Meals on Wheels’ pet peeve? Mice lured by animal charity’s food

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Loaves & Fishes, the legendary “Meals on Wheels people,” is all about feeding human beings, not pets.

The nonprofit agency operates several volunteer food-running networks out of Clark County community centers. There’s one in Battle Ground, one in Camas, one at the Luepke Senior Center on the west side of Vancouver and one at the Firstenburg Community Center on the east side of town. Loaves & Fishes’ target is elderly and shut-in people who cannot go shopping or hit local eateries.

For several years now, local Loaves & Fishes efforts have had a friendly, informal arrangement with a sister nonprofit, Second Chance Companions, and its AniMeals program -- aiming to get free pet food to the same shut-in folks so their four-legged companions can eat too. AniMeals usually piggybacks on Loaves & Fishes deliveries in what is an informal, and clearly uneasy, arrangement.

“We feed people, not pets,” said Julie Piper Finley, spokeswoman for the Loaves & Fishes organization throughout the Portland-Vancouver area.

“They are not enthusiastic about it,” said local AniMeals organizer Margy Florey of Vancouver. “They’ve agreed to it as long as it doesn’t cause them any problems.”

Mice attracted

But problems have begun at the Firstenburg site, and the city has stepped in. This week may see no regular AniMeals distribution to about 50 seniors -- and 100 dogs and cats -- who usually get pet food along with their Meals On Wheels deliveries.

Why? Because of some additional “pets” that nobody is too happy about feeding: mice.

“Apparently the Firstenburg Center did have some evidence of mice in the building,” Finley said. “The city did an inspection and determined that it was the pet food stored on site that may have attracted the mice.” According to Finley and Florey, AniMeals has long stored its food in containers in the room at Firstenburg’s that is leased by Loaves & Fishes; now, Loaves & Fishes has directed AniMeals to get its pet food out of the building.

“They have been storing it on site. What we have done is asked them to package it off site and bring it to us on the day it’s being delivered,” Finley said. Loaves & Fishes is waiting to hear whether that will be OK with the city of Vancouver, she said.

“Regular delivery has been suspended until we hear back,” Finley said. “It’s not that we won’t deliver for them anymore, it’s mostly just that AniMeals can no longer store pet food on location.”

“They kicked us out and we’re trying to figure out how to get this pet food to seniors,” said Florey. “I’m willing to work with them and do pretty much anything. We don’t want to cause them problems.”

Florey has been worried that if the problem isn’t solved soon, shut-in seniors who don’t receive deliveries will go back to the practice that caused AniMeals to get started to begin with: they’ll feed to their pets what they were supposed to feed themselves.

Typically, she said, the pet food is stored in plastic tubs in the Loaves & Fishes room. It’s not long-term storage, Florey said, but sometimes it does sit overnight or for a few days. On delivery days -- Wednesdays and Fridays -- AniMeals volunteers come by to prepare the food for distribution, packing it into gallon bags and label them for cats or dogs.

“There are just about 10 people who support” AniMeals locally, she said. “Mostly it’s just retired old ladies like me.”

Waiting to hear

In addition to individual distributions through Loaves & Fishes, AniMeals reaches needy pet owners through agencies such as The Southwest Washington Agency on Aging and Disabilities, local food banks, Share and senior apartment buildings such as the Smith Tower.

She said she’s waiting to hear whether Loaves & Fishes and the city will agree either to a better, more secure way to store pet food indoors, or if there’s some way to site a shed on the Firstenburg grounds. If that’s an option, she said, then there’s one more hurdle: buying and installing the shed. Florey has no budget for anything like that, she said.

“I can’t buy a metal container myself,” she said. “If this is OK with the city, we’ll start fundraising.”

To learn more about AniMeals or to make a donation, visit http://sccpets.com, call 360-687-4569, or mail to P.O. Box 2343, Battle Ground, WA 98604.