It takes a low-down scoundrel to steal food from hungry pets.
The Jefferson County Pet Food Pantry, which provides dog and cat food to low-income people, had a large donation stolen from the Arnold Petco store Sunday, leaving it in a lurch.
"I honestly felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach, especially since we so desperately needed the food," says Debby Mikles, the founder and president of the volunteer-run pantry, to Daily RFT. "It's just a hit we weren't expecting, and with donations being down, our bank account is very low."
The theft was devastating, Mikles says, especially after the pantry ran out of pet food last month for the first time ever. Mikles knew she was in trouble when twenty pet owners were already lined up for food nearly an hour before the pantry opened.
"Donations are down, and the need is up," says Mikles. "Struggle is the definition of what we do."
Petco has been collecting pet-food donations from customers to give to food pantry recipients for three years without issue. Mikles says she stopped by the bin recently and noticed it was halfway full of food. When a donor emailed her to say she'd dropped off seven 30-pound bags of high-quality food -- a major boon for the pantry -- Mikles went over to the pet store to get it.
But the bin was empty, and when Mikles asked where the food had gone, a manager said she was told that a volunteer had already picked it up.
"I said, 'No, no they haven't,'" Mikles says. After checking around to make sure there wasn't a mix-up, Mikles concluded, "It was definitely stolen."
Devastated and frustrated, Mikles says the thief (or thieves) stole from very poor families, including some who care for as many as ten dogs or 30 cats at a time. Many of those families take in animals dumped in the country in Jefferson County by residents of St. Louis.
"I firmly believe whoever took that food didn't need it as much as the people we give that food to," Mikles says. "If they needed help, I would have gladly given it to them."
But that's easier said than done. Demand at the pantry is so high that Mikles was already considering reducing the maximum amount she can give to 150 pounds of food from 200 pounds. The pantry requires food recipients to prove they live in Jefferson County, currently receive government assistance, and have spayed or neutered their pets (which the pantry will pay for) before pet owners can get food.
Mikles says she goes through about 3,000 pounds of dog food each month and 800 pounds of cat food. She runs the pantry on a $1,500 budget, plus rent and volunteer labor. Since the theft, Mikles has posted an urgent call for donations on Facebook to raise enough food or funds to supply this Sunday's handouts to pantry recipients.
"Inevitably, you get people who didn't know you existed" and need pet food, she says. "We may end up having even more people come by or people come by early and line up because we did run out of food last time."
Want to donate to the Jefferson County Pet Food Pantry? You can donate on their website or go to California Pizza Kitchen with this flyer between October 26 and November 2.