Pet owners who never experienced financial difficulties before are facing a tough decision during the COVID-19 pandemic: How are they going to feed their beloved companion?
Neighborhood Pets executive director Becca Britton says her organization has provided more than 2,500 Cleveland and East Cleveland pet owners with free pet food since March 2020.
They’ve joined the ranks of the approximately 4,000 financially strapped households the nonprofit was serving from its resource center before the pandemic hit.
The organization, which Britton founded in 2016, offers a wide range of free and low-cost services — everything from free spaying and neutering, and $5-$10 vaccinations to $7-or-less ear, eye and skin medications and $5 microchips. Vouchers are also available for veterinary care that can’t be delivered during weekly wellness clinics manned by volunteering veterinarians and vet techs.
Even the needs of Neighborhood Pets’ pre-pandemic clients only have increased over the last year. “We are giving out more food than we ever have before,” she says. “Our wellness clinics, we are so backed up. We’re booked out months.”
Neighborhood Pets’ importance can’t be underscored — in many cases the animals are literally what get their owners out of bed every morning. A good number of Britton’s clients live in isolation, with few family members to love and care for them. Some are homebound by age or physical challenges. Others have a mental illness, struggle with addiction or are diagnosed with depression.
“Pets provide unlimited love, compassion and companionship to their owner unconditionally,” she says. “I think that is huge for someone who’s struggling.”
To access Neighborhood Pets’ services, pet owners must provide proof of residency in Cleveland or East Cleveland and list whatever public assistance benefits they are receiving. If they are not receiving any such assistance, their income must be below 150% of the national poverty level.
“We don’t ask for proof of income — we take their word for it,” Britton says. “Coming to us for help is a big step.”