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Food bank helps pet owners in hard times

July 20, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Layoffs, illness and all manner of financial crises can have wide-ranging impact on individuals and families. But there also can be serious side effects for pets whose owners find themselves in a bind.

That's where Star Silva comes in.

As public assistance coordinator for the Humane Society of Washington County, Silva tries to meet the needs of pet owners who have fallen on hard times.

"We have a pet food bank where people can come and get what they need to fill the needs of their pets," Silva said. There are 126 regulars who qualify to get supplies at the Maugansville Road shelter on the first and third Wednesdays of each month from 8:30 to 11 a.m.

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Donations from citizens are combined with contributions from stores such as Sam's Club, PetSmart and American Processing, which is Food Lion's distributor, she said. Dry dog food is most often donated, Silva said, but cat litter, as well as canned cat and kitten food, usually are in short supply.

With a large truck donated to the shelter by the Leonard K. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Charitable Foundation, Silva is able to pick up eight pallets of donations for the pet food bank at a time.

Silva, 41, is a native of New York state. After years of moving around bases during her husband's military career, the Silvas and their two children settled in Kearneysville, W.Va., in 1999.

"I was volunteering at a pig sanctuary in Shepherdstown, W.Va., when I got a call from this shelter that they wanted to contribute some pet food to us for our dogs and cats," Silva said.

Soon after, she got involved as a volunteer in Washington County, working with the pet food bank so it wouldn't have to close when the previous staff coordinator left. She was hired last fall for the position she now holds.

Silva said she is glad to say that where pet welfare is involved, most agencies are happy to share with each other to make sure needs are met.

"We give to other rescue groups throughout the Tri-State area when we can," Silva said.

Even the Washington County Department of Social Services can lend support if one of that agency's clients is in need of pet assistance.

"If someone mentions, for example, that they can't even feed their pet cat, we refer them to the Humane Society," said Anne Seibert, adult services intake worker at DSS.

Through her work with the spay/neuter programs and foster care, Silva often can link her pet food bank clients with other pet services they need. That's vital because she firmly believes that spaying and neutering is the key to fighting the problems caused by pet overpopulation.

"My mission now is to have a full-time veterinarian on board at the shelter," Silva said.

CatSnip is a spay/neuter program for fixed and low-income cat owners in Washington County. For $10, a cat can be spayed or neutered, get a rabies vaccination and other vital shots, Silva said.

"With an annual bequest from the Alice A. Paxton Charitable Trust, we were able to spay or neuter 500 cats in four months," Silva said.

The foster care program she also coordinates arranges matches between people and pets on a temporary basis so a suitable adoption can be worked out, she said. All those programs keep Silva hopping at the shelter.

"I network with other areas who have similar programs or who are starting up programs," Silva said. "That way I can refer people to wherever they need to go."

For more information, call Silva at 301-733-2060, ext. 238.

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