In the early 2000s, Whatcom Humane Society staff noticed a sad and disturbing trend. People were surrendering loved pets to the shelter because they could no longer afford to feed them. Community members voiced a need for pet food resources in our area that spurred the start of the food bank program, to help people keep adopted pets in their permanent homes.

The food bank started at the old Williamson Way and Baker Creek shelters, with any surplus or donated food being offered to people who had fallen on hard times. Soon the pet food bank became a formal service of the Whatcom Humane Society.

When the Whatcom Humane Society shelters consolidated into a new shelter building at 2172 Division Street in 2013, the food bank got a proper space of its own and services expanded to accommodate increased need in the community. 

With wider use came rules. Clients must sign up and can visit once per month. Depending on available donations, clients are supplied with up to 30 days’ worth of food for their animals. Services are meant to be temporary—clients are asked not to add animals to their household while they use the program, or to replace a pet that has died until they can care for it on their own. All animals in the client’s home must be spayed or neutered.

T-Mobile is just one local company that has held employee pet food drives. Photo courtesy Whatcom Humane Society

Operations Manager Danielle Smith says the bank was heavily used during the long federal government shutdown in 2013. “Anyone with a government ID could get food,” she says. Even under normal conditions, signing up for services is much easier than getting human food assistance. Recipients do not undergo means testing like they do for state-run food assistance program.

Many of the program’s steady donors are former recipients. “They’re extremely grateful for the help,” says Smith. “They want to give back and help others in the same situation.” Recipients often join the volunteer program, helping to care for animals at the shelter.

Author Kristin Noreen (right), a Whatcom Humane Society volunteer, poses with Executive Director Laura Clark (left) for a food bank appeal on social media. Photo credit: Kenn Rich

When the shelves are bare, the staff sends out appeals for help on social media. Volunteers boost the posts on their personal pages, and stock usually fills up quickly. Local companies often donate food for use at the shelter and for distribution to the public through the pet food bank. Scratch and Peck FeedsHealthy PetMud Bay and the Pet Stop are frequent donors. Pet food drives have been held by local companies like T-Mobile.

Bellingham and Whatcom County Food Banks also accept pet food donations, so the Whatcom Humane Society works with them to cross-refer clients; often one agency is better stocked than the other. 

The Whatcom Humane Society also takes pet food out to community resource centers in Kendall and on the Lummi Reservation. “The outlying rural areas have the greatest need, but they often don’t have access to transportation,” says Outreach/Volunteer Services Manager Carly Todhunter. The resource centers and shelter offer referrals to other resources, like low-cost spay-neuter assistance and veterinary care. 

Healthy Pet is a frequent donor of small animal supplies. Photo courtesy Whatcom Humane Society

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Whatcom Humane Society has worked with Meals On Wheels volunteers to distribute pet food with home meal deliveries for folks whose pets need it. 

If you need help, just come to the Whatcom Humane Society shelter at 2172 Division Street in the Irongate neighborhood. If you would like to donate to help your neighbors through hard times, please consider bringing food, cat litter, and small animal pet supplies. (Services are not limited to cats and dogs!)

Opened containers are accepted if the original packaging shows the expiration date; expired and prescription foods are not accepted. Check out the Whatcom Humane Society’s website for more information about this and other opportunities to help animals in need.

The pet food bank is an extension of the Whatcom Humane Society’s mission to find permanent, responsible and loving homes for the animals in their care. It’s better for everyone when animals can stay in their happy homes. 

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