After Ernest Brown was laid off from his job at transportation and logistics company BAX Global earlier this year, it was an issue not just for the 56-year-old resident of the East End but also for his pets.
"I wasn't able to buy their food like I needed to," says Brown, who has two cats, Patches and Dusty, and a 1-year-old black-Lab mix, Tipper (pictured above, with Brown).
He found help through the SPCA's Pet Pantry, which offers free pet food for participants having trouble affording the expense of pet ownership. Now, every couple of weeks, Brown, who's currently on disability, receives enough wet and dry food to keep his animals fed and his worries at bay. "I'm very thankful," he says.
The Pet Pantry is just one of several programs offered by local nonprofits that allow Richmonders with financial or medical hardships to continue caring for their pets while keeping them where they belong — at home.
At the SPCA, such programs are part of an effort dubbed Project Safety Net. It includes everything from affordable boarding for animals whose owners are experiencing a temporary housing crisis to low-cost wellness clinics for pets. The latter effort is being expanded this month in response to demand, with the clinics now taking place every Monday for pet owners who receive government assistance or whose household income is below $30,000 (the same criteria used for the Pet Pantry). Participating pets must be spayed or neutered, and free or low-cost surgery is offered for those who aren't.
"I don't think we'll see a lessening need for this," says Dr. Angela Ivey, director of veterinary services for the Richmond SPCA, adding that once participants qualify, they're approved for the year.
Since 1985, in addition to its primary mission of delivering food to the homes of seniors and people with disabilities, Meals on Wheels has operated a complementary effort, Meals for Pets, which provides the nonprofit's participating clients with a monthly supply of pet food. In the last fiscal year, 201 clients with dogs or cats received 16,733 pounds of pet food through the program.
Companions in Crisis, an initiative started in January by Fetch a Cure, a local nonprofit that focuses on cancer and aging in pets, offers financial help of up to $5,000 to relieve some of the financial burden on owners whose pets have cancer.
"We give funds on a sliding scale and based on the diagnosis," says Joanne Silverman, Fetch a Cure's director. In addition to asking for financial information from applicants, the charity also has a medical advisory board that examines each pet's case to be sure the animals are good candidates for treatment. (They have yet to turn anyone down, says Silverman.)
Assistance currently covers anywhere from two to four pets a month, and Silverman hopes "to expand that as soon as funding allows."
If you need help or would like to donate, contact Fetch a Cure at 525-2193 or fetchacure.com, Meals for Pets at 934-1943 or mowdelivers.com, and the Richmond SPCA at 643-6785 or richmondspca.org.