Program aims to reduce surrenders with free pet food, care

Gretchen Biehl and Heidi Scott with Guilford County Animal Services load pet food into a van at the animal shelter in Greensboro, N.C., on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (Woody Marshall/News & Record via AP)

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Help is on the way for Guilford County residents struggling with the increasing costs of feeding and caring for their pets.

Guilford County Animal Services recently created the Mobile Pet Assistance Center to help reduce the number of dogs and cats that get surrendered because their owners can’t afford the food, according to Stephen Carlson, the department’s community engagement manager.

The need in Guilford County for this kind of assistance is enormous, Carlson said.

“No one plans for these skyrocketing prices,” Carlson said. “It’s really making it tough to make ends meet. We want pets and their owners to stay together. That’s important to us.”

Carlson said about 75% of the animals that are currently surrendered are attributed to financial hardships: evictions, not being able to afford food and not being able to afford apartment deposits and monthly fees for pets.

To receive MPAC assistance, pet owners do not have to provide any documentation to prove financial hardship.

“We do not ask questions. We do, however, restrict our assistance to four pets maximum per home,” Carlson said. “We tell people we are here to assist and support, but we are not here to fully feed all of their animals. We need to be able to help as many pet owners as possible, and stretch this food out.”

MPAC is a countywide expansion of Animal Services’ pantry program, which operates at 710 Huffine Mill Road in Greensboro and distributes food once a month.

Demand kept growing at the pantry.

“We also got calls from all over the county to see if we were going to set up in other areas. Many people simply couldn’t afford the gas to drive here,” Carlson said about the decision to go mobile.

The MPAC hopes to have one scheduled event during the week, and another on Saturdays, he said. Carlson said they are working with local parks and recreation departments, rural fire departments and other areas in the county to schedule distribution dates.

The MPAC team is distributing between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds of food and supplies each week, he said, in addition to providing several hundred vaccinations and microchip vouchers.

Volunteer Debbie Miller said she enjoys working with Carlson and the team to help people keep their pets healthy and safe.

“It can make a huge difference,” Miller said. “I remember a woman telling me ‘I can keep my animals now — I had nothing to feed them.'”

Miller credits Carlson with pursuing the program’s development. It is supported by donations from businesses and the community.

“Our largest donor is the online retailer Chewy. They send a tractor-trailer full of food and supplies when we need it,” Carlson said. “All Pets Considered donates food and supplies to us. They are a huge supporter of Guilford County Animal Services. The public is so generous too.”

Donations of unopened dog and cat food are accepted during business hours at the Resource Center, 980 Guilford College Road in Greensboro.

“If someone or a business has a large donation of food and supplies, we are happy to pick it up,” Carlson said. “We also accept leashes, collars, bowls and toys. And gently used (and clean) blankets and beds.”