Saint Cloud resident Erin Swilley received an email from a woman requesting assistance recently. Swilley was already operating a pet rescue in Osceola County that helped locate homes for dogs and cats that were destined to be euthanized if they were not adopted.
The woman explained in her email that she delivers meals for seniors through the Meals on Wheels program. One of her clients told her that, since their income was limited, they would feed their dog and cat some of the meals that were brought to them.
Swilley and her two young children knew they had to do something to help and also knew they had the capabilities to solicit assistance through their facebook page and other networking resources. Soon, Swilley started receiving donations of food and money for the newly-formed pet food pantry.
The process is simple and effective: People drop food at one of donation locations - Bubbles N Paws Pet Grooming on 192 in St. Cloud or New Wave Emporium on 192 in St. Cloud. They can also message the pantry and make arrangements for them to pick up the donation. After that, Swilley delivers the food to those in the local area who contact her expressing the need.
“We offer food to anyone in the Osceola County,” Swilley explained. If someone makes a request from outside the county, she will refer them to an appropriate agency in their area.
“Anyone can apply for help,” she said. “We only give out a bag or two of dry pet food per request and since there are very few things someone could do with a bag of dog food other than feed it to a dog, we operate on an honor system.”
Happy Trails is working with the Osceola Council on Aging and other non- profit groups who help local families. There are times when a family that has pets may feel that they can no longer care for those pets. In that case, Swilley works with the Osceola County Animal Shelter to help prevent pet surrenders by providing food and pet education services to those people.
Other programs the organization offers include free behavioral classes for people who can't afford professional help and are struggling with pet behavior issues. They also utilize their extensive social media network to raise funds for local families that may have high veterinarian bills. If a person is hospitalized and and cannot be there for their pet, Happy Trails provides short term foster care
"Our long term goal is to buy land and build a no kill shelter that will service the Central Florida area,” Swilley said with great enthusiasm. “To do this,” she said, we are going to need help from the local community.” Happy Trails does not receive any public funding.
Currently, the pantry distributes food once a month per household. They rely entirely on community donations.