During one summer in college, I interned at an interfaith organization that provided a food pantry in a Portland neighborhood. For my entire life, my family never struggled with getting food on the table. We weren’t the richest of the rich but we were still comfortably middle class and always had food. So to work in a food pantry for a summer brought the plight of struggling for food right to my door. It was then that I also learned just how much food is thrown away and how difficult it can be to make ends meet for many who live below the poverty line.

It can also be just as difficult to provide food for pets while living in poverty. There are currently millions of people within the United States that live at or below the poverty line and some of those folks also have pets. At the moment, programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) don’t allow for folks to use their benefits to buy pet food. SNAP can only be used for food meant for human consumption.

One answer is for folks that can’t afford to feed pets shouldn’t have them. But that’s an easy answer and one that doesn’t take into account that like many others, these pets often mean a whole lot to these families. There are so many people whose only family and companion are the animals in their lives, as the below video shows. Having such a meaningful relationship shouldn’t depend on income and it’s also an answer that seems to lack any sort of empathy.

It can also be easy to place the blame on growing dog/cat populations on those who haven’t spayed or neutered their pets or on those who don’t have a fully fenced in yard. But cultural and economic reasons could be prohibiting some from taking the time to do either of those things. Rather than placing blame, fining folks, or taking away beloved pets, we should be working to meet people where they’re at and helping to provide services they might not be able to afford.

There are many food banks and organizations that help to get pet food for those unable to regularly buy it. The Pongo Fund is based in Portland, Oregon and works to provide quality food and veterinary care for pets with families in need. In Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties of Washington state, Pasado’s Safe Haven also has a spay and neuter program to help limit the population of unwanted pets in the state and helps to provide pet food for those in need.

And there are other organizations that work on providing veterinary care, training classes, and other aspects of pet ownership. Making these parts of pet ownership more accessible to those living at or below poverty can make such a difference in lives of everyone involved. The Humane Society of the United States, for example, has a program called ‘Pets for Life’ that provides these kinds of services to underserved communities around the US.

There are organizations around the country that help to build or mend fences, so dogs have a safe place to play and don’t end up roaming the streets or chained up. Beyond Fences is one such organization and is based in North Carolina. In addition to helping pets and people in their community with a variety of services, this organization also has resources for folks to start a similar program/organization in their community.

Beyond Fences actually inspired folks in Portland, Oregon to start another organization called ‘Fences for Fido’. This organization works in northwest/central Oregon and southwest Washington to provide proper fences for dogs. Both of these organizations have helped so many people who wouldn’t have otherwise had a fenced in yard for their dog!

My own life has benefited tremendously from having animals. Rooster has made my life significantly better and I want everyone who wants a pet to be able to provide the best kind of life for them. Finding ways to meet people where they’re at economically and culturally could make an incredible difference in how pets are cared for across the board.

If you are able to help in anyway, many of the aforementioned organizations (Fences for Fido, Beyond Fences, Pasado’s Safe Haven, the Pets for Life program of the Humane Society of the United States) could always use help in any form. There are other organizations that work to help work to help folks with their pets (i.e. local shelters/rescue groups, food banks, etc) that could also use help! And there are so many ways to help change these problems. You could help build fences, give rides to the vet for people who don’t have reliable transportation, donate money/food, and so much more.

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