MUNCIE — Pet owners struggling to make ends meet now have a place to turn for help for their four-legged friends.
Action for Animals, an advocacy group that offers foster care to stray cats and dogs, has opened a pet food pantry in Muncie to help people feed their animals and keep them in their homes.
The Star Press reports the pantry is a new chapter in the group's work. Action for Animals has long received donated pet food from manufacturers through its umbrella network, Rescue Bank, but those items had been distributed only to animal rescue agencies, humane societies and animal shelters across the state.
Group president Teresa Sparks said the number of calls from people seeking help to feed their pets has risen to an average of 25 calls a week in recent years.
"In the past, we'd always offer what we could if we had any food to give, but we're now at the point where we can offer food regularly to people struggling to feed their four-legged family members," she said. "We know people don't want to give up their pets, so we're hoping this can help keep their loved ones in their homes."
Those who visit the pantry must fill out a form stating their address and the number of pets and will receive food based on the number of pets. The pantry also plans to stock cat litter.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates between 500,000 and 1 million pets in the United States have been on the verge of becoming homeless since the recent recession began.
"We know people don't want to give up their pets, so we're hoping this can help keep their loved ones in their homes," Sparks said.
Michelle Welder owns six cats, five of whom she got as strays. She said she receives unemployment benefits and food stamps and sometimes struggles to feed her pets, but she can't think of parting with them.
"They're my babies. Times have been hard, and they offer me so much comfort and support. I don't mind standing out here for them. They need food, too," Welder said.
Brenda Stanley, who owns three dogs and a cat, said she has had to get creative at times to keep her pets fed.
"When I run out of food, I give my babies a mix of peas and carrots. I've never been a fan of them, so I have no problem sharing it with them." Stanley said. "I'd give up my food before letting them go hungry."
Volunteers at the pet food pantry and other social service agencies say they understand the sentiment.
"When we ask people, 'How many family members?' when we're helping them at the food pantry, people always add their cats and dogs," said Christina Paul, social services director for the Salvation Army Muncie.
"That's why it's time for the pet food pantry. People really need it because these pets are more than just pets to people."