Downeast Dog News
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Furry Friends Keeps Owners & Pets Together

By Susan Spisak | Nov 01, 2018

With this being November, the month we celebrate Thanksgiving and share a meal with our family and friends, we’d like to highlight the good works of the non-profit organization, Furry Friends Food Bank, a program of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging (EAAA), and those in the community who support it in their own way.

The independent and non-profit 501(c) (3) Eastern Area Agency on Aging aka EAAA was founded in 1973 to aid low-income seniors, adults with disabilities and caregivers in the counties of Washington, Penobscot, Hancock, and Piscataquis Counties through a variety of programs including Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels’ volunteer drivers began noticing that many low-income clients were sharing that all-important meal with their pets. So in 2008, the Furry Friends Food Bank (FFFB) was established as a food/nutrition program within the EAAA to provide pet food and basic pet care supplies to those in need (individuals must apply for and meet the agency’s criteria).

“The whole goal [of FFFB] is to keep seniors and their pets together,” explained Don Hanson, co-host of The Woof-Meow Show (on 620 AM radio) and co-owner of Green Acres Kennel Shop with his wife, Paula Hanson. The couple and their staff raise monetary and food donations for FFFB through their annual fundraiser that kicks off at the end of November. (They accept food donations year round in the store as well.)

They’re joined by Debra Bell, professional photographer and owner of Bell's Furry Friends Photography and Bell Imaging & Design LLC. Debra is partnered with Don for nine years and offers Holiday Pet Portraits at Green Acres with a portion of the sitting fee going to the FFFB effort (over the years, she’s donated $2,500).

Don and Debra expressed their appreciation for the EAAA and FFFB. As animal lovers, they know that keeping animals with their owners is important for several reasons. First and foremost, pets provide mental and physical stimulation, happiness, unconditional love, comfort, and they’re therapeutic, 24/7. Many of these people live by themselves and are thrilled to share their home and life with pets.

Seniors and older adults with disabilities have a strong emotional connection to their pets. Their companion animal gives them a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed. If they have a dog, he’ll get them outside for a walk, thus they’re getting exercise, too. And according to the EAAA, studies have found that the presence of pets in people’s lives lead to better health and well-being. Pet owners visit their doctors less, need less medicine, recover from a host of illnesses faster, and tend to deal with stressful situations better.

Mark Hanks, DVM and owner of Kindred Spirits Veterinary Clinic in Orrington was the first business to join the FFFB Community Partner’s program. He supports the program through ongoing donations and knows that FFFB provides nourishing food for those clients who are on a limited income or are facing challenges. “Pets can be central to help people through difficult times and that sometimes means financial challenges. It is hard to imagine having to give up a pet because times are hard financially,” he said.

Last, but not least, keeping pets with their senior and disabled adult owners keeps animals out of shelters. “This was the driving force behind why we do this,” said Don. He added that shelters are busy enough placing the cats and dogs they have in their care without an influx of animals from these folks who can no longer afford the food and supplies for their pets.

The FFFB relies 100% on donations. (Cash gifts are used to purchase pet food and products such as cat litter). Don said retailers and manufacturers have also jumped onboard and donate damaged or torn bags of food, and the program has grown by leaps and bounds. For example, in 2017, the FFFB distributed 67,000 pounds of pet food to1500 senior and disabled adult clients.

The distribution of those pet supplies is challenging--the four counties served by the EAAA’s FFFB cover 13,000 square miles (it’s the largest Area Agency on Aging east of the Mississippi River). While Meals on Wheels volunteers distribute the pet food to the homebound, the FFFB must utilize EAAA’s “Community Cafes,” spots where seniors come for a meal, bingo, and card games. Additionally, there are another 50 distribution points. “Think of that as 90 little restaurants [EAAA’s] managing on the side,” chuckled Don.

Green Acres Kennel Shop Fundraiser

Ten years ago, the Hansons and their staff knew they wanted to hold a community-focused project to give back, and a fundraiser aimed at the FFFB was something they all agreed on. Don admitted it was originally going to be a one-time thing, but they became so passionate about their annual fundraiser, which they officially titled The Green Acres Fundraiser for The Friends of the EAAA Furry Friends Food Bank, that it has continued.

The fundraiser starts at Thanksgiving and goes through December 31, 2018. Don hasn’t established a goal for this year’s effort but feels it will be similar to 2017’s of $6k. Once they hit their goal, Green Acres adds $2k ($6172.52 was donated in 2017, so the net was $8172.52). The cash donations allow Don to purchase pet food and products at wholesale cost through his suppliers.

He set up a Friends of EAAA Furry Friends Food Bank Facebook page for information and to follow the yearly fundraiser’s progress (www.facebook.com/GAKS.FFFFB). Pet food, especially wet and dry cat food, cat litter, and cash are needed. Food donated must not be expired. New pet toys are welcome. Donations may be dropped at Green Acres Kennel Shop at 1653 Union St. in Bangor, and they’ll get them to the EAAA. (Green Acres also has a collection basket in the store for year round FFFB donations.) He knows it’s a wonderful cause, “It’s helping people, it’s helping pets, and it’s keeping them together.”

For more info on EAAA’s FFFB, visit www.eaaa.org/furry-friends-food-bank/.

For other statewide pet food banks and pet pantries: https://downeastdognews.villagesoup.com/p/maine-pet-pantries/1787348