Animal funds

Animal shelters and economic hardship

The grain-living pit bull mix was neglected, signified by its lack of fur. He suffered from skin allergies and desperately needed antibiotics. The owner, a gentle, quiet man known to staff as Mr. Conrad, was referred to the Lehigh Valley Animal Food Bank at its former location in Bethlehem by a local pantry. Due to financial difficulties and mental health issues, Mr. Conrad simply did not have the funds or the knowledge to help his pet.

The dog was examined with funds and donations from No Kill Lehigh Valley and brought to the Lehigh Valley Animal Food Bank to begin a proper diet.

Now, when Mr Conrad comes to the food bank’s monthly fundraiser at his new Emmaus location each month, he eagerly shows Chief Executive Amy Kocis a picture of the dog on his flip phone.

Kocis said that although the photo is often the same each month, over time she has noticed a huge difference in the health and well-being of the dog – in addition to that of Mr Conrad – since his arrival at the food bank.

Animal organizations across the country have recently struggled and had success providing shelter, offering veterinary care, finding homes, and raising funds to better care for animals in need.

According to national statistics, there is currently an animal shelter crisis, with over 100,000 dogs and cats in the United States awaiting adoption or at risk of being killed.

The Lehigh Valley faces similar issues, but a plethora of organizations help owners and their pets with financial aid and medical assistance in an effort to allow pets to live full lives.

The Lehigh Valley Animal Food Bank sits between a sprawl of warehouses and local businesses. The primary goal of the food bank is to keep animals out of shelters and in homes with their owners.

Inside, visitors are greeted by the office dog, a Shih Tzyour name is MoMo. Shelves and cabinets are stocked with food for dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, fish and more. A bulletin board is filled with postcards, Christmas cards and photos of animals the food bank has helped over the past few years.

The food bank holds bimonthly distribution days and serves over 200 clients each time. Kocis said the service lines often meander around the block. To register, customers must present proof of residence, proof of income and a certificate of sterilization and vaccination to receive an identity card. Customers then present their ID card and receive food and other necessary accessories for their pets.

“I think everyone deserves to be able to have a pet and sometimes it’s just out of people’s reach, whether it’s the food or the medical aspect,” Kocis said. “I don’t think the answer is to keep animals away from people.”

The Lehigh Valley Animal Food Bank office dog, a Shih Tzu named MoMo, poses in front of the storefront in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. The primary goal of the food bank is to keep animals out of shelters and home with their owners. (Courtesy of Lehigh Valley Animal Food Bank)

Food bank volunteer Ashley Schaffer was a client for two years. She said she attended giveaway days to feed her three dogs at the time.

“When I was a client, it was definitely a means of financial security in a sense,” Schaffer said. “It is known that for at least a week or two the animal will have food even if the owner is going through a difficult time.”

During the pandemic, Kocis said the Lehigh Valley Animal Food Bank has seen a 30% increase in customers. As they often rely on food donations from various vendors, due to nationwide labor and supply shortages, food donations have declined.

“I’m still networking every day trying to introduce ourselves to new people,” Kocis said. “Sometimes it’s just cold calls or cold emails and you never know what kind of connection you’re going to get.”

Animal organizations in the Lehigh Valley rely primarily on fundraising and donations to support their work and help animals and owners.

No Kill Lehigh Valley, a fundraising operation for shelters, founded in 2008 by director Diane Davison, provides $50,000 in donations annually to support veterinary care. Davison said only about 3% of his clients have health insurance for their pets due to high costs.

“The calls we’re getting are so heartbreaking,” Davison said. “People are so upset, often hysterical, because they have a sick animal and they go to an emergency clinic, but the costs are so high.”

No Kill Lehigh Valley provides financial support for cat neutering and neutering operations since the majority of animals killed in shelters are cats.

Davidson said they bridge the gap between what doctors charge and what people can afford.

Despite the needs, most welfare organizations have a small staff. Davison works from home. Kocis is the only paid person in his organization.

The Williams Township Animal Health and Welfare Center, however, has 20 staff and supports 230 active volunteers through significant fundraising and donations.

Kelly Bauer, the center’s executive director, said the organization offers low-cost vaccinations, supports a “meet your match” program for adoptions, and hosts a humane education program for students. It also offers Project Paw, a community outreach center in Easton where patrons can temporarily snuggle up with a resident cat while shopping at the center’s thrift store or drinking coffee at Betty’s Corner cafe. It also plans to open an emergency reception program.

Bauer said being homeless at a young age instilled in him the value of caring for others, especially animals.

“Animals are so good for our souls,” Bauer said. “Your financial situation, your state of mental health – none of those things should matter.”

Bauer said she found honesty and transparency to be the two most important things in building relationships with donors and other community organizations.

“When you connect with people, it’s not just about asking someone to send a check,” Bauer said. “All of our thank you notes are written by me.”

For anyone who is afraid to seek help, Kocis said no one should feel ashamed or worried. She said it gives visitors a sense of security and eases their anxiety knowing that these organizations are there to help.

Regardless of the different resources provided, each organization expressed a similar sentiment: animals are as much part of a family as anyone else.

Whether it’s the lady with $20 to her name who gets on the bus twice a month to get food for her fish from the food bank, or the husband and wife who took in a stray cat after his leg had to be amputated using funds from No Kill Lehigh Valley everyone has a story. For Bauer, it was a pit bull named Jackson, in danger of being fired or killed, whom she took in until he died of cancer.

“That dog was my kindred spirit,” Bauer said. “Animals make us better people. They teach us care. They teach us respect. They teach us responsibility. They teach us to make decisions. They teach us unconditional love.