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Alliance formed to help pet owners in need keep their pets

By Staff | Apr 19, 2009

Officials from six different agencies and businesses have announced a new alliance, formed to help pet owners facing hard economic times keep their pets rather than relinquish them to shelters.
The Save the Pets Alliance was forged between the North Fort Myers Animal Refuge Center, Lee County Animal Services, the Gulf Coast Humane Society, the Caloosa Veterinary Medical Society and the Harry Chapin
Food Bank to assist pet owners with food and supplies. These will be distributed through local food pantries beginning May 1.
Lee Allor is the president of the board at ARC, a no-kill shelter that saw an alarming increase in surrendered pets due, simply, he said, by owners in financial crisis not having the money for pet food and supplies.
Other agencies and businesses were seeing the same increase.
“When we had an original meeting, when we were trying to come up with solutions to address the stray pet problem, what we were able to determine was that approximately 25 to 30 percent of the calls to local shelters were related to individuals being unable to feed pets. That’s why they wanted to surrender,” Allor said. “From those statistics, and from our own experience, that’s what set the alliance into motion.”
Donations will be received at the Harry Chapin Food Bank and several veterinarian offices and pet shops in the area. In North Fort Myers, that includes Bayshore Animal Hospital and North Shore Animal Hospital.
“These are just the drop-off centers,” said Allor.
A list of centers that will handle the actual distribution of the pet food is being given to United Way, to put on its 211 help-line of services.
Several officials said the idea was spawned by the numerous heartbreaking stories of seeing pets given up at local animal shelters.
Allor said he’ll never forget the day a young family pulled up in their mini-van, and the mother jumped out, leaving two crying kids and two dogs in the van along with her husband. She asked if ARC could take the dogs, especially with the fact it was a no-kill shelter. But the shelter was full.
Al Brislain, executive director of the Harry Chapin Food Bank, said he is looking forward to working with the new program.
“It’s another service we’re providing to the community,” he said. “They [animal shelter representatives] approached us and said there are a lot of families that needed to make a difficult choice between keeping their pets, keeping their homes and paying their bills. We do get pet food sometimes, and we do have a warehouse, so we said we could help by storing and distributing the food. It will be meaningful to these families.”
While the program has just been announced, the group will actually start the distributions around May 1 so it can build up donations to serve this growing need, said Allor.
Donations are needed now, he stressed.
“United Way 211 is the community help-line for help with social service,” said Linda Pankow, director of United Way 211. “You can simply dial 211 or 433-3900 to access information about the distribution sites. Some pantries have already received some pet food but the actual official kick-off date is May 1.”
Greg Gardner, vice president of allocations and planning for United Way, said, “Information that will help the quality of life for any individual in our community is part of our mission. This partnership would appear to be helping folks manage their life better.”
Besides the two North Fort Myers donation sites and others listed, you can donate directly to the Harry Chapin Food Bank warehouse located at 3760 Fowler St. in Fort Myers. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Dr. Sharon Powell is a supporter and donations will be accepted through her North Shore Animal Hospital located at 14487 N. Cleveland Ave.
“When I got an e-mail about this from Lee Allor, I thought this was perfect timing, because we have so many clients that have really been hit with the problems with the economy. I was actually thinking of starting my own program,” she said. “He said he had a coalition of all of these people who are coming together and I don’t think it could be better to be associated with the Harry Chapin Food Bank. Yo have name recognition right there.”
She has the “Save The Pets” sign up in her waiting room, and said she’s changing her high-traffic marquee to promote Save The Pets.
“Last year, we did two or three food drives that were really successful,” she said. “It wasn’t just food, it was cat litter, bedding materials, collars and leashes, things like that. It even included cleaning supplies, people forget about that.”
She said she filled her car numerous times with the donations and took them to local shelter.
“People are generous in this area,” she said.
“The stray animal population is an increasing problem in Lee County,” continued Allor. The problem is when people are turned away from shelters, animals become strays.
The first step is getting these distribution sites to be able to give out the needed food.
“The second step is to help provide spay, neuter and vaccination assistance,” said Allor. “We’ve almost completed that process, that will be announced. To learn more about the alliance go to: SaveThePetsToday.com.