CLINTON — While many are working to preserve the health and economics of man, women and child during the COVID-19 pandemic, local volunteers from Mohawk in Herkimer County are making sure no one forgets man's best friend.
Kristine Wilson, of Frankfort, and Julie Rotondo, of Clinton, owner of Beatty Bed and Breakfast, founded a pet food pantry, 4 Pet's Sake, located at the Mohawk Antiques Mall at 100 E. Main St., in 2013, after volunteer work with the Herkimer Humane Society revealed to them a large number of pet owners surrendering their pets because they couldn't afford to feed them any longer.
"We thought there's got to be a better way of keeping these animals out of the shelters," said Rotondo, secretary and treasurer of 4 Pet's Sake. "Initially, there were four of us who started the idea, and then later Christine and I co-founded the non-profit, and we've been in business for about six years now."
Wilson, president of 4 Pet's Sake, said they were working on the non-profit paperwork around October of 2012, and were fortunate to find a space sooner than they expected and for an exceptional price — free.
"Julie and I were out looking one day along the main streets of Herkimer, Frankfort and Mohawk, when Julie wanted to stop into Duofold Inc. at the Mohawk Valley Warehouse and while parked outside the Mohawk Antiques Mall, I noticed some 'office space for rent' signs and thought, ‘Let me inquire,’” Wilson said.
She said good luck must have been on her side because the out-of-town owner of the property was there by chance, and she had an opportunity to speak with him right away. Wilson explained their idea and after checking the ladies references, the property owner donated an office space. Wilson said the space so large, it accommodates dozens and dozens of dry dog food bags, racks for canned dog food and piles of plastic bins for what seems like endless rows of dry and canned cat food.
"He's a really nice man," Wilson smiled. "In fact, I'd go so far as to say he’s 'super-duper.’"
Wilson said through private and public monetary and food donations from sources such as the Walmart Distribution Center, Pet Supplies Plus and Family Dollar stores, plus the Compassion Coalition, who through their grocery store, Bargain Grocery, have partnered with other area non-profits to help them succeed and meet the needs of the community — they were able to get started.
Wilson said most of the lobbying for food was done through social media. Also, events and fund-raisers have helped support the pantry.
They also came up we another idea.
"We take in used toys," Rotondo said. "As well, we take in leashes and harnesses. We clean them and make them available to those in need."
They also take in coats and beds.
Moreover, they provide services many people might not expect. Rotondo said when they started talking to the pet owners, over time, they came to realize food, toys, leashes and beds were not going to be enough.
"Most of the people we spoke to, like 90 percent, had never taken their pet to a vet," Rotondo said. "Many pets were missing essential vaccinations, a lot needed to be fixed. Which is why we started a low-cost spay and neuter program."
Wilson said she lobbied area veterinarians through letters and phone calls and found them more than willing to help in order to take care of these fluffy family friends. To be considered for the service, neighbors need to fill out an application, present a small co-pay and be able to provide some proof of income. Wilson explained the program is for residents of Herkimer and Montgomery counties only. Oneida County low-cost spay and neuter is handled through the Steven Swan Humane Society of Utica.
"We're proud to say we've aided over 1,700 pets with our low-cost spay and neuter program," Wilson said. "We are so blessed to be partnering with several top-notch local veterinarians."
The services they provide assist approximately 300 families at this time. Which is why Wilson said they felt it was important they stay open during this public health crisis.
"Yes, we are still open," Wilson said. "Right now we're asking people to just pull up during our regular open hours and a masked and gloved volunteer will load the car with food for your pet."
Wilson said over the years they've had about 20 volunteers. However, a percentage of her regular people have opted not to work through the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she understands completely and has worked it out with her day job as a business analyst with Utica Mutual Insurance Co. in New Hartford, to staff the pantry herself, along with five others to keep the animals fed.
"This is the time when families need us the most," Wilson said. "I wouldn't think of closing now."
She reiterated that these are tough times now, and that community members should remember it's not always the fault of a pet owner when folks come to such circumstances.
"Look, what happens if you lose your job through no fault of your own, like right now?,” Wilson asked. "I mean, even if you take a lower paying job, or take two jobs, does that mean you have to give up your dog or cat, a source of comfort to you when you need it most? Not to mention, pets are family members in the first place — in some cases, perhaps the only family member a person has."
And even though Wilson said she's had many people who feel embarrassed taking assistance, she wishes people wouldn't be so hard on themselves. She said she's seen a rise in people who need assistance since the onset on COVID-19.
"Some people have said to me, 'If you can't take care of an animal you shouldn't have one,’” Wilson recalled. "But again, we don't know the circumstances of someone else's life. You can't judge, and there is no judgment. Our hope is to reduce the number of animals that are being surrendered or abandoned and keep them in the homes with the owners who love them."
The hours for free food pick-up are Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact 4 Pet's Sake on their website at http://www.4petsakefoodpantry.org/about-us.html, or on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/4petsake-Food-Pantry-Inc-530302980326436.
They ask if anyone needs assistance, to call 315-796-2584, leave a message and someone will return their call, usually within 48 hours. If food is needed immediately, let them know and they can make arrangements to meet with you.
Wilson also said the best way the public can help them, help those in need, is share posts on their Facebook page, share the page, get the word out and ask that others check out their website.
"If you have just a little money, keep it for food for yourselves,” Wilson and Rotondo said. "We have the food for your family's pet."