Last year, the Suncoast SPCA in New Port Richey, Florida (outside Tampa), gave away 384 batches of pet food. This year to date, they’ve given away 1,043 batches.

The SPCA Suncoast works with a food bank to help feed families who have fallen on tough times. The Volunteer Way provides meals and hands out vouchers for free pet food at the SPCA’s Animeal pantry.

For unemployed pet owners, it can make the difference between keeping their pets or surrendering them.

Nora Malone, a nurse, was laid off in January. As the months of unemployment stretched out, money grew tight. Her voucher provided a couple of bags of cat food for her four kittens and two cats.

“This is a great help,” said Malone, 49. “It’s been a struggle.”

The vouchers have no expiration date. When redeemed, the pet owner is given about three weeks worth of pet food. The pet food purchases are funded by donations. But with demand so high, the SPCA doesn’t always have pet food available to distribute.

“There’ve been a few weeks in the past few months where we can’t provide them food,” said Gail Armstrong, executive director of the SPCA. “People get to the point where even if we give them food, that’s still not enough.”

As with most other shelters across the country, the number of animals surrendered this year has skyrocketed at Suncoast SPCA. Some days they turn away dozens of animals for lack of space. Over 8 percent of animals coming into the shelter are euthanized.

“When you’re in a stressful situation, you want your pets because of the comfort they can bring you,” Armstrong said. “When you’re stressed about the economy and you have to take that heart-wrenching step of giving your pet away, it’s sad.”

If you know a pet lover with an upcoming birthday, consider making a donation to a Pet Food Bank program as a birthday gift. Your local SPCA or shelter can point you to programs in your area.

[LINK: tampabay.com]