The most distressing moments I’ve had to witness in my life, moments that have always left me sobbing, have been when a person or family surrenders their dog to the shelter because they feel they’ve run out of options to care for them.  I’m not talking about the people who are moving, divorcing, or are having a baby.  I’m talking about the people who have lost their jobs or are being moved into a nursing home or who are dying and are forced to relinquish the one soul who has loved them the most.

The scene is emotionally debilitating because those of us who work with animals understand that love.  We also know that we, at any moment, could be that person.  At any moment we could lose our good health.  And, as many of us are facing now, our jobs and with them, our financial stability.

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And so the nightmare begins with a virus that has the potential to kill millions of people.  A virus that most likely passed from animals being tortured in gruesome live markets in China, to people.  A virus that is orphaning children, crippling economies, and will cause people to lose their homes.  A virus that will shatter the families we’ve created.

That’s what’s on my mind as I fly across the world before the doors close in Australia – my second home to America.  I’m wondering if someone on my flight is a carrier of the Coronavirus, and I’m thinking about what will become of my dogs if I die.

Much of it is beyond my control.  But a lot isn’t and I’m writing this in hopes of preventing unnecessary suffering during this crisis.

The truth is that just weeks into the nightmare caused by the virus, in an effort to keep it from advancing, businesses are being forced to shut down and people are losing their income.  That causes despair and veterinarians and animal shelters throughout the world are reporting that people are relinquishing their pets because they can’t afford to feed them.

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I’ve helped run animal shelters for over thirty years so I’m speaking to you with the voice of experience.  At this dangerous time I have a message I must impart.   You can keep your beloved companions and now – more than ever – you must try. My friend, Dr. Barbara Royal, DVM, of the Royal Treatment Veterinary Clinic in Chicago agrees and offers sound advice on how to feed your pets when you can’t afford traditional pet food.  “We’ve been told for a long time that feeding pets our leftovers it not safe, but it can be when done appropriately, and can also help decrease the cost of feeding a pet.” says Royal. “Dog owners can feed bland diets for a few weeks to get through difficult times.  They are carnivores, but also scavengers which means when times are hard, they can eat a variety of things to survive. Cats are obligate carnivores.  So if you are making food for them, make sure you have a balanced recipe.  It should be taking into account the need for Taurine, for many vitamins and minerals are only found in organ meats and the food should be high in protein and fat and low in carbs,” Royal added.

Dr. Annie Harvilicz, DVM, President of the Animal Wellness Foundation has established the Emergency Animal Relief Fund in response to the crisis.  “We are already seeing people surrendering their pets and it’s heartbreaking.  Our goal is to help people keep their companions with them during – what we all hope will be, a temporary financial crisis.”  Donations are welcome.

There have been many a times when I have left a late-night board meeting at the Dogs’ Refuge Home long after the dogs have been put to bed.  The sounds of dog’s crying – alone, afraid, and wondering why they’ve been separated from the person they love remains with me like an image you can’t un-see.  What’s worse is when you know there’s a person who feels the same way. Let’s come together during this frightening time to keep our companions with us and the pets of our neighbors with them.  We can choose to be disabled by what’s happening or we can turn the compassion we’re feeling for others, into action.  And if there’s one thing this deadly virus has shown us, there’s only one thing that matters – the ones we love.

Tips to keep your pet healthy and with you:

1. Prepare homemade pet food

Home dog and cat food can be less costly than commercial brands and is fun to make, especially if you have the time that quarantine allows. Veterinarians warn it’s difficult to create the perfect nutritional balance when home-cooking but if it’s temporary, try out recipes from the Internet and remember never to add foods that are poisonous to animals.  Some of the foods toxic to both dogs and cats include but are not limited to;  chocolate, coffee, caffeine, any food products containing xylitol, onions, chives, garlics, leeks, alcohol, grapes, raisins, sultanas, currants, hops, and macadamia nuts.

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2. Seek temporary help from friends and family

Everyone who knows you knows how much you love your companion. Now is not the time to be embarrassed or ashamed because a global disaster has put you in a position where you’re temporarily unable to meet ends meet.  The most important thing now is to keep your family together.  Ask for assistance from those who know and love you.

3. Collect food from a pet food pantry and/or food bank

Most people are unaware that local food pantries that provide assistance to members of their community also have food available for pets. Google the name of your town or the largest town near you, along with the words “pet” “food” “bank” and “pantry” and you will be directed to a nearby source of relief.

4. Accept food assistance from places of worship

Most churches, synagogues, and mosques have food assistance programs and/or give food vouchers to use at grocery stores. Charities are built on giving to others when they need it most.  Please know that volunteers like to help.  It makes them happy.  Google “church” “food” “assistance” and you will be directed to emergency food assistance for you and your pet.

5. Request assistance from your local animal shelter

Many people aren’t aware that shelters often have extra food and or a pet food pantry on site. The volunteers and staff there are also a great source of suggestions to help you keep your companion with you.  Don’t hesitate to ask.  Everyone who works in rescue has a shared goal;  to keep people who love their pets and pets who love their people, together.

6. Take long walks with your dog

While a third of the world’s population is in lockdown, most governments are permitting us to get groceries, go to the pharmacy, and to walk our dogs. Enjoy the physical health being afforded to those with pets and the mental health we all receive when being with those who offer us unconditional love.

This post is written by Jennifer Skiff, author of The Divinity of Dogs and Rescuing Ladybugs. She is a Trustee of the Dogs’ Refuge Home and is the Director of International Programs for the Animal Wellness Foundation and the Center for a Humane Economy.

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