Standing beside the checkout desk at Smyrna's Cumberland Animal Clinic, a large metal trash can sits ready to be stuffed - not with trash, but with pet food, pet supplies, pet toys, flea meds, and more. Kim Nguyen, the front desk clerk, says, “We’re always surprised by the items we find donated.”
Cumberland’s clients, and walk-ins, drop their donated items off regularly, filling the bin completely about every two weeks. Cumberland, in addition, donates their ‘scratch and dent’ bags and cans of food.
But Cumberland Animal Clinic is just one, albeit the most prolific one, of the donors to a new non-profit organization called Pet Buddies. Two women, both veteran animal rescue workers, noted the rise in the number of animals being turned into Animal Control because their owners could no longer provide for them, and took it upon themselves to make a difference.
Heather Balance and Dee McGowan, founders, both work full time – full time day jobs; then full time, after the day jobs, managing the logistics of a fast growing, much needed, non-profit organization that provides food, medical and spay/neuter services to those struggling to keep their pets.
For some people, their animals are all they have. Heather tells how she was headed to meet her parents recently when she missed the exit she needed to get off at; continuing on she got off at the next exit. As Heather came down the ramp, she saw a homeless man on the side of the road with a dog. Without hesitation, she pulled over, got out, spoke with the man, and ultimately gave him a bag of dog food and a three month supply of Frontline (from the donation bin at Cumberland Animal Clinic).
The man told her he had taken in the dog and that caring for it has provided motivation for him to live. She looked the dog over and it appeared to be healthy and robust. To this man, his dog meant so much to him, that he was willing to put the animal’s care before his own.
While Heather was talking with the man, another driver stopped, got out, and gave him a bag of dog treats for his beloved pooch. Surely, this man thought angels had descended from heaven.
This incident, though unusual, reveals the dedication and love, Heather has for her fellow man and for her fellow man’s best friend. Most people that Pet Buddies helps come from referrals and direct contact with the organization via their email or their hotline (678.310.9858).
Cases in point: a family came to the Animal Control shelter to turn in their dog and two cats because they could no longer afford to feed them or buy cat litter. The shelter contacted Pet Buddies, who went immediately to the shelter and met up with the family. Food was provided. The dog was spayed. The family got back on their feet financially (within two months) and the crisis was averted.
A woman, who could not afford to feed her cats, was supplementing their diet with spaghetti. The woman contacted Pet Buddies and they continue to help her by providing food and medical assistance for all her cats on a month-to-month basis. The stories go on and on.
Pet Buddies does not judge anyone as to why they need assistance. But they expect recipients to be responsible, willing to volunteer with some type of animal welfare group (when possible), and to be in need of temporary assistance.
Pet Buddies places information about their services at Social Security offices, Senior Centers, Must Ministries, Papa’s Pantry, and the like. Pet Buddies donates an average of 1,500 pounds of food per month. 85-percent of their regular recipients are disabled. The only musts required to receive their services are:
- Recipient’s must pick-up food/supplies from the donation center (two locations)
- They must show identification
- They must fill out information requested
Pet Buddies, started in October 2010, is flying fast and hard. They need a constant stream of donations to continue at this pace – 100-percent of the donations go directly to the animals.
They have utilized fundraisers such as food drives and Girl Scout bake sales; but, Boy Scouts, churches, schools, clubs, groups of all sorts are welcomed to get creative and take up the cause.
If you have an interest in helping, bins are set up throughout the North Metro area for food and supply donations (Pet Buddies website lists all donation bin sites); volunteers are needed to man booths at events; families can be sponsored; non-pet supplies can be donated (large zip-lock bags, towels, gift cards, etc.) and pet food coupons can be clipped and mailed in to them.
Economic hardship does not play favorites and the least of society will bear the brunt of it. Pet Buddies has stepped up to try and ease the impact - their mission statement: “Helping to help keep pets in their homes and out of shelters.”