We are organizing a new project to support Thunder's Pantry to collect dog and cat food for distribution through DESK.  DESK decided to start this collection after noticing the significant number of guests who either give their own food to their pet companions or find themselves with no choice but to bring their pets to shelters for lack of pet food. In either case, both people and animals suffer.   Jeannie Marie May, who is DESK's director of operations, asks for dry dog (small bags better), and wet & dry cat.  You will find a box for this collection in the back hall.

Pet Peeve: Food bank for animals meets growing need

Sunday, December 20, 2009

By Pamela McLoughlin, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — When the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen recently stopped serving food in styrofoam take-out containers, there was unusually high concern among the guests.

At first, it was baffling to staffers like Jeanne Marie May, the soup kitchen’s director of operations. After a little bit of friendly investigating, May realized that clients were using the containers to take leftovers home to pets.

On the food pantry side, she also noticed requests for items such as tuna, canned chicken and Spam were up and likely being used to feed dogs and cats.

Her solution: a pet food bank called “Thunder’s Pantry,” named after May’s late horse, a neglected racehorse she rescued in 1988. The food bank opened earlier this year.

“We realized once the economy shifted that people were without resources” to feed their pets, May said. Many of those affected are senior citizens, she said.

“There were times I had to decide between feeding myself or my horse, so I understand the heartbreak of being put in that position,” May said.

May believes animals bring “peace, joy, comfort,” and so their role in these tough times is all the more important. She said some guests at the soup kitchen are quiet, but tell a pet story and the smiles come quickly.

“Everybody has a story about their animal. I think animals are so amazingly healing,” May said. “To some of our guests, their pets are their life.”

The pet pantry has an anonymous sponsor who supplies the outfit with surplus dog, cat and bird food, sometimes rabbit food and assorted animal treats, depending on the store’s stock. On a great day for dogs, there are rawhide treats.

“It’s enough for us to keep the program going on a wing and a prayer,” May said.

But the demand is high and donations are always needed. The pantry now gives out 1,000 pounds of animal food every two weeks. More people are putting pet food in with their people food donations, and some businesses have taken up the cause, May said.

At Bethany Veterinary Hospital, they have a “giving tree,” for donations to Thunder’s Pantry and have already collected hundreds of pounds of food. Veterinarian Akisa Wayland said they’ll continue collecting after the holidays.

Wayland said homelessness among animals is increasing. More and more people are abandoning animals at the hospital, Wayland said. In some cases, the animals have injuries that people likely couldn’t afford to treat.

“We’ve been hearing reports of people going to soup kitchens and doing without food themselves to feed their animals,” Wayland said.

Ryan Soennichsen, business director at Connecticut Sports Center in Woodbridge, said they have a holiday corner set up for Toys for Tots, Thunder’s Pantry and to collect winter blankets for the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. The pet food collection is slow, he said, but they’re going to continue after the holiday. They will be open for holiday donations through noon Wednesday.

“I think it’s a great cause. It’s something I didn’t think about (needy pets),” Soennichsen said.

The soup kitchen does not accept money donations. Pet and people food can be dropped off at the soup kitchen, 311 Temple St., Sunday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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