Starting a Pet Food Pantry

Reader Contribution by Staff
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The call came just as I was setting the table for Sunday dinner. Her voice is occasionally wiped out by the sound of a car roaring by. “Help me! I’m standing in the middle of Highway 19 trying to catch a starving German Shepherd and her puppy. Can I bring them to you? A friend gave me your number and said you would take them.”

I continue setting plates on the table and talk to the phone cradled in my shoulder, explaining once again that I can’t take the dogs and there is nothing humane to do with them if she catches them. Our county has no public shelter and surrounding counties will not take Pike County dogs.  (See background story Weaving a Grassroots Safety Net for Homeless Animals.)

“There’s no way I can afford to keep them! The mama dog is so poor she probably doesn’t weigh 30 pounds. ” The caller’s wail is so loud I have to remove the phone for a moment and wait for a break to ask my all-important question.

“If I can get food, emergency medical care and spay/neuter services for them can you keep them safe until you find them a new home?” The stunned silence tells me all I need to know. She goes back to trying to get the dogs off the highway, and I send an email to Charity Hurt of Coco’s Cupboard before sitting down to dinner. By the time we finish eating, the dogs are safely at the caller’s home and Charity has sent me an email saying a bag of dog food is being delivered to her. This incident ends with the Good Samaritan keeping the mama dog because Coco’s can cover the start-up costs and spaying. The pup is taken by a friend of the Good Samaritan who doesn’t even need help from Coco’s to cover the costs of his new pet. We’ve proved once again that compassionate people working together can make a difference without over-taxing any one person’s resources.

Charity started Coco’s Cupboard in honor of a faithful spaniel mix she rescued from another highway in our county.  For days after her elderly owner was struck and killed by a car, the little dog continued to pace the busy road. During the rescue, Charity discovered Coco also had a litter of pups. With the help of friends and CARE, Inc, Charity had the entire dog family desexed before adopting out the pups and taking Coco into her own family. With nothing more than word of mouth to gather donations, Charity began providing pet food and other supplies to low-income pet owners as well as compassionate people who rescue pets from the highway.

From that humble beginning in the autumn of 2010, Coco’s has grown into a lean, fast-acting, non-profit with official 501(c)3 status. Coco’s Cupboard Facebook site has become the clearing house for posting photos of lost, found, or abandoned pets in Pike County, GA. Readers follow the often dramatic events that come from some of the postings. Not all of them end happily, but they all reinforce the importance of what we are doing.

For example this morning Charity wrote on Coco’s Facebook site:

“Tonight I took a dog to be euthanized. Not one of my own dogs, but a sweet, old girl abandoned at a foreclosed property. She was discovered by my friend Paula who fostered her and made her last few weeks comfortable and reaffirming. You see, Holly, as Paula called her since she was found in Hollonville, used to be someone’s family pet. In the rubble inside of the abandoned home the cleaning crew found pictures of Holly riding shotgun in a pickup truck with her former owner by her side, nose in the breeze, not a care in the world. For whatever reason when this family left the property they left poor Holly behind too. Holly needed to be reminded that she was still just as loveable and still a good dog, that it wasn’t her fault she had been abandoned, and that is what the Nalley family did.

After two trips to the vet Holly was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Dr. Korb thought maybe she had a year left in her, but she didn’t have quite that much time. Over the holidays Holly’s facial swelling increased to a point that it was making her very uncomfortable and hard for her to eat. Holly told Paula with a shake of the head and a look of weariness that it was time for her to go.

Because Coco’s Cupboard was sponsoring vetting, Paula called me and I went and picked Holly up, and took her one last time to the vet. She knew. She got out of the car at the vet’s office and sniffed every leaf on every shrub and every blade of grass. It was if she wanted to take it all in one last time before she went on to the next journey.

It was over so quickly, from the moment the needle was placed under her skin to the moment she left was just a matter of seconds. It was so peaceful. I was so struck by the grace of that death, the ending of that suffering, and the ease with which it was brought about. I can’t believe anyone could ever abandon a friend the way they did Holly, but I am so thankful to have been a part of her rescue and to have been a witness to the kindness shown by the people she came in contact with. Many people donated money for her vetting, the Nalley’s gave her the love and comfort of a family, and the doctors that saw her treated her with gentleness and dignity. What a blessing that senior stray turned out to be.”

 I asked Charity to share with Mother Earth readers some of the things she has learned through starting Coco’s Cupboard: 

  • If you feel compelled to do something, DO IT! Don’t let fear or inexperience stop you. 
  • Keep an open mind and an open heart, YOU WILL LEARN AS YOU GO! 
  •  Employ a document prep company (we used Legalzoom) to prepare your necessary paperwork like the billion-page 501 (c) (3) application. They are expensive, but well worth the money. 
  • Be prepared for disagreement. Whenever a group of passionate/compassionate people work together there is bound to be disagreement. Remember that compromise is the key and that, “this too shall pass.” Don’t harbor bad feelings or resentments, and always have at least 5 members on your board of directors so that votes don’t stalemate.
  • Never be too proud to beg! This work is expensive and requires funding, you will have to stick your neck out and ask for donations.
  •  Always say thank you…and mean it!
  •  Pray. It doesn’t matter what you call your higher power, just ask him/her/it for help. You will need it. If you don’t have a particular faith you need to at least have someone that believes in you that you can turn to for pep talks and whose shoulder you can cry on.
  •  Be prepared to say “no”, especially if you are dealing with someone that has hoarding tendencies. You could continue to give 10 bags of food a week to the person with 30 cats, or you could distribute those 10 bags to 10 separate households that just need temporary help through a tough week. It is a very hard call to make, but sometimes you have to ask yourself if you are helping or enabling.

If you would like to help with our effort, mail tax deductible donations to Coco’s Cupboard, 420 Thomaston Street, Zebulon, GA, 30295. I promise you will never receive anything but a thank you card, and your name will not be put on any lists except in our prayers.

Our adoptable dog of the week is Leita, an inspiring pup who has not let a vicious attack change her merry outlook on life.  Many other fine dogs are available from CARE, Inc.  Even though the dogs are rescued here in Georgia, because of the glut of unwanted pets in the area most of them are adopted through regular transports to families along the I-95 corridor through the Carolinas, VA, DE, MD and PA.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368