Upper Valley Humane Society experiments with free pet-food pantry at Lebanon storefront

  • Kailey Thompson, of Canaan, middle, stopped in to the Upper Valley Humane Society's pet food pantry in Lebanon, N.H., with her sister Ari Thompson, also of Canaan, right, to get food for her two dogs and four cats Thursday, June 20, 2019. Volunteer Elaine Cady, left, gathers up foods that match the animals' current diets. The pantry opened up in mid-May for a three-month trial to assess the community's needs and test the service. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Upper Valley Humane Society Executive Director Nikki Ranieri closes up the organization's new food pantry in Lebanon, N.H., after its 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours Thursday, June 20, 2019. The pantry is currently open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in addition to the pantry at the Humane Society's home location in Enfield and its occasional mobile pet food pantries throughout the Upper Valley. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/23/2019 9:40:25 PM
Modified: 6/23/2019 9:40:23 PM

LEBANON — The first couple of weeks, more people were donating to the Upper Valley Humane Society’s new “pop-up” pet-food pantry than were walking out of the Hanover street storefront with bags of kibble, cans of Alpo and Fancy Feast, pouches of savory treats, and packages of fresh kitty litter.

Then word started circulating among Lebanon pet owners of limited means and transportation: Walk into the former Hirsch’s store on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and they’ll fill a small bag with enough supplies to hold your feline or canine companion for as long as …

“This might last her for about a month,” David Monmaney said of the cat food, including a bag of 9 Lives indoor-formula kibble, that volunteer Elaine Cady helped him choose from the pantry’s 5-foot-high set of shelves one afternoon last week. “She’s a tiny thing. She likes fish-flavored stuff the best.”

And while Monmaney, who lives in a nearby subsidized housing complex with the cat — whom he says he rescued from an abusive household several years ago — is getting by with disability and on wages from odd jobs, he expected this care package to make a difference.

“I wouldn’t have known they could help me,” he said. “Finally I was walking by and looked in on a day they were open, and here it is.”

How long it’s there depends in part on how many pet owners look in and avail themselves of the service between now and the end of July.

That’s when the humane society must decide whether to lease the space for a full year, which the agency’s executive director, Nikki Ranieri, estimated last week would cost “minimum $15,000 a year, between rent and internet service.

“Our goal right now is to learn what the community needs,” she said. “I’m very pleased with the traffic we’ve seen so far. The people and the pets really need our help. The numbers of people coming in keeps growing.”

By the middle of last week, humane society communications officer Marina Welch said at the store, close to 50 people had received food. Most had come in the previous two weeks.

On one particularly busy day recently, the pantry handed out some 40 pounds worth, including a brand of Vermont-made kibble that West Lebanon Feed & Supply provides to the shelter at cost.

“It was slow at first,” Welch acknowledged. “We were still getting the word out — hanging fliers at apartment complexes and at Advance Transit bus stops, working with agencies like (Listen Community Services) to send over some of their clients in need. Now we have days where we get as many as six people.”

The Lebanon pantry is the humane society’s latest experiment in distributing food to pet owners going through hard times. In 2015, it set up a pantry, with food donated from a variety of sources, at its shelter off Interstate 89 in Enfield, near the town line with Grantham.

“The people who got it were grateful,” Ranieri said, “but when they came in they were saying, ‘We had to carpool to get here, because we don’t have enough gas money.’ ”

That revelation prompted the humane society to send truckloads of donated food as “mobile pantries” out on weekly visits to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, and to people-food shelves and pantries in Plainfield, Canaan, Sunapee and Sharon.

“We look at these programs as a way to alleviate the suffering of the pet owners immediately, and then long term to help more animals,” Ranieri said. “If we can help keep families together, no matter how hard times are, we also are helping their pets.

“A majority of people who are bringing their animals to us and leaving them are doing so for financial or housing reasons. It’s often very difficult to find places to rent with an animal.”

If the Lebanon pantry stays open long term — “We are looking for funding now,” Ranieri said — the humane society foresees providing other services to pet owners in need, including vaccination clinics, advice on pet grooming and, potentially, spaying and neutering clinics.

“Pet care is expensive nowadays,” Welch said. “The more we can help people in the community keep their pets, the better it will be for everybody.”

To learn more about the Upper Valley Humane Society’s pet-food pantry in downtown Lebanon, visit uvhs.org or drop in at its storefront across Hanover Street from the Listen headquarters.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

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