September 26 marks Pet Hunger Awareness Day, something the Humane Society of Kitchener-Waterloo and Stratford-Perth (HSKWSP) knows a lot about.
The organization runs a Pet Pantry program, acting as a food bank for those who can't afford to feed their pets.
"Our Pet Pantry program has definitely seen an increase in usage over the last number of months," said Calla James, director of community engagement and outreach at the HSKWSP.
The program was initially started during the pandemic in collaboration with several other local organizations. However, as the world came out of the pandemic, the need was still there, so it was made a permanent program.
"We see people who are coming, not just for a short term feeding solution, which is what the program is intended to be, but we are seeing people who are needing longer term solutions because it's taking them longer to get back on their feet," said James.
The Humane Society works to keep pets in their homes, as they have realized there are many reasons pets get abandoned or surrendered to a shelter, including the inability to feed them.
"[Many] have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their pets," James said. "A lot of people think if you can't feed your pet, why do you have one? And that's just not the case because people will choose to feed their pets before they feed themselves."
James said by offering this program and taking care of their furry friend, it allows the owner to take care of themselves.
Through this program, they get left many kind messages from community members expressing how important this program is and how grateful they are it exists.
"Two weeks ago we saw over 60 people, over 20 of those were brand new to the Pet Pantry," said James. "So one third of clients that day were new and we fed over 160 pets."
The HSKWSP held a "Stuff the Truck" fundraiser at the Kitchener location, filling an entire van with pet food.
"That week, it was gone and we ran out of dog food," she said. "That's a huge indication for us that when we are seeing a full van load of food gone before we're even done one day of Pet Pantry."
James said it's likely for these trends to continue upwards, getting worse before it gets better. The Humane Society is on track for a 300 per cent increase in usage for the pantry this year compared to last. In 2022 alone, the organization provided food and supplies for over 2200 pets and helped 820 families.
If you're interested in donating to the HSKWSP, donation and volunteer options can be found on its website. Physical food donations will also be accepted.
For anyone wanting to help but is unable to get to one of the two locations, it also has an Amazon wish list, that will ship what is needed directly to its door.