Pet food pantry helps keep animal friends in the family during tough times

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Many pet owners view their pets as part of their family. They do everything they can to care for them, including feeding them their favorite food or buying them a new outfit. But, things can happen in life, and pet owners can be left unable to care for their beloved pets.

pp6.jpgFormer El Paso Humane Society volunteer, Josie Gonzalez, saw many pet owners who were forced to surrender their pets to the shelter because they could no longer afford to feed and care for them. Gonzalez thought of a new way to help keep pets at home with their families.

Ben’s Pet Pantry, named after Gonzalez’s oldest rescue dog Benajamin, opened at 550 N. Yarbrough Ste. 208 four years ago and is the first and only pet pantry serving El Paso and Las Cruces. The pet food comes from donations, but the site rental costs are paid for by Gonzalez and her husband, who works a full-time job.

Many people who go to the pet pantry for help have recently lost a job or gotten a divorce and can no longer afford to feed their pets, Gonzalez said.

Joscelyne Brondo, co-owner of a Brondo Sitters, a business that offers housesitting and petsitting believes that the concept of a food pantry for pets is necessary.

pp4.jpg“People don’t look at animals and think that they can feel, or hurt, or love, but for those that do see animals as companions that share the belief that their lives are just as important as ours, those will be the people that will take advantage of Ben’s Pet Pantry,” Brondo said.

In order for someone to receive food and services from the pantry, they must go through an extensive application process, including providing proof of income, as the pantry follows WIC guidelines. Although the pantry is very generous to those in need, it is not meant to be used as a permanent solution.

“We supplement the food for 6 to 8 weeks. We are here to supplement what you should already be providing for your pet. There are sacrifices to owning a pet, whether you’re low-income, middle-class, or high-income,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said that when the pantry is well-stocked, she gives away small bags of dog food to the homeless she sees with pets. “We always carry small bags of dog food with us. If we see someone with a pet, we’ll stop and we’ll give them a bag, and then ask them if we can come back in a couple of days to drop off another bag,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez also provides food to small animal rescues that are located in remote areas, like the K9 and Feline Rescue of Tularosa, located in New Mexico.

pp5.jpgWhile the pantry mainly runs off of donations from individuals, it also receives support from area businesses. El Paso Electric Company recently had a food drive for the pantry, and a Northeast Wal-Mart location has often donated damaged bags of pet food, toys, and beds.

“We are really grateful. Without them, there have been times when we have relied on that donation to carry us through the next week,” Gonzalez said.

The biggest struggle for Ben’s Pet Pantry comes in the way of receiving enough monetary donations. The pantry is left looking for ways to pay back the veterinarians that provide their customers with spay and neutering, vaccination, and microchipping services.

“We are always trying to play catch up with our vet bills. At the end of the month we have anywhere between 500 and 1,000 dollars in vet bills that we need to cover. That leaves our board of directors scrambling to come up with the funds because we need the vets to provide their services,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez hopes that she will be able to open a second location of Ben’s Pet Pantry in the future.

“We would love to open up another location, especially in the Northeast because we get a lot of people from that side of town. A lot of the people who come to us for help don’t have the transportation to get to us,” Gonzalez said.

Ben’s Pet Pantry, 550 N. Yarbrough Ste. 208, is open Tuesday throughThursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the first and third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.. The pantry can also be contacted by visiting the website at http://benspetpantry.weebly.com/ or by calling (915) 401-6515.

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