Pet pantries, food banks see growing demand amid ‘difficult time’ for pet owners

Denise Angus has operated a pet rescue center and food bank for the last seven years, but she has never seen such a “remarkable increase in demand” for the services the center provides.

Angus, the founder of Mattie’s Place, says the need for help to feed pets has been soared in recent years. The center has gone from feeding 500 to 600 pets per month before the COVID-19 pandemic to about 1,200 per month.

“The need is so huge, I’ve never seen anything like it in all the years I’ve been doing this,” Angus told CBC Toronto.

“It’s a really difficult time for pantries and pet owners who need the extra help.”

Angus isn’t alone in noting the increased need among pet owners. The Toronto Humane Society and the Etobicoke Humane Society also note that the cost associated with pet ownership has gone up sharply, amid rising inflation and the growing cost of living.

Denise Angus, founder of Mattie's Place.
Denise Angus, the founder of Mattie’s Place, welcomed Tuesday’s announcement by the Montreal pet food company Wilder Harrier. (Submitted by Denise Angus.)

According to Montreal pet food company Wilder Harrier, the need for pet pantries has become acute in recent months.

While grocery prices have risen by about 10 per cent since the beginning of the year, those increases have been drastically outpaced by the price increases for pet food. The price of dog food alone, for example, has increased by an average of 45.5 per cent compared to 2020, three times higher than the typical increase of five per cent per year, the company said in a news release.

The prices have led nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) of pet owners to consider rehoming or giving up their pets to a shelter. Heartbreaking stories of people abandoning their pets in parks and other public spaces, with a note explaining they simply can’t afford to properly care for them any longer, are not uncommon, the company says.

Caitlin Benn, the company’s director of marketing, said Wilder Harrier has never increased the price of its dog food since launching in 2019 despite “significant market pressures.”

Company launches 4 new pet pantries in Toronto

On April 3, a dog named Max was found at Primrose Avenue Parkette in the Davenport neighborhood. Affixed to his collar was a handwritten note that described him as “good with kids,” “smart” and “a good boy.”

The person who penned the note said they had lost their job and apartment and could no longer support Max.

The Toronto Humane Society (THS) afterward found Max a new home.

Max was left in the Davenport area on Monday with a note saying the owner could no longer take care of him.
Max was left in the Davenport area on Monday with a note saying the owner could no longer take care of him. (Toronto Humane Society)

That need is why the Wilder Harrier announced four new dedicated pet pantries in Toronto — three at existing businesses and a fourth as a standalone location.

According to the company, participating businesses include Black Lab Brewing in Leslieville; Savory Grounds in the Upper Beach; and Tiny’s General Store in Seaton Village. The fourth pantry is located at 44 Follis Ave. in the Annex.

The company has pledged to fill each pet pantry for the next two months. However, they hope the program will expand into a citywide initiative, with communities stocking the pantries themselves to help combat the rising pet food costs.

“I’m thankful that the food company is doing the initiative because any marketing that we can have on pet food bank needs is important. I will take whatever is out there,” Angus said.

‘Programs like this can help reduce financial stress’

Sam Jones, division manager for public programs and services at THS, said the new initiative seems like a great one.

“These are challenging times with inflation and the rising costs of living impacting many areas of society — including pet owners,” Jones told CBC Toronto.

“Community programs like this can help reduce financial stress by providing the resources pet owners need to care for their beloved pets.”

Sam Jones, division manager, public programs and services at the Toronto Humane Society.
Sam Jones, division manager, public programs and services at the Toronto Humane Society says: ‘These are challenging times with inflation and the rising costs of living impacting many areas of society — including pet owners.’ (Submitted by Lucas Solowey)

He said the team at the humane society continues to see an increased demand for support services across the Greater Toronto Area.

“To date in 2023 alone, we have supported community pet owners with over 72,000 lbs of pet food, along with numerous carriers, crates and other pet accessories. The human-animal bond has such a positive effect on the lives of animals and their guardians , and community pet food banks can help keep animal companions and their guardians together,” Jones said.

Tori Gass, volunteer director of communications for the Etobicoke Humane Society, also welcomed Wilder Harrier’s launch of the pet pantries, saying the cost of pet ownership “has really gone up.”

But according to Gass, it’s not just the cost of pet food that’s rising.

“We have seen vet costs increase by approximately 25 per cent… over 2021,” she said.

“There have been more animals that have been just abandoned at our door and that’s quite concerning to us. We can definitely say that it’s a direct impact from inflation and from the pandemic … where everyone wanted a pet. And now we’re starting to see that people are not able to keep the pets that they have.”

Meanwhile, Angus says there are people who do not agree with the service pet pantries provide and argue that if a person can’t afford to buy food for their pet, they shouldn’t have one.

She said nobody wants to be financially disadvantaged and just because somebody might be, that doesn’t make them a bad pet parent.

“Often that pet is the link for their own mental health and the only company sometimes that they have,” she said.
“We should support pets and their people but we can keep them together, and that’s just really important.”

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