Better Together: Award-Winning Program Helps 1,303 Pets Stay with their Families Amidst Pandemic Woes

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Friends of Strays’ Safer At Home program has wrapped up after providing 1,303 pets from 469 Pinellas County families with free veterinary care and pet supplies. A targeted, short-term program that ran from May-December 2020, Safer At Home was designed to help those in our community financially affected by COVID-19 care for their pets through the pandemic and ensuing economic recession. It gave families an alternative to the heartbreaking last resort of surrendering their beloved pet to a shelter.

Financed by a grant from the Milkey Family Foundation, hundreds of individual donors, and Friends of Strays’ operating budget, we distributed over $55,539 families in need. The Fund also earned Friends of Strays the “Essential ‘Burger” award in the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Good ‘Burger Awards. The Essential ‘Burger was a new category in 2020, awarded to an individual, business, or organization who made significant pivots and personal sacrifices to provide care, services, resources, and more for our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This program is a God sent blessing,” says an anonymous Safer At Home recipient. “We were at the point where we had to decide between pet food and prescriptions I must have. Without Buddy I couldn't manage day to day life. He's a comfort and such happiness for us both. Without this help I don't know what we'd have done. Especially since I lost my job, I'm struggling with lots of other medical issues and my partner and I both have anxiety issues. He's saved us and you allowed us to stay as a family. Thanks for everything."

Friends of Strays made the process simple with low-barriers to entry. To receive assistance, those seeking aid had to fill out a brief questionnaire on our website where they provided information on their pets and the type of services of which they were in need. Upon reviewing applications, our staff mailed need-based vouchers to all those who were eligible. In order to qualify, applicants had to reside in Pinellas County and lost their primary source of income due to the pandemic. Recipients could then redeem their vouchers for products and services at our partner locations: Operation: SNIP Spay & Neuter, SPOT: Spay & Neuter Clinic, Petfood Warehouse, Park Feed Store and Pet Supply, and Pet Supplies Plus’s Clearwater and Pinellas Park locations.

“We’re humbled by how much our community has rallied behind our Safer At Home program to help those in need,” says Friends of Strays CEO, Dara Eckart. “More than $35,000 of the Fund’s total came from individual donors, speaking volumes to people’s compassion. This has been an unprecedented year for all of us and we didn’t want anyone to have to worry about giving up their animal on top of so much uncertainty. Not only have 469 families gotten the necessary support to care for their pets, but we’ve also put $55,539 into small businesses to boost our local economy. We hope this fund has alleviated some of our community’s stress during this crisis.”

The open application period for Safer At Home is now over. Going forward, its reserves will provide resources to families to keep their pets out of shelters as funding allows. Those who wish to support the Safer At Home Fund can do so here by selecting “Safer At Home Fund” from the dropdown menu.