How Rescue Bank Is Feeding America’s Homeless Pets

Rescue Bank’s food-donation program distributes essential nutrition for homeless pets, freeing up funds so groups can provide critical veterinary care.

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Molly and her six German Shepherd-mix puppies were found living in a brush pile on a farmer’s field in rural Alabama. Molly was emaciated and suffering from a gaping flesh wound when she was rescued by the Jackson County SPCA in Pisgah, Ala.

After an initial visit to the veterinarian, Molly was placed on antibiotics and treated with wound spray, but the extent of damage to her leg couldn’t be determined at the time. Molly later went back for X-rays and it was discovered that her leg was riddled with birdshot from a close-range shotgun blast. After weeks of additional treatment, Molly completely healed and is now awaiting her forever home.

“At one time, X-rays were a luxury we could rarely afford,” says Laurie Shaw, director of the Jackson County SPCA. “Our relationship with Rescue Bank has impacted our shelter beyond just feeding homeless pets. We are saving more animals like Molly because our monetary donations can be used for vaccines, medicine and veterinary services instead of (just) purchasing pet food.”

A proven model

The Rescue Bank is a nonprofit pet-food pantry that applies the human food-bank model to serve the everyday needs of animal rescue and adoption groups. Since its founding in Houston in 2006, Rescue Bank has delivered more than 75 million meals to homeless pets across the country.

Modeled after Feeding America, which is the umbrella organization for human food banks in the United States, Rescue Bank serves as a collection and redistribution point for pet food, treats, cat litter and other supplies.

“By partnering with national pet food manufacturers, distributors and retailers, we provide quality food to the animal rescue community, freeing them from one of their most expensive costs,” says Elizabeth Asher, executive director and cofounder of Rescue Bank.

COURTESY OF PETS & PEOPLE HUMANE SOCIETY Volunteers from Pit Bull Rescue Oklahoma and OK Save a Dog receive food from Rescue Bank via their affiliate Pets & People Humane Society.
Volunteers from Pit Bull Rescue Oklahoma and OK Save a Dog receive food from Rescue Bank via their affiliate Pets & People Humane Society.

Every year, millions of pounds of nutritious pet food end up in local landfills because the food is nearing its expiration date, was packaged incorrectly or is discontinued. Manufacturers would prefer to donate the food to animal-welfare organizations, but many companies lack the resources to form relationships and handle the logistics with them.

“Manufacturers want to know their food is benefitting groups with proven records of helping animals in their communities,” says John Kane, development director and cofounder of Rescue Bank. “That’s where we come in. We have systems in place that provide tracking services and logistics, enabling pet food companies to track the impact of their donations.”

Rescue Bank has a nationwide coalition of 30 regional affiliates across the country. These groups play a vital role in equitably distributing donated pet food and supplies to approximately 1,500 pre-approved rescue charities nationwide. Two years ago, Pets & People Humane Society in Yukon, Okla., became one of Rescue Bank’s affiliates.

“We have about 35 groups in Oklahoma that receive food through Rescue Bank’s program,” says Edy Bauer, food distribution coordinator for Pets & People Humane Society. The bank’s recipients are spread out across the state with some groups traveling only 20 minutes to pick up their food. Others drive more than two hours.

“Rescue Bank has been instrumental in bringing everybody together,” Bauer says. “Because we are busy focusing on our own rescue efforts, we don’t have time to get to know the other groups. Seeing each other at the distribution events allows us to network with our fellow rescuers.”

Quality nutrition, minimal cost

In 2011, Rescue Bank became a charity partner on The Animal Rescue Site, which is operated by GreaterGood. Visitors to The Animal Rescue Site can click on the “Click here — it’s FREE” button every day to generate a donation to Rescue Bank.

“Our partnership with GreaterGood and The Animal Rescue Site supplements our freight costs, which allows us to establish a uniform handling fee across the country,” Kane says. “While the food is free, the cost to transport it is not. We calculate our average freight costs and charge the same fees to everyone, regardless if the group is in Boise, Idaho, or Dallas.”

On average, rescue groups pay about $60 for a pallet of food, which — depending on the brand — can range in value from $800 to $5,000. “This system enables the recipients to pay a fraction of the cost for the quality of food they’re receiving and apply the savings to other essentials, like spay/neuter and veterinary services,” Asher says.  The exception is when disasters occur. Rescue Bank provides relief supplies free to groups impacted by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, fires and explosions. “Due to our relationships with several manufacturers, we’re able to arrange for special deliveries in times of need,” Asher says.

In addition to weather-related and man-made emergencies, Rescue Bank affiliates have also responded to large- and small-scale abuse, neglect, hoarding and puppy mill seizures by providing food to the lead responding agencies.

COURTESY OF RESCUE BANK Volunteers load hundreds of pounds of donated pet food.
Volunteers load hundreds of pounds of donated pet food.

Priceless benefits

Because many rescue organizations are on tight budgets, they often struggle with making choices between veterinary services and food. “Rescues are where the hard work is done,” Asher says. “We understand what high-quality food means to these groups and what it can do for each rescued pet.”

The recipients of the food might not know in advance what kind of food they will be getting, but the distribution events are special, nonetheless. “The joy begins when we get notification that we’re getting a shipment of food,” Shaw says. “Back at our shelter, we unload the food by hand. For as much work as it is, I’ve never seen happier people.”

Get with the program

Pet rescue organizations with 501(c)(3) registered status are encouraged to enroll in Rescue Bank’s national pet food distribution program. Groups must also meet certain guidelines set by Rescue Bank based on the organization type. These standards, which are defined on Rescue Bank’s website, vary depending if the organization is an animal shelter, rescue group, animal sanctuary or feral cat-related organization.

Applications are available online at Once approved, qualified groups will be notified by their regional affiliate about upcoming distribution events. Recipients are responsible for picking up their food, as well as paying a nominal shipping fee.

Meredith Wargo

Meredith Wargo is an award-winning freelance writer in Houston. 


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