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A drive to help

Potter League's Drive-thru pet food pantry may become monthly event

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The first West Bay drive-thru pet pantry hosted by the Potter League was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday from the league’s spay and neuter clinic on Elm Street in Warwick.

By 9:30, however, so many people had shown up that Kara Montalbano was on the phone to the league’s East Bay offices calling for more supplies. She had planned on giving out 550 pounds of dog food and another 550 pounds of cat food, but she feared with the early turnout that would be quickly gone.

Van Mello was one of the early birds. When the shutdown came in March, he lost his job. Making ends meet became difficult. Then his father died. He took on the responsibility of caring for his father’s four cats, and finances became that much more difficult. Mello was exceedingly grateful for the food Madison Lane of the league loaded into the trunk of this car.

Montalbano has heard similar stories, and it’s the reason the league started distributing free pet food from its offices in Middletown. From March until October, the league has given out 8,000 pounds of pet food, much of it donated by individuals, the Rumford Pet Center – which gives them torn bags and other damaged goods – and pet food wholesalers.

“We’re very fortunate,” Montalbano said. With the need being met on the Easy Bay, she said the decision was made to make distributions from the Warwick clinic that the league acquired in 2018. A staff of 10, including two veterinarians, operates the clinic, which offers low-cost spay and neutering. With the shutdown, the clinic, which is considered a nonessential service, was closed, and about 500 scheduled procedures were postponed. Since reopening with a single veterinarian, Montalbano said, the clinic has worked through the backlog. They have a full schedule with bookings into March of this year.

The clinic provides dog spaying and neutering for shelters at $150. The cost for dog owners is based on the weight of the animal, starting at $220, which is about half of market rates. Cat spaying and neutering is $80 for tame cats and $65 for feral cats.

“We’re all-over feral cats,” said Montalbano. Since starting with the league in 2016, Montalbano said she has witnessed a dramatic decline in the numbers of feral or wild cats. The cats are brought in by people who have been feeding them and manage to trap them. They are returned to the wild if they can’t be domesticated. Payment of services may be covered by those bringing the cats in or through grants such as those made available by the Rhode Island Foundation.

Founded in 1929, the Potter League provides a variety of services to animals and people through sheltering and adopting animals, dog obedience training classes, educating adults and youths, assisting the pets of low-income families, pet visitation programs and cremation and pet-loss support services, according to its brochure.

“We’ve all been there,” Montalbano said of situations where an individual is faced with caring for an unexpected pet, or having to leave a pet because of housing restrictions, a move or financial reasons.

“The culture,” she said of the league, “is nonjudgmental.”

Since the pandemic, Montalbano has seen an increase in the adoption of pets. She reasons as people are spending more time at home they look forward to the company and have the opportunity to be with the pet. Also, she reasons with more time with their pets, people are more attuned to their needs and ways through training that they might experience a fuller relationship.

By 2 p.m. the league had given away nearly 1,000 pounds of pet food. Montalbano said the league is considering monthly drive-thru pet pantries from the Warwick clinic.

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