By Jason Barczy
More and more pet owners in Queens are facing the difficult challenge of feeding and taking care of their furry loved ones during tough economic times.
Faced with average annual costs of more than $800 for owning a dog or a cat, according to Business Week. Owners are dropping off pets at overcrowded animal shelters and in some cases just abandoning them on the street.
However, one local food pantry in Richmond Hill is fighting to help pet owners alleviate some of the costs of owning a pet and prevent owners from abandoning their four-legged friends.
Elohim Community Development, at 87-47 111th Street in Richmond Hill, primarily provides food for hungry, low-income people. In response to an overwhelming need, it started offering food for dogs and cats a little over a year ago.
“When we started the program we had 12 or 13 seniors we were supplying and then the word got out,” said Anthony Miranda, executive director of ECD. “Soon it was phone call after phone call. There was a tremendous need.”
ECD, in its 11th year of existence, now feeds 75 to 90 cats and dogs on an average day as many of the pet owners who come to the pantry are senior citizens living on a fixed income.
Miranda said giving up pets due to economic constraints is a tragic occurrence and pet owners should look into any possible assistance first.
“When I was a kid all you had to do was call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and they would come pick your pet up,” Miranda said. “Now they don’t do that.”
ECD is open Thursday, Friday and Sunday and supplies food on an emergency basis through a 24/7 hotline. It is one of the largest multi-service food pantries in Queens.
The pantry relies solely on donations from companies, organizations and individuals to contribute much of the food it provides. More than 30 volunteers help out with its efforts.
But with many people and companies struggling in this economic climate, the pantry is seeing a decrease in monetary donations and volunteers, affecting its ability to provide food.
The Animal Relief Fund provides ECD with much of its pet food and delivers pet food to 61 pantries across New York City including 16 in Queens.
ARF is a non-profit corporation founded by New York attorney Susan Kaufman to help pet owners who are experiencing financial difficulties. It partners with the Food Bank For New York City and is supported by 20 pet stores and eight PETCO stores citywide.
“When the economic crisis hit New York I realized just how many people were unemployed and forced to make a choice between feeding themselves or their pets,” Kaufman
said. “I read about increased abandonment of pets and I made some phone calls and realized pet food wasn’t being distributed by anybody.”
In her second year of operation, Kaufman estimates she has distributed 300,000 to 350,000 pounds of pet food.
Anyone wanting to make a donation to ARF can send a check or money order to ARF Inc. at P.O. Box 1530 New York, NY 10028 or by email to email@example.com.
A donation of $25 can buy two cases of cat food and $50 will pay for three cases of dog food. A $75 contribution will provide 120 pounds of dry dog food and $100 can buy 120 pounds of dry cat food.
Donors can make financial contributions to the ECD through PayPal by going to elohimfoodpantry.org. To sponsor a canned food drive, they can call 917-418-7906 or e-mail ElohimCDC@aol.com.
Mitchell Epstein contributed to this story