Service collects, gives out pet food to those in need
He made ailing senior citizens forget their worries for a day when he'd visit. He rescued an injured pigeon in the woods from certain death. And he once scored a 99 on the U.S. Temperament Testing Association test.
"If my dog bit you," said owner John Drake, "you had to be the biggest (expletive) in the world."
A black Labrador retriever, Irie as in the Jamaican word for "everything is all right" died nearly two years ago on New Year's Eve night.
Drake and his wife, Heather, were crushed. He had endured six months of cancer, and they endured multiple trips to Tufts University and more than $3,000 worth of veterinarian bills.
'In his memory'
They could've purchased a engraved brick at Tufts for $250 to memorialize Irie after 11 years as their best friend.
"But we wanted to do something that would inspire," Heather said. "Something in his memory."
So the two started Irie's Pet Pantry, a service that collects pet food and distributes it to local pet owners in need.
The service has been running for 10 months now. Drake and Heather began paying for $20 worth of cat and dog food each week and bringing it to St. George's Episcopal Church food pantry in Lee and the People's Pantry in Great Barrington.
The idea was that people who had little money to feed themselves must also be hurting to feed their animals.
"There was a need for this," Heather said. "People shouldn't have to make a choice of whether to feed their animal or give it away."
|» How to help|
Sunday, December 17For more information on Irie's Pet Pantry, contact John and Heather Drake at (413) 298-4686.
Heather's mother, Nancy Armstrong, began putting up fliers at her apartment complex in Lenox requesting pet food. Drake got some business cards made.
More food started to come in. And so did items, such as dog collars, leashes and clothing: some new, some used.
"We'd be bringing food Thursday morning to the People's Pantry and there would be seven or eight people waiting," Drake said.
One elderly woman told the story of how she was so desperate that she would skip meals just so she could afford food for her pet.
A similar effort
Karen Karlberg, community outreach coordinator at the Berkshire Humane Society, has established the same type of program. People in need are allowed to come in once a month and receive a 30-day supply of cat or dog food.
"We get a lot of individual donations," Karlberg said. "Price Chopper also donates. There's a lot of people who need this service."
Karlberg said the Humane Society also drops off pet food supplies to the Christian Center in Pittsfield for those who cannot travel out of the city.
The Drakes said their operation has grown in a short time. They've even been approached by two out-of-towners one in Buffalo and one in Canada who have since started branches of Irie's Pet Pantry in their area.
But they've also heard some criticisms.
"They say, 'People who can't feed themselves shouldn't have pets. You're just enabling them,' " Heather said. "Some people don't understand the feeling you get from animals. We can understand how a 6-year-old girl who is eating government peanut butter deserves a pet more than we do."
The two are proud they've been able to do something positive in Irie's memory. Drake still chokes up when he talks about his beloved dog. Telling the story of sleeping in his cage with him in a vet's office during the cancer ordeal brings tears to his eyes.
"He was such a special dog," Drake said. "He was like a Buddha dog."
They have another dog now Gauge, an 18-month-old yellow lab, who loves to get into the donated food when his owners aren't watching.
The Drakes hope to grow their service, perhaps even turning it into a nonprofit. Their goal is to be in every Berkshire County town, so that those in need never have to stray too far to feed their pets.
"It's a lot more functional than a brick at Tufts," said Heather. "And now, there are dogs out there that my dog (Irie) is helping to feed."
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