FOOD poverty in East Lancashire has reached such levels that even pet owners are now visiting foodbanks.

People are turning to foodbanks for help as they are struggling to support not only themselves, but also their beloved dogs and cats.

As a result, volunteers have started giving out pet food amid fears that people will use the contents of food parcels to feed their pets before they feed themselves, and will end up going hungry.

Foodbanks say that they are regularly including tins and packets of animal food in their emergency food parcels.

While, dog charity Pendle Dogs in Need has even set up its very own doggy foodbank in an attempt to feed Burnley and Pendle’s starving canines.

Recently, dog kennels and rehoming charities in East Lancashire have made headlines after the Lancashire Telegraph reported that such a high number of pets were being abandoned after owners found themselves no longer able to afford to keep them.

Animal charities said that they are ‘full to the brim’ and are struggling to cope.

Caroline Collins, of foodbank charity RAFT Foundation in Rossendale said: “It first came to my attention around Christmas time, when a woman asked me if I would mind if she fed the tinned meat we had donated to her dog.

“Since then, we’ve come across several people that would feed their dog before they would feed themselves.

“We have been collecting pet food regularly since then to give out to people that have pets and now every time someone is referred to us, we ask them if they have a pet.

The RAFT Foundation is currently feeding around 10 pets per week and Caroline says that they have fed not only cats and dogs but hamsters, rabbits and gerbils.

The charity has an agreement with Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary in Ramsbottom in which they donate any food that they cannot keep, such as bread and fresh vegetables, to the charity for them to include in their pig and horse feed.

In turn, Bleakholt donates any tins of cat food, dog food that they have spare to the RAFT Foundation.

Anyone referred to the foodbank is also specifically asked if they have pets so the provisions can be made to feed the animal too.

Ruth Haldane from the Ribble Valley foodbank said a local company regularly donates dog food to the charity, which is then given out to people in need.

The foodbank has also given out cat food on occasion.

She said: “We do realise that we can’t just say ‘get rid of your pet’, that pet might have been with them for some time, and it may be their only friend.

“If we don’t give out pet food, then perhaps the food we give out, some of it will go to the dog.”

Ros Duerden, of Blackburn Foodbank said: “Pet food is not something that we’ve ever asked for but people regularly donate it to us and it is distributed quickly.

“When we meet with people that are referred to us, we ask them if there is anything that they need particularly and often people tell us that they are struggling to feed their pet and we help out with that.”

And Mark Hirst from Community Solutions, which runs food banks in Burnley and Hyndburn, said: “We offer pet food as part of our service, we offer it if people need it, as part of a holistic approach.”

Pendle Dogs in Need has been donating tins of dog food to those facing hardship for around 12 months, but until now never had a steady enough supply of food to call itself a foodbank.

Currently, the charity has collection points stationed in Morrisons in Nelson, The Pet Store in Barrowford and in their own drop-in shop in Leeds Road, Nelson but in the coming weeks, are due to place even more throughout Burnley and Pendle in order to firmly establish their dog foodbank.

The charity says that in the past 12 months, it has had two-to-three referrals a week but it believes the demand is significantly higher in reality.

Paula Knowles, who runs the kennels said: “We were very quiet about it because we knew we didn’t have enough food to give out to everyone and we didn’t want to turn anyone away.

“The council, mental health teams and other organisations have been contacting us for emergency dog food for some time and we have always helped.

“But now, with all the changes to benefits that are happening and the massive numbers of dogs that are being abandoned everyday because people can’t afford them, we know we have to act and luckily, we are getting regular donations of food meaning we should be able to provide for everyone that is referred to us.

“More and more people are finding themselves on benefits and those benefits are being cut more and more frequently.”

“Dogs are much more than pets to a lot of people. They are family members.

“A young man was referred to us after he fled from domestic violence. His dog was all he had and when I met with him, he was heartbroken. He thought that because he had no money he would have to get rid of this animal that he was absolutely devoted to.

“We really want to be able to help people in that situation and in turn, lower the number of dogs that end up abandoned or mistreated.”

Pendle Dogs in Need dog foodbank will work in much the same way as a regular foodbank does.

People with dogs in need will be referred to the centre by a number of agencies including social services, mental health teams, the council, police, vets or their GP.