For Struggling Pet Owners  

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Pet Pantry Aims to Fill a Need
By Mike Nolan

Jun 13, 2011

Orland Township Supervisor Paul O'Grady points out some of the items in the township's Pet Pantry in Orland Park, Illinois

On a door in a hallway at Orland Township's offices is a sign that reads "Crashy's Closet."

Inside are the ingredients township officials hope will help pet-owning families who are struggling to pay their bills.

Stocked with dog and cat food, the pet pantry is the township's response to a growing dilemma for pet owners who are having a hard enough time feeding themselves and their families, let alone a beloved dog or cat.

"We had heard some anecdotal stories about seniors on fixed incomes who were having to decide whether to feed themselves or their pets," Orland Township Supervisor Paul O'Grady said.

Township officials also had heard about shelters around the country being overwhelmed with pets whose owners, pinched by the recession, could no longer afford to keep them, he said.

"Let's try to keep the pets with the families," he said.

The pet pantry is something of an outgrowth of the township's food pantry, which today serves hundreds more people than before the recession began.

"But we had to start out small, to see if there was a demand (for the pet food)," O'Grady said.

"Crashy's Closet" got its name from an abused and abandoned cat O'Grady's wife, Debbie, found several years ago. It was found off Wolf Road, near a stable where the family also kept a horse that had been abused, Paul O'Grady said. The black cat didn't have eyes – the O'Gradys took it to a vet to have its eyelids sewn closed – and was given the name "Crash."

"He managed to find his way around," O'Grady said of the cat that lived with the family for seven years.

To fill the pet pantry, the township has appealed to residents and corporate donors for food and money. For example, schoolkids collected aluminum cans that were sold to a recycler, with the money supporting the pantry.

Stepping things up a notch was Kathy Passafiume, the township's clinical director of youth and family services.

She got in touch with major retailers and pet food companies, and recently scored a donation of 30,000 pounds of dog and cat food from Iams, packaged in 8-ounce bags, as well as a pallet of Fresh Step cat litter. Another pet food company, Natural Balance, also wants to become a regular contributor, O'Grady said.

The township hopes to be able to offer other pet items, including collars, leashes and food bowls, he said.

On Saturday, the township will hold its first "Pet-Palooza" to raise funds for, and awareness of, the pantry.

There will be vendors selling pet-related products and contests for pets, along with a pet parade. Pet-related vendors will have products for sale, and food and beverages will be available.

Like it has had to with the food pantry, the township has had to be tactful in getting the word out about the pet pantry, O'Grady said.

"It's hard to communicate, to get the word out," he said of advertising the pantry's offerings to the public. "Like the food pantry, we made a commitment that we don't want to embarrass anybody."
Copyright © 2011 – Sun-Times Media, LLC

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July 1, 2011 at 12:38 AM

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