Pet families know that sharing their home with an animal is not cheap.
There's food, yes, but also vaccinations, flea and heart worm preventives, other medications and supplements, and collars and leashes.
I remember a relative of mine telling me one time that their family's dogs were not on heart worm preventive because "it's either that or they eat."
Sorry but, no, it's not. Responsible families provide the essentials that must always come first for the health and well-being of their pets.
You should not have to choose between feeding your pet and caring for its other needs.
That's why I was glad to learn about a new, donation-based program called Pet Food Stamps.
A friend sent me the link to Petside.com, where I learned how low-income families and government food stamp recipients can get help feeding their animals.
The website says that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 47 million people use the federal food stamp program. But government food stamps won't pay for pet food or supplies, so here's where Pet Food Stamps can help.
PFS is a donation-based program that can help verified and low-income families and food stamp recipients buy pet food. It's based in New York, but is open to anyone living in the United States.
To apply, people use an online application on the PetFoodStamps.org website. The application can be filled out online or printed and mailed to the organization at the address on the website.
Once they are verified and approved, the PFS staff places a pet-food order with PetFlow.com, an independent retailer, according to how much was approved on the application and the pet's needs for six months. The program relies on donations, which can be made on PFS's Secure Website.
I can see where this would be especially helpful for people living in remote areas who don't have a lot of choices about where to shop for pet food.
Locally, pet families can get assistance in person if they need help feeding their animals.
The Humane Society of Manatee County has a pet food pantry that can help provide food for up to three months. It relies on donations, too, and averages 2,000 pounds a month, according to community outreach coordinator Hildy Russell.
People have to apply in person at the Humane Society, 2515 14th St. W., Bradenton, and the society asks that the pets be spayed or neutered. HSMC has a low-cost spay or neuter clinic that uses grants to help, so if the pets aren't already spayed or neutered, the program makes it affordable to do so. Cost varies according to the pet's weight. You can get more information at 941-747-8808.
Meals on Wheels provides pet food for their clients according to their ability to pay. It also relies on donations, so if you can help this organization, call 941-747-4655 and speak to Kristen Thiessen.
Manatee County Animal Services can help with pet food, too. "We offer assistance with pet food, basically to help the people retain their pet, if food is an issue," according to Animal Services Chief Kris Weiskopf. "Normally, this would be a one-time deal to help someone through for a short period of time."
For more information about this program or to help with donations, call Animal Services at 941-742-5933.
All these programs, along with local rescue groups and animal welfare organizations such as Animal Network, rely on donations of cat and dog food to help pet families in need. And a lot of the donations come from two very special people, who deserve a big paws up for their efforts to help feed animals.
A helping tradition
Every year in December, Bill and Debbie Capobianco of Bradenton throw a Christmas party. But this isn't your average party, it's a "food-raising" party.
In 2001, the Capobiancos decided they had enough "stuff" and asked guests to their annual get-together to bring pet food instead of food or gifts.
Debbie Capobianco said that the first year, they collected 300 pounds of food. "Every year it grew and grew," Debbie told me.
So much so that Debbie said last year they collected between 13,000 and 14,000 pounds of food. That's nearly seven tons of kibble.
And that followed the 2011 party, when more than 300 people attended and the collection totaled nearly 19,000 pounds of food, nine and a half tons; and the 2010 party, when they collected 12,000 pounds.
Debbie said that year they had a lot of corporate sponsors, so you can see how the donations add up when everyone gets involved.
All told, just in the past three years, the family has collected 34,000 pounds of food -- 17 tons. Incredible.
In a letter to the Herald after that record-breaking 2011 party, the Capobiancos wrote:
"We throw this fundraiser each year to help our local shelters, rescues and foster, and all of the animal food will go to many local shelters where it is desperately needed.
"Thank you everyone. We all can make a difference, just one animal at a time."
We heartily agree.
M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 941-745-7054 and followed on Twitter @BradentonPets.