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Calgary animal shelters seek donations to match increasing demands for pet food

Animal shelters across Calgary have noticed low-income Calgarians are using pet food support programs more and more. 

To meet this rising demand, MEOW Foundation and Parachutes for Pets are seeking donations to stock up on supplies for the upcoming spring and summer season.

Both organizations rely heavily on donations of food and supplies.

“We’ve seen a gradual increase in the last few months in the number of requests for food packages,” Debbie Nelson said, the director of operations at MEOW Foundation.

The foundation’s cat food assistance program provides low-income pet owners with food packages. Sometimes this also includes litter, treats and toys when supplies allow. 

Nelson said in a month, MEOW will give out anywhere between 15 and 25 food packages. 

“It allows people to keep their pets in their home. Pets are often like people’s children, people have a very strong emotional bond. So that’s our first priority, is helping people keep their pets in their home,” Nelson said.

Cost living increases making things difficult for pet owners

Nelson attributes this rise in demand to the increase in rent and lack of affordable housing. The price of gasoline and groceries has also risen significantly. 

Canada’s Food Price report 2022 forecasts an overall food price increase of five to seven per cent this year. A family of four can expect to pay about $996 more on food than they did in 2021. 

Nelson said they’ve heard from low-income clients that some are only left with $20 at the end of the month due to price increases. 

“[Cats] always eat. Our cupboards aren’t bare, it just means we’re getting low and we know that we need to stock up so that we can certainly supply all the programs that we run,” she said.

MEOW Foundation provides cat food for their other programs on top of assisting low-income clients. Food goes to TNR caregivers and MEOW’s own cats at the adoption centre. Nelson said MEOW probably goes through thousands of pounds of dry food and thousands of cans of wet food in a year.

For MEOW Foundation, spring and summer is when most cat trapping occurs. Their Trap, Neuter, Return Program (TNR) humanely traps stray cats, spays or neuters them, and returns them to their home communities. This helps control the population of stray and feral cats. 

TNR caregivers feed and provide basic care for cats living outside. The more cats trapped and returned, the more food needed.

MEOW’s TNR program has helped 902 cats as of 2021 since their founding in 2000. 

Keeping pets at home is priority: David

Parachutes for Pets offers a variety of pet food supports. They have a pet food pantry, stuff-a-van events, and a pet food hamper program

Parachutes for Pets founder Melissa David said the organization has noticed an increase in demand for these services, especially for cats. 

Many spay and neuter programs were on hold for a couple of years. David said they have been seeing a lot more cats than normal.

“During each wave of COVID, our requests got higher and higher. And we thought we would see a decrease when COVID was turning into an endemic and unfortunately, there’s been so many other issues out there now with the rising cost of utilities and food and fuel, that people are just having a hard time getting their basic necessities,” David said, noting that requests have been through the roof.

David said Parachutes for Pets helps a lot of senior and homeless populations in the city. The number of homeless clients goes up every day, she said.

“I can [say] we’ve had 11 emergency hamper requests just since eight o’clock this morning,” David said.

She said the team is working around the clock to fulfill these needs. 

David said there aren’t a lot of programs that help owned pets. A lot of supports require a person to give up their pet, and Parachutes for Pets wants to keep pets with their family.

“Some people only have their pets to keep them company, so now you’re coming out of [the pandemic] and [prices] are going up, and they’re faced with the possibility of having to give up a pet because they can’t afford to get their food this week. Or they may not be able to pay their electric bill if they do get their food,” she said.

“We just don’t want people having to make those decisions.”