Richard Croft had never struggled to feed his three German shepherds before, but when he was forced to stop working after being diagnosed with cancer, their monthly food bill was difficult to keep up with.
“I was spending between £100 and £110 a month on dog food,” he said. “It was difficult. I was always looking for bargains and special offers but it’s still a lot of money.”
He is one of dozens of people who have turned to the Blue Cross pet food bank in Grimsby, set up in June to help people in the area struggling to feed their pets amid the cost of living crisis.
“It has helped me a lot. Previously I was working and didn’t need to use this sort of thing, but things are different,” said Croft, 59, who has had one of his dogs for 11 years. “I wouldn’t be able to afford a good quality of food.”
Stocked entirely by donations from the local community, there is a steady stream of people stopping by to pick up food for their dogs and cats every Tuesday and Thursday. In a two-hour period last Tuesday, the food bank helped 76 animals from 32 families.
“Week on week we’re seeing more and more people. As fast as the food is coming in, it’s literally touching the shelf and going back out again,” said Cristina Pool, who runs the service alongside her fellow veterinary nurse, Hannah Cardey.
Staff said they wanted to dispel any shame about seeking help for pets, and remind people that most of the time it was not a case of people taking on animals they could not afford.
“We’ve had all sorts of stories, different people in different situations. A lot of the animals that we’re seeing are older animals that people have had for years and their circumstances have just changed,” said Pool.
“A lot of people come and they actually get quite emotional,” said Cardey. “Some people feel a bit embarrassed that it’s come to the point where they can’t feed their pet. For some people their pet is like their child, so they feel quite ashamed.”
The origins of the food bank started in January, when staff at the Grimsby Blue Cross animal hospital noticed an increase in emaciated or underweight animals coming in for treatment who clearly were not getting the right nutrition.
“There was a particular one, a really emaciated boxer dog. So she was one of the cases that made us think, there really is a need for this,” said Pool.
After first operating out of a cupboard, the food bank is now based in a small building next to the animal hospital, and the Blue Cross is rolling out the pet food bank scheme nationally.
The Dogs Trust has reported an almost 50% increase in inquiries from dog owners about rehoming their pets this year, while the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes found 92% of shelters were seeing more people wanting to hand over dogs compared with pre-pandemic levels.
“The aim of this is to stop people from having to give up their pet,” said Pool. “Because for some of these people, it’s their only company they’ve got. It’s their lifeline, it’s the thing that keeps them grounded, it’s the reason they get up in the morning.”
There has also been a sharp increase in dogs coming into the animal hospital without vaccinations, or flea and worm treatments, as owners struggle to afford the cost of vet bills, as well as pets with health problems from eating human food if their owners cannot afford dog food.
Helen Sutton, 58, was picking up dog food for her 19-year-old granddaughter, Chelsea, who has a doberman and a staffordshire bull terrier. Chelsea receives universal credit and struggles to afford the travel to get to the food bank herself.
“I don’t know where we would be without this. I’m only just managing to feed my cockapoo, so I know how expensive it is,” she said. “You don’t want to have to give up your pets, mine is my baby. It’s heartbreaking.”
“You take it for granted going home and putting your dog’s dinner in the dish,” said Pool. “People are just having to prioritise so much, it’s the last thing they want to do, but in some cases it is literally feed your kids or feed your pet.”