Twister the dog inspired me to start a pet food bank

This team member met a dog that reminded her that while she can't care for every pet, she can help one needy family at a time.
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Oct 01, 2009

Last Halloween, I got quite a scare. That day, the police arrived at our clinic with Twister, a 13-year-old dog they found collapsed under a bush. Name for his warped rear legs, Twister was suffering from a broken spine, a coat full of fleas, and malnutrition so severe he could barely lift his head. I didn't know how Twister reached this sad state, but I was sure when he licked my hand and gave me "the look" that I'd be taking him home with me for good.

Tragic beginnings

It turns out Twister's owner lost her main income, and was struggling to provide for her children. They begged her to keep Twister, but she couldn't afford his food and the local food banks didn't provide pet supplies. Rather than put Twister in a shelter, she let him loose, hoping neighbors would feed him. The police built an animal cruelty case against her, in which I testified. When the state found her guilty, I found myself asking, "Why couldn't she get help feeding Twister, and would his life have been different if pet food had been available to her?"

Fate strikes again

Inspired, I started planning a pet food drive at our practice. Then, out of the blue, a client who runs a breed rescue program e-mailed us. She was seeing wanted dogs turned over because people couldn't afford to feed them, and she hoped we'd set up a pet food bank. My boss offered full support, saying that while the pantry would be its own non-profit, I could store food at the clinic. Elated, I called the client to see how we could help pets like Twister.


Twister is all smiles.
We met that weekend and started the Pet Pantry of Central Pennsylvania (PPCP). Our plan: provide pet food to as many needy people as possible. We started with the eight human food banks in our county—all with a high demand for pet food but a low supply. Each director agreed to distribute pet food if we supplied it.

I had no idea what to expect, but I learned fast. Our county needed more than 5,000 pounds of pet food a month just to help those already receiving people food. To keep all wanted cats and dogs at home, we needed at least 10,000 pounds of food monthly. So we called local businesses and all the animal-loving folks we knew. Turns out everyone in the community had seen the need; they just didn't know how to help. With word out about the PPCP, the donations poured in.

Good fortune falls to all

Four months since opening the pet food pantry, we're starting to reach beyond food banks. For example, we're talking with local women's shelters, senior living coordinators, and Meals on Wheels, to see what part PPCP can play in keeping families connected. Each of the community animal shelters direct people to us, and dog wardens hand out our contact information to people at risk.

My goal is to open pet food banks in each county so pet assistance is as available as that for people. I know now that Twister's name doesn't represent his legs but rather the fact his love twisted into my heart and kept me from walking away.

Caitlin Rivers is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and client coordinator and senior staff trainer at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. Send comments to
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