If it came down to it, Gloria Hernandez-Rosado would gladly forgo a meal if she didn't have food for her beloved brindle chihuahua, Kane.
"I would go hungry to buy him food," Hernandez-Rosado, 67, a retired flight attendant supervisor for American Airlines, said Sunday at her Riverside Palms apartment. "So help me God. This dog is incredible. All he wants to do is love me."
It's a choice the Humane Society of Tampa Bay doesn't want pet owners on fixed incomes having to make.
Hernandez-Rosado is one of 125 Hillsborough County residents taking part in a Humane Society service called Animeals, a program where volunteers deliver free pet food once a month to the homes of those with neither the transportation nor the financial means to adequately feed pets. Think of it as the pet version of Meals on Wheels, a program in which Animeals has its roots.
Mary Birrell, president of the Humane Society's board of directors, said Meals on Wheels volunteers contacted the Humane Society more than a decade ago because they noticed some people didn't have food for their dogs or cats.
"They were feeding their pets the meals they were getting," said Birrell, who noted the Humane Society spends about $1,500 a month on these deliveries. "We want to keep pets in the homes where they are well cared for and loved. The animal shelters are crowded enough."
So Animeals was born about 2000.
To some program participants, Birrell said, a pet can be a much-needed dose of happiness in a world of struggles.
Recipients must demonstrate a need, which may include proof of Social Security or disability income, food stamps or Medicaid. Participants must also have no transportation and their pets must be spayed or neutered, which the Humane Society will arrange at no cost if needed.
Birrell made the rounds Sunday across the Temple Terrace area in a sport utility vehicle packed with 20-pound bags of cat and dog food. She left two bags at the house of a Ponderosa Drive woman with five or six cats. Nobody was home, so Birrell left the food near the door.
At David Snell's University Woods Place apartment, he waited for Birrell outside. His lone cat, Vagita, is people shy even when they come loaded down with food. Snell, 47, is unemployed. The cat belonged to his ex-girlfriend. The cat developed an attachment to him. So when the girlfriend left, the cat stayed.
The ex-girlfriend "told me to just get rid of it," Snell said. "But that's not what you do for a family member."
That's a sentiment shared by Hernandez-Rosado, who can't imagine life without her 6-year-old Kane, which she has owned since he was a puppy. Hernandez-Rosado is a widow who lives alone and has battled health difficulties. She wakes up to the sight of Kane — it's pronounced KA-nee — sleeping on the pillow next to her every morning and cares for the pooch like a doting mother.
It is quickly clear that "soulmate" is a better word than "pet" to describe their unmistakable bond.
"All a pet wants to do is love you," Hernandez-Rosado said. "How can you go wrong?"
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]