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Pet food drive Saturday in Salt Lake area

Donations will go to food banks for distribution to struggling animal owners

The kids cried when Megan Sellers told them the poodle they loved would have to go. She simply couldn't stretch the budget to cover Mitzee's dog food. Sellers thought if they were very, very careful they could still afford little Paco, a tiny, long-haired Chihuahua.

Sellers — a single mom to Abi, 5, and Haylee, 3 — is a student, working to become a paralegal and build a more financially secure future for her small family.

But the Bountiful mom is also part of a growing but not well known demographic in this recession: families who need help with food for pets so they don't have to take them to shelters.

Communities already had a homeless pet problem, says Ellen Gilmore, campaign specialist for Best Friends Animal Society. In the last year, the number of pets abandoned or relinquished has increased greatly, she says. So Best Friends teamed up with local Petcos to collect pet food to distribute through 29 Salt Lake-area food banks so families seeking food help themselves can also get something for their four-legged friends. The pet food can be taken to Petco locations throughout the Salt Lake Valley on Saturday. Best Friends staff and volunteers will collect it and distribute it to the food pantries.

"We get asked all the time," says Kathy Jones, assistant operations manager at the Bountiful Community Food Pantry. "We were fortunate to receive a pallet of dog food last week, and now it's almost gone."

Advocates with programs that serve people who are homeless have long noted that pets keep individuals somewhat grounded and provide their masters with protection and companionship. But the pet is also one of the top reasons that a homeless person may choose not to seek shelter, because the canine friend cannot go in.

Jones said human need has risen substantially over the past year. Her pantry hit an all-time high, and the number of people seeking food help has gone up about 50 percent compared with last year.

Steve Alder, deacon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, says when its food bank opens each Saturday, at least five or six people ask about cat food or dog food. And the number keeps growing.

"We are seeing a huge uptick in the number of people caught short in general," he says, "and the number with pets is growing along with it."

The church pantry, he says, gives out more than two tons of food a month, even though it's only open Saturdays.

Pet food drive

Donate unexpired, sealed pet food at Petco locations throughout the Salt Lake Valley on Saturday. It will be distributed to 29 food pantries to help families who are struggling financially so they can keep their pets.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com