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Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
Olivia Rockenbaugh of Animal Care Teens handles a donation of canned pet food during the group’s Stuff the Whisker Wag’n annual canned food drive.

Teens help shelter meet food needs

– Last year, Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control provided shelter for nearly 12,000 lost and homeless cats and dogs, many of them malnourished and far too underweight to be immediately adopted.

For animals that need to gain weight quickly or perhaps be enticed to eat, the answer is often canned pet food – something the shelter is not able to provide without community donations and the Animal Care Teens’ Stuff the Whisker Wag’n annual canned food drive.

The canned pet food collected during the one-day event Saturday will provide the shelter with food for pets that are rehabilitating from injuries or malnutrition.

“It helps them to eat when they first come in because they might not always like dry food, or they may have come in malnourished,” said Courtney Terry, president of Animal Care Teens. “We don’t have an exact number of cans in mind, but we just want to fill it up as much as we can.”

The program allows teenagers to learn more about careers, animal ownership and community service. Terry, a 17-year-old Homestead High School student, said she plans to be a veterinary technician.

“I think it helps teens to understand what they want to do. Some kids are like, ‘Oh, I want to work with animals,’ but then they don’t know what that involves,” she said. “When they come here, they can decide if this is something they want to do or not. They might think it’s all fun and giggles, but this is real.”

With the constant flow of cars dropping off food, the Whisker Wag’n brought in several cases of canned pet food only an hour into the day. Judy Evancho, humane education assistant for Animal Care & Control, said last year the teens were able to collect so many cans that the shelves were sagging in the middle.

“It makes me feel really good that they are interested in animals and their welfare,” Evancho said. “We try to put together a lot of service projects and teach them the importance of service. We couldn’t even survive without volunteers.”

While the shelter receives dry pet food from Hill’s Science Diet at a reduced price, the shelter’s budget does not include canned pet food, which often is necessary for animals that need to quickly gain weight or need moisture in their diet.

Peggy Bender, Animal Care & Control’s community relations and education specialist, said the shelter also provides canned food for volunteers who are caring for underweight or injured animals not healthy enough for adoption in their homes.

“We can have as many as 50 to 100 puppies and kittens in foster homes with volunteers because we need to get their weight up. The quicker we can get their weight up and make sure everything is stable, the faster the animal can get into the adoption program,” she said. “We always have the security of dried food, but the canned foods are used for different purposes.”

Last year, Animal Care & Control was able to avoid the additional costs of buying canned food for the entire year, due to the donations given during the agency’s Christmas Open House and ACT’s service project. Donations can always be dropped off throughout the year.

“When we don’t have to budget for canned foods, that money can be used for more pressing issues,” Bender said. “We often tell people they can treat a pet for their birthday and bring in a donation. If you kind of connect something that’s important to you, you’re more likely to follow through on it.”

For Terry and her peers, they see firsthand that the results are well worth it.

“It feels good. I always wanted to help,” she said. “When you are able to get people to bring in so much food, it just makes you feel really good inside.”