There's help available for needed pet supplies

Help Affording My Pet Supplies

by Eric Mohrman


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When efforts to stretch your dollar further become less a lifestyle choice and more a survival necessity, things can get scary. This holds especially true if your responsibilities include caring for pets. Companion animals are part of the family, but what happens when you can no longer afford to feed them or purchase the basic supplies they require?

As the New York Times reported, "Animal shelters have reported a steep rise in the number of cats and dogs being surrendered as owners face unemployment, home foreclosures, evictions, and other financial hardships." Nobody likes being forced to think about the unthinkable. Fortunately, opportunities to find assistance with pet care have increased along with the need.

The relatively new Pet Food Stamps program is one key source of aid, offering free pet food to low-income households. This is a nonprofit organization, not a part of any federal or state government program. Once approved for the program, you won't receive any money, vouchers, or other redeemable items; instead, you order food online through PetFlow.com. The food is promptly shipped right to your door, gratis. If you're a US citizen and are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or live near or below the poverty line, you're welcome to apply and will probably qualify for assistance. Learn more by visiting PetFoodStamps.org.

Look to local charities and groups that help people facing difficult financial times, too. Many food banks, animal welfare associations, churches and other religious organizations, social service agencies, and other bodies collect pet food, litter, and other supplies for distribution to those in need, or can at least point you in the right direction for finding aid. Ask your veterinarian, groomer, trainer, and pet store manager if they know of any sources for free or discounted items in your area. While you're at it, ask your veterinarian if he or she offers a sliding scale for payments and about getting free samples of medication your pet takes.

The Humane Society of the United States has diligently compiled an extensive list of places and organizations offering help to those struggling to feed and care for their pets. On its website, it links to numerous national and state-based groups. Head over to HumaneSociety.org or just do a Google search for "trouble affording pet" to get to the appropriate page. A quick search on the site also turns up resources for free and low-cost spaying and neutering services, as well.

If you haven't already joined the Freecycle Network, now's the time. People give away and receive free items in an effort to recycle and reuse perfectly functional goods rather than toss them onto the landfill. Hand in hand with the ecological benefits, people get things for free. It's worth keeping an eye out for pet food, litter, crates, toys, and other supply offers. Don't forget to also search your local Craigslist ads for free or cheap pet food and supplies.

There's no reason to limit yourself to what's local, either. Take a few minutes once or twice per week to search the web for "free pet food," "pet food samples," "free pet supplies," and similar phrases. Manufacturers frequently give away samples of their products as part of marketing campaigns, especially when introducing a new flavor or other new offering. These promotions are great opportunities to acquire some high-quality goods without spending a cent.

The Petco Foundation provides another useful resource if you're trying to find places to get free pet food. Petco collects pet food donations at its stores and distributes them to various groups in all 50 states. Visit Petco.com or simply Google "Petco food banks." On this page, Petco publishes a state-by-state list of all the organizations to which it gives the collected food. Find the one nearest you and get in touch.

Additionally, look for opportunities to barter for pet food and supplies rather than purchase them. People in your area may be willing to compensate you for pet-sitting, dog-walking, grooming, taking their animal to the vet, or other assistance with the items you need to keep your own pets happy and healthy. Ask the proprietors of local pet-related businesses if you can put up flyers advertising your services on the premises.

It's certainly painful to consider the prospect of giving up a beloved cat, dog, or other pet. When things get tough, it may look like an inevitability, but hang in there. With some information and persistence, you should be able to secure enough help with affording your pet.

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