RSPCA Pet Food Bank Scheme Expands Across England to Help Struggling Pet Owners

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Decorated former soldier who is disabled and suffers from PTSD says the pet food bank has helped him and his beloved dogs

The RSPCA has today announced its successful Pet Food Bank Partnership is to be rolled out across England to ‘ensure no community goes without’ as the cost of living crisis continues to impact those struggling to feed themselves and their pets.

The animal welfare charity has provided a staggering 1.6 million pet meals since the scheme was introduced in 2020 as part of a major drive to do everything possible to help keep those facing financial hardship together with their pets.

Among those who have benefited from using the pet food bank scheme is decorated army veteran Mark Smith (55), of Warrington, Cheshire, (pictured) who said had been a huge support to feed his beloved Cavachon dogs Charlie (a therapy dog to help Mark) and Teddy and urged others to use the service.

Mark, who served in Northern Ireland as a gunner then in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia as a private security contractor, said: “I am in a wheelchair now after a number of incidents including breaking my back during an abseiling incident which have left me injured and I also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I have been hit by explosions in Afghanistan and as well as the physical injuries I experienced, serving my country has also had a heavy mental toll on me and I suffer after the experiences of seeing some of my army pals killed in action in Northern Ireland.

“So we got Charlie and he was my therapy dog and was a superstar.  If I had flashbacks he would jump on my shoulders and cry until I calmed down and it would bring me round and then we got Teddy as a companion for him.

“Both dogs, who are Cavachons, have benefitted from the food bank but sadly we lost Charlie a few months ago.”

Mark, pictured with wearing his grandad’s medals on his right and his own on the left, added: “I used to feel a bit of shame going to get free food but really it isn’t a place where you are judged, everyone is very supportive – and it helps us out and we are grateful for that. I would urge others who are struggling to seek this help and support to help their beloved pets.”

The Pet Food Bank Partnership was set up as a pilot scheme in Lancashire in December 2020 as a result of financial pressures during the pandemic.  It was so successful it expanded across the whole of the North of England and now supplies almost 140 foodbanks with meals and also issues veterinary vouchers to referred food bank clients to ensure pets can get any urgent care they need.

Now during 2024 – as the charity celebrates its 200th birthday – the number of established food banks is to expand across the rest of England  to help the growing number of pet owners in need of help. Already this year 15,400 dog meals and 27,270 cat meals have been provided to food bank users.

Three full time coordinators have been employed who will work with RSPCA branches, field officers, local charities and community groups to source more pet food supplies, offer support and  develop more focal points where the donated pet food can be made available.

The new staff will also liaise with pet food manufacturers and other donors who provide the food for free to ensure a constant supply to meet the increasing demand.

Alison Fletcher, RSPCA National Food Bank Coordinator (pictured), said: “Sadly our rescuers are often coming across people who are struggling to feed themselves and will actually go without food themselves so they can afford to feed their pets.

“We really don’t want anyone to be in this position and are doing all we can to help. Pets offer a major comfort to loving owners in challenging times and they shouldn’t feel forced to give them up – as they are members of the family – so we are providing what many users describe as a ‘lifeline’.

“Many pet owners who are struggling during the cost of living crisis have told us that their much-loved pets help them with their mental well-being so we are keen for them to retain ownership of their pets during these times of financial hardship.

“With the help of the public, we’ve been changing animals’ lives for two centuries, so it is really fitting that in our 200th birthday year we can announce this major expansion to ensure ‘no community goes without’.

“Our RSPCA inspectors, volunteers and branches will be working together to provide pet food directly to partner food banks that already reach those who need this help the most. And of course we couldn’t do it without the generous donations of food that we get. We also provide veterinary vouchers to food bank users to ensure pets can get any urgent care they need and events are also held  to offer them much-needed financial support with veterinary bills and pet welfare advice.”

The charity is currently running a Crowdfunder project to support the RSPCA’s Pet Food Bank project. The winner will receive two tickets to see the London West End musical Wicked.

A woman, aged 47, who regularly visits the Handsworth Food Bank in Sheffield told how she began using the service – including the Pet Food Bank, after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was unable to work and her husband later had to give up his job to care for her.

She said: “I was working part time but then I was diagnosed with a brian tumour so had to give up my job as I was struggling with mobility and was in a lot of pain. I have to have 39 botox injections in my head to help with the pain now as well as other medication and have oxygen.

“Things were getting worse and I had a stroke, became prone to fainting, so my husband had to give up his full time job to care for me.

“We went from a working couple doing ok to a couple really struggling to get by and as we have three dogs and two cats caring for them was so tough.

“There was no way I wanted to give up my pets – they keep me sane and I need that as it helps my mental wellbeing – so the RSPCA Pet Food Bank has really made a huge difference to us. We visit weekly to collect food for ourselves and our pets – it really is a huge lifeline and we are so grateful and not sure how we would cope without this help.”

These are not isolated examples and according to the charity’s Animal Kindness Index, 81% of pet owners say it is more expensive to look after their pets – and 23% of owners are worried about feeding their pets.

Almost four in ten (38%) pet owners had to take action, such as going without food, going to foodbanks or stopping visiting a vet, due to financial pressures and one in four (24%) said their pet had suffered as a result.

The charity believes rising costs are also leading to more people dumping or neglecting their pets. Last year, the RSPCA received a staggering 20,999 reports of abandoned animals – a three year high and is offering advice and information for anyone struggling to care for their pet on its website.

The RSPCA is marking its 200th birthday this year and has come a long way since 1824 – when founding members of the charity met in a coffee shop in London determined to change animals’ lives. They created the then SPCA sparking an animal welfare movement that spread around the world.

Now – to mark its landmark anniversary year – the RSPCA wants to inspire a one million strong movement for animals to “create a better world for every animal”.

To find out how you can join our million-strong movement for animals visit www.rspca.org.uk/200

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