My name is Michelle Duca and I am a wife, mother, and have been an animal welfare activist for more than 25 years. I was born and raised in northwest Indiana and I have always had a passion for animals. From memories of my grandfather’s beagles when I was extremely young, to having a white Spitz as my shadow, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have an animal by my side. As I grew older it just seemed second nature that I was the one who would find the injured little bird, stray dog wandering the streets, or stumble across an animal at a shelter that was in desperate need of help. Rescuing dogs led to me having broken bones, concussions and numerous band aids all before I hit my 13th birthday. And with each rescue-related injury, my mother would just look at me, shake her head, and we would move on.
Throughout my childhood, we had a variety of animals that included rabbits, hermit crabs, and a Schnauzer-Poodle mix named Misifer. My mother taught me kindness and compassion, and with this I knew my fate was set. I would help animals at every opportunity, but I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. However the road I have traveled so far has definitely led to me meeting many wonderful people, helping a variety of homeless animals, and at this time, my biggest accomplishment: the creation of the Porter County Pet Project and Kibble Kitchen Pet Pantry. As a long-time Portage resident, it only made sense that I start this adventure in Porter County—right where our family’s hearts are!
With the creation of the pantry came the continual pleas for help on Craigslist for pet food, and when speaking with shelter employees, I continued to hear similar stories of how the number of pets relinquished had greatly increased because of the economy. An overwhelming number of individuals and families were facing financial difficulties for such extended periods that they were having trouble keeping their pets. I realized that help was needed on many levels in order to decrease the number of homeless pets in the area. The need for a pet pantry was obvious, and while I did the research I found many states offered a variety of pet pantries. I wanted to create a process similar to a regular food bank where people in need could pick up free supplemental pet food and supplies, freeing up some of their income to be allocated elsewhere.
As we come upon our first year of providing services to the community, we have seen Porter County residents finding it difficult to get by on their earnings. Our clients’ income sources have included Social Security, Disability, and unemployment. Many of the residents who seek our help have suffered decreased work hours, with some having incomes that do not even surpass $10,000 a year for a household. With rising fuel costs and an increase in grocery prices, the daily challenges people are facing continue to go from bad to worse. It just seems that taking care of a family is becoming increasingly difficult, as is affording to care for a family pet.
Currently people are struggling to keep food on their tables and provide the basic needs most of us take for granted, such as toilet paper, laundry soap, and bath soap, which most clients consider luxuries. Could you imagine rationing a single roll of toilet paper for a month? Until clients started sharing their hardships I never realized the true magnitude of the problem. As long as I can remember, I had always imagined that I wanted to create an assistance program for pet owners, but until these stories started to emerge, it wasn’t totally clear.
The question I ask is what can the Porter County Pet Project or the Kibble Kitchen Pet Pantry do for the community and at what level? Could we play a role in reducing the number of homeless pets? While providing food for pets in danger of being relinquished by families no longer able to afford to care for them is a start, I would like to do more.
I just don’t know when it became acceptable for people to have to choose between their beloved family companion and a prescription. Or facing the choice of having to place their pet in a shelter, give it away to someone else, or allow it to go hungry. I don’t really know but I do know that it is not acceptable and that something must be done. Gandhi said “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
I look forward to a time when people don’t have to even consider making the choice between keeping a pet and keeping a home. Maybe it’s too much to hope for in my lifetime, but I’d certainly like to move toward that outcome. If you’ve read this far, you understand the importance of having a pet in your life. I would like to thank everyone for their support and hope you will continue to help us spread the word that “No pet should go hungry.” It is an important mission and we can only continue with the help and support of such a wonderful community.
Our current business supporters and donors from the past year have made it possible to continue our mission and help our clients with so many services other than the supply of pet food! In the past year, we were visited by the Indiana Attorney General, received a $1,000 grant from the Humane Society United States, and with the help of the organization, Calumet Snap, we were able to issue 20 spay/neuter certificates for large breed dogs to be altered at low cost.
We have provided pet food to several local animal rescue groups, allowing them to shift funds to medical necessities of homeless animals, and at the holidays, we were able to provide a bag of much needed household items that our clients could use the most. I would say it was a pretty productive year, and with the continued support of community members, organizations and businesses, additional good will come our way!