Pet pantry project helping Toronto dog owners provide for their pups

As grocery prices continue to soar, a community pet pantry project hopes to help pet-owners provide for their pups.

By Dilshad Burman

As the prices of food for both people and their pets continue to skyrocket, a Montreal-based dog food company is giving a paw-up to dog owners in Toronto.

Certified B-corp. and climate-friendly dog-food manufacturer Wilder Harrier has launched a community pet pantry project to assist those who may need help providing for their pets.

“Where grocery prices have increased by about 10 per cent in the last year, pet food prices have increased by about 45.5 per cent since 2020,” says director of brand marketing Caitlin Benn.

“People adopted a bunch of pets during the pandemic and now they’re not able to afford them. And it’s not just pet food, it’s vet bills, you name it.”

Pet pantries are modelled after community fridges or Little Free Libraries that are already a common sight in communities across the city.

“We set up these pet pantries and have committed to stocking them for the next two months. But the real hope is that the community is going to take hold of the initiative … with people donating the food that they can and hopefully people taking what they need,” she says.

There are four pantries in the city so far – one residential location at 44 Follis Avenue and three businesses: Black Lab Brewing, Tiny’s General Store and Savoury Grounds.

“Knowing everyone’s out there hurting, the economy’s not doing great with inflation and there’s food pantries for people. I had never thought of a pet pantry, but when the idea presented itself, it just seemed like a perfect fit,” says Billy Madden, owner of Black Lab Brewing.

Madden set up a pet pantry partly as a tribute to his dog Snoopy, the lab behind the Leslieville brewery’s name, who recently passed away.

“It’s all based on Snoopy. Snoopy was our guiding light from the get-go. We always wanted to do everything in his honour. So the traits that a labrador possesses — hardworking, honest, loyal, friendly — those were the kinds of things we wanted to portray,” he says, adding that the concept fits right in with their ethos.

“We are a very safe space. Anybody can come in here. Whether you have lots of money, no money, whether you’re not doing well, it doesn’t matter to us. We help everybody. We do a lot of other community outreach programs … we love doing anything we can to help dogs out and help people who have dogs,” he says.

Pet pantry signage

A sign explaining the pet pantry concept at Tiny’s General Store. Courtesy: Wilder Harrier

Chrys Nguyen, owner of Tiny’s General Store, shares the same sentiments.

“It’s the perfect fit for Tiny’s. We’re a very dog-friendly shop – always have a dog bowl out, and we’re always handing out dog treats. There’s a parking spot for your dogs outside so they can hang out,” she says.

“[Seaton Village is] a very pet-centric neighbourhood… the street that we live on, just within the one block we have 21 dogs. It’s a very diverse neighbourhood as well – so there are all levels of income and social structure. So I think it helps everyone that’s in the community.”

Along with food and treats, donations of other necessities like poop bags, leashes or booties are also accepted. Nguyen says such programs serve to dispel the stigma of asking for help.

“On a deep level, I think humans are not as expressive when we’re going through tough times. And I think it’s a nice and discreet way for people to have access, especially for their pets when they can’t really afford to run out and grab a bag of food or treats. And I think it’s just a more comfortable way to get the help that you need when you need it.”

“I think with inflation, there’s been a redefinition of what poverty really means, and I think everybody is struggling now with costs,” adds Benn. “I think there’s a little bit of a hesitancy almost to seek out the help when you need it and we really want this to be a safe space for anyone who needs it because it is impacting people across all economic strata.”

She says the company hopes to expand to other cities in the near future.

“Right now it’s in Toronto and we’d like to expand it across [the city] even further. We are based in Montreal — we’d love to see the program come to life here as well — Vancouver, you name it.”

Individuals can also set up pet pantry’s in front of their homes or in their communities. Benn says there are no stipulations on what a pantry can look like and anyone can build or buy their own.

“We want to give them the space to design it in whatever way they see fit. After all, this is a community initiative … so we want people to do what they want with it.”

If you choose to set one up and send the company a photo, Wilder Harrier will provide an initial stock of dog food free of cost.

While there’s no doubt it’s great promotion for the company, the agency that came up with the idea says there’s more to it.

“It starts off as advertising, but really we want the community to own it so it has this longevity and becomes a fixture,” says Michael Murray, chief creative officer at Berners Bowie Lee.

“We’re really hoping that people will put them into their homes because I really like the idea of self discovery. So you’re walking down the street, you come across them and you go, ‘oh, you know what, I might want one,'” he says. “And the more of these pet pantries we have, the more people we’re going to be able to help and the more dogs we are going to be able to feed.”

Click here for more information on setting up your own pet pantry.

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