Humane Religion Magazine
March - April 1998 Issue
FEEDING THE HUNGRY
Too often, those who understand the need to be compassionate and caring towards all God's creatures feel frustrated by the lack of concern, on the part of our religious leaders, for the well-being of animals.
This "official" disregard continues in spite of the fact that many church members have companion animals with whom they share a deep bond of love and concern. But except within the framework of their personal relationships with other church members, the subject of companion animals, and their place in our lives, is usually ignored.
Unfortunately, the exception to this rule generally takes place when a clergyman feels compelled to berate those who love and care for animals, believing that their concern is misplaced—or even displeasing to God. These clergy lack faith in the infinite nature of God's love and compassion. And not only do they lack an understanding of supernatural love, they do not comprehend the nature of human love.
The love that is expressed in compassion and concern for other beings, animal or human, makes the world a better place for everyone. It also sets an example of kindness that can be contagious— awakening people to needs they had not previously considered. This has been the case at several churches in Phoenix, Arizona where food pantries have been expanded to include food for the pets of needy people.
The addition of pet food to these pantries came about as the result of a cooperative effort between the Humane Society and the churches. The Society had some surplus food and asked one of the churches to help distribute it. As more people became aware of the great difficulty that those of limited means have in trying to feed their animals, several churches added pet food to their distribution programs. The response was overwhelming. A spokeswoman said "we knew the need was great, but once the word got out, people were lined up and down the street."
Church volunteers began to realize what a blessing the availability of pet food was. One of the volunteers was surprised to learn that "people love their pets so much that they would give them more food than they allowed themselves."
An older woman, who had suffered from seizures and various other chronic conditions since childhood, came to one of the churches to get help. On her very limited disability income she was unable to buy food for her dog, and was concerned that her companion's nutri-itional needs were not being met. She was so grateful for the help she was able to receive that, in spite of her disabilities, she later became a volunteer in the pet food program. "It's a real blessing to be a part of this" she said, "just to see the happiness on people's faces—they love their pets so much."
Many people cannot meet the nutritional needs of their animal companions
But before these programs were in place, the Humane Society director said that about ten percent of those who gave up their animals did so because of their dire financial condition. "If this program had been in place before, there are many who could have kept their pets."
A director of one of the church food pantries estimates that more than half of those who receive food aid have also asked for pet food. In the first few months of operation, more than 36,000 pounds of pet food were distributed. A spokesman said that this had been a hidden issue, but now that it was out in the open, he hoped other communities, and other churches, in cooperation with Humane Societies, would respond to this need.
So although the needs of animals are too often ignored by those in the pulpits of our churches, those in the food pantries are ministering to them, and making awareness of their needs part of the outreach of their church.
We encourage our readers to investigate this area of service. By helping churches make pet food part of their ministry to the hungry, much is accomplished. When a church asks for food donations for the needy, and that announcement is accompanied by a request for pet food, the issue of animal welfare has automatically become part of the ministry of that church. Not only are the physical needs of the animals met, but just as importantly, other church members begin to make an association between the needs of animals, and the human responsibility to meet those needs.
And the seeds of understanding that are sown in the churches, through this kind of outreach can blossom into a growing awareness that it is God who calls us to be concerned and compassionate stewards of the earth, and all its creatures. #