Margie Varela, founder and president of the Street Dawg Crew of Utah, said she can relate to pet owners she sees living on the street.
“I could have been there,” she said as she took a break from passing out pet food and colorful dog toys to homeless people and their furry friends on a recent Sunday in Pioneer Park.
Even when she was on the brink of becoming homeless, Varela refused to give up her dogs. “My sister helped me pay to get my house caught up, and I got a job, and look what I’m doing now,” she said.
She started her outreach in 2017, providing zip-close bags of pet food to homeless pet owners in the Ballpark neighborhood, where she worked. Now, she can be seen in Pioneer Park with her Street Dawg Crew every other Sunday, giving out food, leashes and other crucial supplies with volunteers.
On Halloween at the park, Raychelle Cotter said the Street Dawg Crew has helped her a lot, not just with dog food but also with accessing affordable shots and neutering services for her 7-year-old gregarious Chihuahua named Duke — an emotional support dog, as indicated by a black vest he wore.
Varela said her organization has been busier than ever since the pandemic began, distributing about 3,500 pounds of pet food each month — either in the park or from Varela’s front porch, where cash-strapped individuals and families can pick up their orders, she said.
Best Friends Animal Society also saw an increase in people requesting food from its pet food pantry in 2020, when the organization got an average of 156 orders a month. That average has since dropped to about 120 orders a month, but Ashley Murphey, senior shelter partnerships coordinator for the organization, said pet owners continue to rely on the resource.
The pet food pantry has been “really helpful for those that aren’t working, that maybe aren’t traditionally low-income, but they are in a bind,” she said.
If you need help feeding your dog or cat, several Utah organizations offer pet food to low-income animal owners.
Best Friends’ pet food pantry is located at its Lifesaving Center in Sugar House, at 2005 S. 1100 East in Salt Lake City. Food is offered only on a temporary or emergency basis, but owners typically receive enough food to last their pet an entire month. You’ll need to fill out an online form every time you need to request pet food. Orders can be picked up at the Sugar House facility by appointment.
Nuzzles & Co. holds pop-up pet food pantries in grocery store parking lots across the Salt Lake Valley for pet owners experiencing hardship. View this Park City-based nonprofit’s event schedule on Facebook. Summit County residents can pick up pet food at the Nuzzles & Co. Rescue Ranch, at 6466 N. High View Road in Peoa, seven days a week.
West Valley City Animal Services started Operation Pet Supply Drop to help pet owners who were furloughed or laid off due to COVID-19, and it’s still available as long as you’re a resident of West Valley City or Taylorsville. To request food, you’ll need to fill out an online form, and your order will be dropped off on your porch.
Hildegarde’s Food Pantry at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark, 231 E. 200 South in Salt Lake City, offers pet food along with its regular selection of human food, whenever they have it in stock. You don’t need to be a member of the Episcopal Church to request food, but you’ll need to bring ID. The pantry is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Spay/neuter services or vaccinations
Salt Lake County Animal Services offers free bimonthly spaying and neutering services, which include vaccinations and a microchip. Pre-registration is required; spots open a week in advance and fill up quickly. Follow Salt Lake County Animal Services on Facebook to view upcoming events; the registration link will be posted under each event.
At the time of service, owners will be required to license their pets, which costs $15 or $5 (for seniors 60 years or older). To qualify for these services, you must live in Bluffdale, Holladay, Midvale, Millcreek, Murray or Salt Lake City, or in the townships of Copperton, Emigration Canyon, Kearns, Magna or White City.
The Nuzzles & Co. Community Clinic in Peoa provides affordable spaying/neutering and vaccinations, as well as stipends for pet owners who meet certain income requirements. Visit NuzzlesAndCo.org/community-clinic/ for more information.
The Humane Society of Utah will spay or neuter dogs for $125 and cats for $90 at its clinics in Murray and St. George. The organization also offers low-cost vaccinations.
Street Dawg Crew of Utah partners with local veterinarian clinics to provide free vaccination clinics each year and can also help cover spaying/neutering services. Contact the organization for more information.
Acute and emergency medical needs
The Pet Samaritan Fund supports pet owners in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County who can’t afford veterinary care. In order to qualify, you must be able to show documentation that you’re receiving disability or Social Security benefits, experiencing financial hardship, or receiving government assistance such as Medicaid or WIC.
Best Friends Animal Society has an extensive list on its website of organizations that provide financial assistance for pet medical care.
The Humane Society of Utah’s Pet Retention Program is designed to keep pets in their homes, even if their owner or family is experiencing some type of crisis. It provides pet owners with temporary help in accessing pet food and veterinary care.
Street Dawg Crew of Utah seeks to help homeless and low-income pet owners with emergency medical care whenever it can.
Cat litter, beds, toys, leashes, etc.
Best Friends Animal Society distributes each of these items through its pet food pantry, but the selection varies based on what’s donated to the organization.
West Valley City Animal Services distributes cat litter through its Operation Pet Supply Drop, in addition to pet food.
Nuzzles & Co. gives out cat litter through its pop-up pet food pantries in the Salt Lake Valley, as well as at its Rescue Ranch in Summit County.
The Street Dawg Crew of Utah distributes these items at Pioneer Park, along with pet food.
How to help
Anyone interested in donating to the organizations mentioned in this story may do so through their individual websites.
Best Friends Animal Society accepts donations of pet food (it especially needs cat food) and other supplies in bins near the front doors of its Lifesaving Center in Sugar House, as well as through Amazon.
The Humane Society lists a variety of ways one can give on its website. West Valley Animal Services accepts donations of pet food and cat litter at its facility at 4522 W. 3500 South.