next month, or not,” Boyd said. “We’d for sure live in my car before I gave her up.”
When the volunteers at Alberta Lost Pet Locators heard her story, they rushed over with dog food. Edmonds can only imagine how tough the last few months were for Boyd.
“You’ve lost so much already, by not having your job or not being able to make ends meet because of disability or something like that, we didn’t want them to have to give up their babies,” Edmonds said.
The two have now struck up a friendship, and Boyd is volunteering with the pet food bank to give back.
“I want to say thanks, because I probably would be living in my car right now if it wasn’t for you guys. Being able to help feed her so I can feed myself and pay more bills. It’s a huge expense to feed a pet, especially a large pet. It’s not something I ever saw myself having to do. It’s been a huge help, everything has,” Boyd said.
Alberta Lost Pet Locators has pet food banks set up across the province. If you’re in need of help, want to volunteer or donate food, head to their Facebook page.