When the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a uniquely difficult time for people around the globe, New York City became the country’s epicenter for the virus in early 2020. Pet owners struggling to care for their pets faced a range of challenges – including food insecurity and diminished resources for pet care. Finding the help they needed to care for their pets became a major hurdle for many NYC pet owners. Some local organizations stepped up to fill the gaps.
Examples of large organizations offering assistance to pet owners were widely publicized. The ASPCA, one of the leading organizations that serves on NYC Emergency Management’s Animal Planning Task Force (APTF) along with the Mayor’s Alliance and numerous other organizations, launched free pet food distribution centers in New York City. They established by-appointment pick-up locations for free dog and cat food and pet supplies in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. As a result of their efforts, thousands of local pet owners were able to access free food for their pets.
Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), also an APTF member, distributed more than 100,000 pounds of pet food in 2020. They donated pet food to human food pantries in NYC, provided curbside pet food deliveries regularly to 178 clients, delivered pet food to a Queens community housing complex, and held food clinics out of their Bronx Resource Center.
But the ASPCA and ACC were not alone in providing emergency food and supplies to struggling New York City pet owners. Other local organizations adapted their operations to the challenges imposed by the pandemic and forged ahead in their respective missions to provide essential services to some of New York City’s most at-risk pet owners. We’d like to highlight three of these organizations with which the Alliance partnered on food donations and requests for food over the past months.
Since 2008, PAWS NY has been helping some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, particularly seniors and disabled people, overcome the physical and financial limitations they face caring for their pets on a daily basis. Their core program, the Housecall Program, dispatches PAWS NY volunteers for on-site home visits to their clients. These volunteers assist clients with daily pet care, including dog walking, litter maintenance, administering medications to pets, feeding, and watering. The program also attempts to assist clients with other specialized needs, including transporting pets to medical appointments, and in some cases, with temporary foster care for their pets.
With the onset of transmission risks and social distancing requirements, PAWS NY had to suspend its Housecall Program to ensure the safety of its clients and volunteers. But that didn’t stop them from providing their existing clients with critical services. The organization continues to support its clients through their Pet Pantry and Veterinary Care and Foster and Emergency Care programs. Over the past months, PAWS NY has continued to deliver pet food and supplies to clients, facilitate dozens of veterinary visits, and coordinate foster care for pets whose owners were hospitalized or unable to care for their pets at home. In December, PAWS NY volunteers even made Holiday Gift Bags and delivered them to their clients!
PAWS NY Program Director Carrie Nydick Finch, MS, LCSW says that “suspending the Housecall Program was a heart wrenching decision for us, but we knew we had to prioritize the health and safety of our clients and volunteers. We are so pleased that we were able to pivot and provide increased, and much needed, support through some of our supplemental programs. Since the pandemic began, we have provided $16,385 worth of direct veterinary care and $18,086 worth of pet food to our clients. In addition, our volunteers have provided 1,330 days of foster care to 16 of our clients’ pets.”
PAWS NY recently was featured in Shape Magazine as one of the “Nonprofits that Connect People and Pets to Improve the Wellbeing of Everyone Involved,” and was also featured with a two-page spread in HealthyPet magazine.
Because of the ongoing health crisis, PAWS NY currently is unable to take on new clients. But those interested in receiving services or looking to refer someone can begin the intake process now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Those interested in volunteering are invited to contact PAWS NY. Visit PawsNY.org or email email@example.com or call (212) 203-4760 to find out about their virtual volunteer orientations.
Healthy Pets Project of NYC, Inc. (HPPNYC) was created in 2015 to help pet owners in crisis to care for and keep their pet companions at home. By providing support, services, and education, the organization seeks to prevent pet owners from surrendering their companion pets to a shelter.
As the Covid-19 crisis engulfed New York City, HPPNYC stepped up its efforts to support the needs of the community’s struggling pet owners. Recognizing the crucial bond between people and their pets, and understanding that each pet and each person has a unique story, the organization has provided emergency Pet Food Packages to pet owners in need. In some cases, HPPNYC has been able to assist in providing veterinary care.
Since late March 2020, HPPNYC has delivered more than 1,100 pounds of dog and cat dry food, as well as 500 cans of wet food. They have been able to assist 25 pet owners with veterinary care, ranging from dentals and spay/neuter to mass removal surgeries. Missy, pictured above with her owner Joannie, on her day of discharge from the Animal Medical Center, had major exploratory surgery in September thanks to HPPNYC.
“We were not expecting our beloved NYC to be hit so hard by COVID,” says Jessica Martin, Executive Director and Founder of HPPNYC, who was named NY1’s New Yorker of the Week in October 2015. “I have a full time job as a teacher, and in March I found myself teaching from home. We knew that we were living through unprecedented times and we were ready. We took all the necessary precautions, and we delivered pet food after hours and on the weekends in our own car to keep everyone safe. The appreciation from pet owners has made it all worth it and we hope to continue to make a difference in pet families’ lives.”
HPPNYC believes that access to information and accessible care is crucial to a pet’s wellbeing, and reduces their chance of being relinquished to a shelter. Their website features a particularly valuable tool for pet owners in its Resources page. Here pet owners can access informative articles on how to care for their pets, as well as information about a wide range of pet care resources available to them.
Lindsay Freda, founder of Partnership for Shelter Animals NYC, launched The Hungry Pet Project in April 2020 to help pet owners in financial crisis feed their pets during the pandemic. The Project’s goal is to keep pets in their homes, rather than being surrendered to a shelter or, worse, abandoned to the streets. By partnering with food pantries, they get pet food into the hands of those in greatest need.
Since April, the Project has distributed more than $22,000 worth of pet food (17,690 cans of pet food and 18,630 pounds of dry food) through its food pantry partners, as well as helping homebound owners in need. Lindsay’s current pet pantry partner is North Manhattan Improvement Corps (NMIC).
Lindsay encourages New Yorkers to “adopt” a human food pantry in their neighborhood and donate pet food to the pantry so that it is available to the pantry’s customers who have pets.
“No one should have to choose between feeding themselves or feeding their pets,” says Lindsay. “Pet food should be available to anyone seeking food assistance. Pets are family.”
Lindsay founded Partnership for Shelter Animals NYC in 2014 to help improve the lives of abandoned animals at ACC by sponsoring medical care and donating critical supplies and enrichment items. She also created the Smiling Cat Project to help cats with dental disease get the care they need – an expensive barrier to adoption – so they can find homes.
For more information about resources available to NYC pet owners, visit animalalliancenyc.org/needhelp