NE furry friends in need?


When two organizations schedule pet photos with Santa events to donate pet food and food to services for needy people, in Northeast, on the same day; and a Northeast church’s food shelf is mentioned in the New York Times for its pet food program, one wonders if Northeast people and pets are worse off than most. It turns out we’re about the same in terms of need, and more willing to go that extra mile for our furball friends. 

Cathie Witzel coordinates the companion animal program at Northeast Community Lutheran Church. Twice a year, people can bring in pets for vaccinations and basic veterinary checkups at low cost. “I do a lot of dog rescue work” she said, (for a different cause). “Owner surrenders are up dramatically because of lost homes or moving to smaller apartments that don’t accept pets.” She said adoptions are down a lot, for some shelters up to 50 percent less than usual. “The system can’t absorb any more surrendered pets” so it’s important to keep Fido and Fluffy with their families.

Witzel said this year “we heard more stories at the pet vaccine clinics about people having trouble, about job loss.” At the most recent, 80 cats and 111 dogs were vaccinated, about the usual number.

At the Little Kitchen, the church’s food shelf at 697 13th Ave. NE, volunteers drive to Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley to bring back a trunkload at a time. Bags of pet food are re-packaged into a week’s supply for each family in need, making the distribution reach more people and providing the donor companies some measure of anonymity.

Jennifer Schultz, Congregational Administrator, handles much of the food shelf activity. “We’re seeing increased need across the board, a 30 percent increase in use between ’08 and ’09, and we will see it again next year.” Schultz said from what they hear from other food shelves, they are growing at the same pace as others. “We have been keeping up,” through bequest funds and various partnerships. They’ve operated for a couple of years, and serve mostly “people who fall through the cracks,” homeless, highly mobile, or those who use the service occasionally, within walking distance.

In July, Kimberly Carrier, a hair stylist in South Minneapolis, started The Pet Project with a goal of keeping animals with their people. Providing food is a first step. Her website also gives links to veterinary care and housing that accepts pets. “I couldn’t not do it,” she said on her blog/website, after hearing sad stories from clients and then offers of help from many more as she blogged about her idea.

The Pet Project benefited from the “Tails Up” food collection that Fetch Delivers hosted in Northeast Dec. 5. In their warehouse on Kennedy Street, they accepted all kinds of donations, offered food that could be purchased for donation, and held a vendor fair for all sorts of pet related services and concerns. People brought pets, mostly dogs, to be photographed with Santa.

“Since July, we’ve collected well over 20,000 pounds, and we can’t keep food shelves stocked,” Carrier said. Her network has expanded and now goes from Stillwater to Minnetonka, Cambridge to Shakopee. “It’s pretty amazing,” Carrier said, noting that the Ordway is collecting pet food during Beauty and the Beast, and Aveda is planning a drive. “It’s amazing how generous people are being, but it speaks to the need.”

The Cities Business Alliance chapter of BNI (Business Networks Incorporated) held their second annual pet photos with Santa event collected canned food (for people or pets) and a raffle for donated merchandise. Cities Business Alliance president Tim Kindem said it started as an appreciation event for his customers and those of photographer Don Pitlik, DCharles Photography, and then became a club-wide public-invited project.

Northeast Dinner Bell, celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, started its pet food delivery program four years ago when the national Meals on Wheels Association of America noticed that some of the people they deliver meals to were feeding some of their meals to their pets. They partnered with Banfield Charitable Trust (related to the veterinary services located in PetSmart stores) for the “Season of Suppers” food drive conducted in November and December through the stores.

It went so well, “we made a pact to keep it up throughout the year,” Northeast Dinner Bell Executive Director Eileen Hafften said. Three PetSmart stores, the one at the Quarry, and locations in Plymouth and Roseville, contribute to Northeast Dinner Bell. “Not all Meals on Wheels programs wanted to get involved in a whole other program,” Hafften said, “so we’ve been the ones to latch on. We get calls from all over the metro,” and have a volunteer who coordinates the donation pickups.

Banfield also contributes $1,000 a year to help with vaccinations, basic vet care, and curing illnesses of pets served through Dinner Bell. The majority of the animals are cats or small dogs that can live in an apartment building, and a few birds. “We know how important pets are to the psychological well being,” Hafften said. There are also occasional private donations, such as memorials in honor of a pet lover who died.

Serving about 140 people, 130 meals on any given day, with about 30 receiving pet food along with their deliveries, Meals on Wheels sees a population on fixed income, so the economy has not caused wild changes in their needs.

“What we have seen is since a lot of people are laid off, we’ve had a lot more people volunteering. And they remember us when they go back to work.” Hafften said. Northeast Dinner Bell volunteers deliver approximately eight meals in less than one hour on each of 12 routes. “The routes are designed so people can come on their lunch hour and be back in time.” She said they always need more volunteers.

In this season of many charitable drives, the surest way to know your donations reach the organizations you choose to support, especially the smaller ones, is to donate directly to them.

Hafften said it would be nice, too, if people remembered that needs continue throughout the year, “like visiting grandma or auntie, they need more than a visit just at holiday time.”

To reach the programs featured in this article, to volunteer or donate, contact information is below and/or go to and search for event #5629.

• Little Kitchen Food Shelf 612-788-2444,
697 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413

• Northeast Dinner Bell 612-789-6548,
2511 Taylor St. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

• The Pet Project: 612-251-2018,