WINCHESTER — With many area residents temporarily out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some no longer have enough money to feed and care for their pets.
The SPCA of Winchester, Frederick and Clarke Counties has launched a new program, Pets for Life, so financially struggling families won’t have to part with their furry friends.
The program is the brainchild of SPCA Executive Director Lavenda Denney, who first proposed Pets for Life last year. A four-person committee chaired by Kristy Walker was formed to figure out how the SPCA’s pet food pantry could evolve into a full-fledged pet retention program that operates year-round.
“It will hopefully be funded by grants and give us the opportunity to have financial resources to help pets stay with their owners, instead of us having to find new homes for pets that are already loved by owners who have some sort of circumstance,” Denney said in February.
When the pandemic struck in mid-March, though, the economy tanked. It appeared the program’s launch would have to be put on hold, even as the need for it became greater than ever.
“As we got into the pandemic, we were getting a lot more calls from people who needed pet supplies, pet food, pet services because they’re now out of a job,” Walker said this week in a telephone interview.
In response, the Pets for Life committee doubled down in its efforts to bring the program to fruition. Even though money was scarce, Walker and fellow committee members Shari Thwing, Shelly Nerangis and Jennifer Gaylor took it upon themselves to deliver pet food to families in need.
“The committee also developed a Pets for Life protocol and applied for their first program grant, which came through the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley‘s COVID-19 relief fund,” Denney wrote in an email. “This $1,000 grant was awarded in support of the pet food pantry and for emergency veterinary assistance for families impacted by COVID-19.”
Committee members are still delivering food as needed on weekday afternoons, but more money is required for Pets for Life to continue. To address that need, a weeklong fundraising event begins on Sunday.
The Canine Quarantine Virtual Outdoor Challenge is a safe way for people to help the local SPCA while enjoying time with their pets. To participate, pet owners are asked to register online and make a donation of any amount they choose.
“Hopefully we’ll get some good donations,” Walker said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed and will be happy to get whatever we get.”
Starting Sunday and continuing through Saturday, challenge participants will take daily walks with their pets and keep track of their steps with the exercise app or device of their choice. Participants are also encouraged to post daily progress updates to social media using the hashtags #petsforlife, #caninequarantineoutdoorchallenge or #spcavirtualchallenge.
Walker said the Pets for Life committee did not set a fundraising goal, but she hopes the Canine Quarantine Virtual Outdoor Challenge will generate “a couple thousand dollars.”
Although the only prize is bragging rights, participants can award themselves with a limited-edition T-shirt that lets everyone know they supported the challenge. All proceeds from shirt sales will benefit Pets for Life.
“It’s good to know people will be able to keep their pets,” Walker said. “Hopefully we’ll do good next week. I’ve got my fingers crossed.”
For more information about Pets for Life and the Canine Quarantine Virtual Outdoor Challenge, visit winchesterspca.org.