‘I felt like I wasn’t judged for being in need’ : The Manchester pet food bank helping struggling owners and their pets

Rhian Tye is close to tears, the thought of having to rehome her Rottweiler and Shar-Pei dogs due to increasing financial pressures is unbearable.

“I couldn’t imagine life without my dogs,” she tells Mancunian Matters.

Rhian is collecting dog food from the Blue Cross pet food bank in Radcliffe, Manchester where food flies off the shelves as fast as it comes in.

She is one of dozens of pet owners who have turned to the charity as pet food prices soar amid the cost-living-crisis.

“The cost of dog food has gone up massively.

“Even the stuff that used to be cheap isn’t cheap anymore, people are having to give up their dogs because they can’t afford to feed them.

“I’m back here today because I feel I’ve got somewhere to turn,” she says.

Since February 2021 the Radcliffe pet food bank has grown from a pile in the corner of an office to a room crammed with animal food and accessories on shelves covering the entire walls. 

With a regular flow of donations from companies and individuals the local charity now helps around 50 owners care for 130 pets monthly.

They are centrally located in Radcliffe which means pet owners can just walk in, collect what they need, receive help and reassurance and this makes a big difference in their lives, says Maddy Doyle, re-homing manager at the Radcliffe centre.

Maddy in the pet food bank at Blue Cross, Radcliffe

People are also welcome to call up and since the pandemic the charity has seen a sharp rise in two types of phone calls, the first is people looking for help to feed their pets, the second is people asking to rehome their pets because of financial difficulties.

When charity staff let them know about the pet food bank people get emotional because they did not think they had any other choice other than to hand over their animal.

“For a pet owner to make that first step to ask for help is hugely brave,” says Maddy.

When Rhian visits the pet food bank, she feels supported by staff.

“Until two months ago I didn’t know places like this existed. I came down, they didn’t ask any questions, there were no glances of judgement. I felt like I wasn’t judged for being in need,” she says.

Rhian at the Blue Cross centre in Radcliffe

The charity relies on donations to keep the pet food bank going and they have seen a handful of people who used the foodbank for a couple of weeks or months contact them wanting to give back once they’re back on their feet.

The Manchester Blue Cross centre

“It means so much to us that they’re thinking of us and want to give back, but we don’t expect this, we just want to make sure that people and their pets are happy and able to get the food that they need,” says Maddy.

Jacob Paul, owner of two dogs, a British Bulldog and an American Staffordshire Bull Terrier heard about the Radcliffe pet food bank through The Big Help Out, the National Day of Volunteering on the Coronation weekend.

He felt compelled to help.

He posted an ad on his Instagram page and asked if any of his dog lover followers would consider donating anything, however small or big to help local animals in need.

Jacob with his British Bulldog and his Bully cross who he rescued from the RSPCA

Almost immediately he was inundated with messages from friends, acquaintances and family offering to donate anything they could from cartons of cat milk to trays of wet food in all flavours, collars, leads, and plastic bags brimming with treats. 

One friend, Juninho Matas reached out all the way from Brazil and asked if Jacob would forward his bank details so he could transfer cash to help ‘poor animals’.

Junior from Brazil donated cash to help feed pets in Manchester

Helen Summers* said without the Blue Cross pet food bank she would be feeding her two Staffordshire Bull Terriers rather than herself.

“I’d be feeding the dogs and not me. They come first. I can starve and they can’t,” she said.

Maureen Izquierdo, a family friend who has always owned cats, was moved to tears when she heard this.

Maureen Izquierdo donated cash so Jacob could buy bags of dry food

She pulled £20 from her purse for Jacob and said:

“I wish I could give more. People are struggling now and they’re having to give up their pets when they don’t want to. That’s sad.

I just love animals and I think it’s such a shame that people are having to do this.”

Lesley Hung, the dog re-homing co-ordinator at RSPCA Altrincham, donated because she is seeing countless animals handed into the charity and people calling up saying they cannot afford to look after their animals.

Lesley Hung, Dog rehoming co-ordinator at RSPCA Altrincham

“I appreciate not everybody can afford to feed their pets because it is a big expense. I’m just happy to help,” she said.

Jacob collecting donations from Lesley in Altrincham

Dylan, a former pet foster carer for the RSPCA, contacted Jacob and handed over two bags for life stuffed with bowls, food, and toys.

Dylan and his dog Basil who he and his girlfriend Charlie rescued from the RSPCA

He wanted to give something because he couldn’t bear to think of any dog going hungry.

Another donation came from Rebecca Shaw in Offerton, Stockport who owns three Burnese Mountain dogs Ernie, Ada and Sally.  

Rebecca’s dogs, Ada, Ernie and Sally out with their friends. Photo Credit – Rebecca Shaw

She was at work on the day of the Big Help Out so she left her donation in her blue bin for Jacob to collect.

Jacob collecting a donation for the Blue Cross left in a Blue bin in Stockport

“These foodbanks need all the help they can get; they are doing a fantastic job helping all these animals in need,” she said.

“The pets don’t choose their situations so helping to donate food was the least I could do.

All animals deserve to be loved.”

In the past year the Blue Cross has partnered with pet superstore Pets at Home who now have 213 stores across the UK taking donations of pet food in their shops.

This means they can provide foodbanks across the UK with food.

All the Pets at Home stores in Greater Manchester where you can donate to a pet food bank

With the rising cost of living the Blue Cross is not the only charity devoted to helping struggling pet owners.

The RSPCA has created a dedicated ‘Cost of living hub’ with practical help and advice on their website.

According to their research 19% of pet owners are worried about feeding their pets and 28% are worried about being able to care for their animals amid the cost-of-living pressures.

When Jacob Paul arrived at the Radcliffe centre to deliver the donations, he was greeted by Blue Cross staff who helped him unload the jam-packed boot.

All donations collected for the Blue Cross as part of the Big Help Out
A volunteer at the Blue Cross helping unload the donations

The highlight of Jacob’s day was seeing some of the dry food he bought with the £50 cash donations fall straight into the hands of pet food bank user Rhian.

Rhian at the Radcliffe centre

“That just made today worth it,” he said.

“Knowing her Rottweiler and Shar-Pei will have full bowls tonight made me happy.”

If you are worried about how to feed your pets, you can contact the RSPCA.

They have opened a dedicated telephone line to support callers who are worried about the cost-of-living crisis – 0300 123 0650 – open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

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