When New Yorkers struggle to fill their cabinets with food, their pets also feel the pinch.
These four-legged companions are often casualties of financial hardship — ending up in shelters or abandoned because owners can no longer afford to feed them.
A collaboration between the ASPCA and the Food Bank for New York City aims to ease pet owners’ burden by providing free dog and cat food at more than 254 pantries across the five boroughs.
The three-year, $300,000 program, which launched in 2018, is funded by a big-hearted anonymous donor. In the first year of the partnership, the Food Bank distributed 400,000 pet food meals to owners.
“It’s an incredibly effective way to get to animals that are at risk so they can stay in their homes,” said ASPCA president and CEO Matt Bershadker. “For a family in poverty, they have to make a choice about every expense.”
He pointed to a 2015 study of pet owners with incomes of $50,000 or less who said free or low-cost food would make it easier for them to keep their furry family members.
“We work with emergency food programs around the city and we have heard and do hear families are concerned about caring for loved ones and having the resources they need,” said Francisco Tezen, chief development officer at the Food Bank. “That includes pets.”
Bershadker said when pet owners pick up food at the various sites, they also get information about free and low-cost veterinary services at the ASPCA.
The program has allowed Antoinette Butler, 54, to hold on to her beloved cat, Cujo.
While picking up free food for Cujo, she took advantage of a free checkup being offered by the ASPCA. When the feline developed an ear infection, she was worried she would have to give him up.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I couldn’t pay for it.”
The ASPCA treated Cujo and returned him to her Harlem home.
“This is a great program,” said Butler. “A lot of people just discard their animals.”
She also said the free pet food has allowed her to give Cujo more nutritious and healthy meals.
“He was getting the trash food, I couldn’t afford this,” she said.
Bershadker said he is confident the program will continue beyond the current three years of funding.
“The future of animal welfare is in safety net services, helping people keep and responsibly care for their pets,” he said. “Anybody, regardless of income, should enjoy and benefit from the human-animal bond and the love and companionship that comes from it.”