Food donations help promote responsible pet ownership

ARLEE — Thanks to a generous donation, the Arlee Rehabilitation Center (ARC) is doing its…

ARLEE — Thanks to a generous donation, the Arlee Rehabilitation Center (ARC) is doing its part to keep local pets well fed this holiday season.

The center recently distributed more than 17,000 pounds of free pet food on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The food was made available due to a donation through Petsmart and Feeding America for the state of Montana.

ARC director Filip Panusz and his team set up five two-hour distribution windows at Kicking Horse Job Corps over a two-week span. The Flathead Food Bank in Kalispell was the sole drop-off point for the state, and the shipment was shared with North Valley Food Bank, Bigfork Food Bank and Havre Animal Shelter, among other locations.

“We burned through that food fast,” Panusz said.

ARC incorporated as a nonprofit in November 2019 and assembled a highly experienced board of educators, animal trainers, counselors and community members bent on helping youth of the Flathead Reservation develop emotional resilience and social skills to overcome difficulty and help them blossom as they grow.

ARC is focused on community solutions, and their website proudly displays their mission statement: “A sanctuary where animals heal people and people heal animals.”

“We look at things through a lens of trauma and economic hardship,” Panusz said. “We are an animal rescue organization that focuses on people instead of animals. You cannot help animals without helping people.”

In August the center held its first “Pawsitively Healing Camp” for 21 kids who had faced trauma, including one who had recently lost a parent to COVID-19.

Panusz said ARC also is promoting responsible pet ownership and working with the community to encourage having pets spayed or neutered.

“(The food distribution) is not a solution, it’s a Band-Aid,” he said. “Not only is it a Band-Aid, but in some cases could exacerbate the situation.”

He said cats in particular are prone to breeding faster when excessive food is readily available.

ARC worked in partnership with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to arrange a distribution location that would be accessible during lunch hours.

Panusz said Tom Clairmont and John Nice were instrumental in providing space at the old Kicking Horse facility, to ensure the food would be properly stored, and avoid any possibility of rain damage or attracting wildlife.

Panusz procured a moving truck from Enterprise in Missoula, which reduced the rental rate for the use of the project. He made two trips to Kalispell in one day to transport the pallets of pet food. Supplies ran out on the final day of distribution, and ARC has received calls inquiring after similar events in the future.

ARC will hold its inaugural fundraiser in February, with the aim of hosting two healing camps and three spay/neuter clinics next year, and continue their day-to-day animal rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Visit the Arlee Rehabilitation Center’s page on Facebook for information.