Feeding two Rottweilers is an economic feat in the best of times. But when Donna's husband lost his job over two years ago, keeping up with the appetites of their two large breed dogs - both of which have medical issues - became an economic problem they couldn't handle.
It was quickly becoming a choice between paying to feed the canines and paying for the thyroid and pain medication the dogs need.
"I've been struggling," Donna said. "It's very hard when we've got almost no money coming in."
That was when Donna finally lucked out - she heard from her neighbors that Marge Petrow, the volunteer coordinator for the , was giving away free pet food.
For Donna, a Woodbridge resident, it was a godsend.
"I know Marge from years ago when our kids were in school," Donna said. "My neighbors told me she was running a pet food bank. It's helped me out tremendously."
Need is up by half
The pet food bank has been in existence for a year and a half, Petrow said, and demand for free pet food - all donated by pet food companies - has "increased by 50 percent in the last year," Petrow said.
"People are losing their jobs. They call in tears. They have to give up their dog or their cat because they say can't even feed their family," Petrow said.
It became a question of "what can I do to help you keep your pet," Petrow said, emphasizing that helping do what's needed to keep a pet with their family means one less animal turned over to an animal shelter.
She emphasized that the entire program is completely confidential. "Anyone who needs help can just tell me what they need," Petrow said, and she'll do her best to help.
"Some people are a little embarrassed or ashamed. They shouldn't be," she said.
Petrow even goes so far as to deliver pet food - treats included - if the pet owner is disabled and can't travel to pick up the big bags of dog food or cat litter. It's not that far of a trip: the pet food depot is housed in her basement.
"I had one lady who is really sweet. Her husband needs a heart transplant. He lost his job, and he has no medical insurance," she said. "It really helped them."
Two big dogs
Donna's dogs are both Rottweiler mixes: Kain, a 9-year-old male, and Kristy, an 8-year-old female. Weight-wise, they clock in at 169 lbs. and 79 lbs. respectively.
Both are considered to be senior dogs. One has thyroid issues, and both have problems with their knees.
But because the pet surgery is so expensive - $2,500 for knee surgery Denise simply can't afford - keeping up with the pain medication is vital.
"That way, the dog can tolerate it until we can get the money for surgery," she said.
The big bags of dog food that Donna gets from Petrow has made it possible for her to pay the minor vet bills and keep both her dogs at home.
Nancy, another Woodbridge resident, is awash in cats. She has three, and her twin sister, Linda, has four.
It wasn't so bad, before Linda - known affectionally as "Linnie" - was almost killed by an SUV last October.
"She lost her job. She's been in therapy all this time," Nancy said.
During her rehab, Linda moved in with Nancy and her family. And so did the cats.
"It's a lot of cat food and litter," said Nancy, who firmly believes that pets are a gift from the Almighty. "I didn't want to give any of them up, but I had no idea how we were going to pay for all of this."
Nancy is employed as an aide to special needs children, while her husband also is employed. But between their children and her sister, and even with her incessant couponing, money was getting very tight.
It all reached a head near the holidays.
"I had one bag of catfood left the week before Christmas. I didn't know where I was going to get the food from," she said.
Then she heard about Marge Petrow and the pet food bank.
"I said, thank you, God. It's a lifesaver," Nancy said.
Litter, canned food, and treats
Petrow gave her cat litter, dry and canned food, and "some goodies. My cats need their goodies," Nancy laughed.
"I'm using it for three of my cats. I was just saying to my girlfriend, it's saving me so much money a month."
Petrow is glad to help. "Pet food companies will donate, and our volunteers donate, too," she said. "It works out well."
"We haven't turned anyone away."
For more information, email Marge Petrow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 732-636-4580.