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WEST CHESTER — When State Sen. Andy Dinniman’s beloved poodle Henry passed away in December, he wanted to do something in memory of his four-legged companion.
“If you don’t have the funds to feed your dog (or cat), we can help you with that so that there’s one less that we have to find a new home for,” Dinniman said. “We knew we were helping a number of people.”
Just a handful of months later, Dinniman is expanded Henry’s Cupboard.
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Actually, it’s more like giving it mobility, as Henry’s Cupboard will hit the road.
“We realized there are probably many more people, especially older people, who can’t get out of their homes because of a physical disability or many types of illnesses,” Dinniman said. “Many of these individuals are provided with meals through the county’s Meals on Wheels program. I was told that a number of people share the food they got with their dog or cat because the dog or cat were very important to them.
“Their animal was, really, the only companion they had. In this type of situation, neither the person nor pet is getting proper nutrition.”
Working with Meals on Wheels and the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA), Dinniman was able to get Henry’s Cupboard on the road for these type of older people.
Now, when they receive their food from Meals on Wheels, they will also receive dog or cat food from Henry’s Cupboard.
“The (PVMA) will provide the funds that will enable a local organization, such as Meals on Wheels, to purchase the dog or cat food, which will then be delivered every couple of weeks when the meals are delivered,” Dinniman said.
Dinniman is also working with the senior centers to identify the elders who need pet food so they can get help as well.
“The veterinarians are also going to work out arrangements with some of the larger companies so they are able to get the food at a good price,” Dinniman said.
The plan, for the moment, is to start of this mobile portion of Henry’s Cupboard with some of the local Meals on Wheels in Chester County to see how things work out and fix any kinks along the way.
Once everything is flowing smoothly, the goal is to take Henry’s Cupboard statewide.
“By 2016, we can start to involve other communities in other parts of the state,” Dinniman said. “Hopefully, within several years, this will be statewide.”
If things go well across Pennsylvania, there’s also the thought of making this a nationwide effort.
Dinniman is already hearing from several places in the state who are interested in the mobile Henry’s Cupboard, including Adams County, Scranton and Pittsburgh.
“This has nothing to do with government money,” Dinniman said. “It’s all done by the veterinary foundation contributing and by the volunteers who go into these homes in the first place.”
Along with the expansion across the state and possibly the county, the food choices itself will expand in regards to pets.
Right now, Henry’s Cupboard will only supply food for cats and dogs, but down the road, Dinniman would like to also provide food for other pets, such as birds or rabbits.
“In time, we hope to be able to help anyone who comes to the SPCA or any person, starting with senior citizens but expanding that, who is confined to a home or an apartment, to be able to provide the food to their pet so they can keep their companion with them,” Dinniman said.
The whole idea of Henry’s Cupboard, both at the SPCA and on the road, is a positive in more than just one way.
“The wonderful thing about this is all of us love our dog or cat — they’re part of the family,” Dinniman said. “If you’re isolated in a house or apartment, that companionship is double and triple times more important to you. Sometimes that’s the only companion or friend you have.
“In many cases, the pet is older and it’s almost impossible to get people to adopt older pets. We save the pet, we help the person, they maintain their companionship and we’re actually able to get good nutrition to the person and animal. Everyone wins.”
As tragic as the loss of Henry was to the Dinnimans, what has come out of it has been nothing short of an amazing surprise,
“When we started this, it was my wife and I’s way to take the tragedy of our dog’s death and have something very positive emerge,” Dinniman said. “We never dreamt that it would get this kind of legs and movement. In life, we all have difficult things that happen to each and every one of us. We need to try and carry on and have something emerge that’s positive and that can help others.”