Sometimes, the very people who need support can’t be reached due to homelessness or isolation, or both. This is a frequent challenge of the province’s Community Response Networks (CRNs) even before the pandemic.
People who find themselves homeless often have no phone number nor permanent address. People who self-isolate because of the fear of COVID or other reasons are difficult to reach. In both circumstances, commonly utilized outreach activities, such as in-person and virtual events, workshops, information packages, newspaper articles, and ads are not necessarily the most effective ways to share important information on community supports and services.
The CRN in Smithers, a town of 5,300, decided to run with an ingenious idea to reach the hard-to-reach…through their four-legged family members.
Precious Companions Program Started with One Person
The initial idea arose by coincidence. “I have a good friend who will rescue every dog in need she sees,” says CRN Coordinator Tianna Rasmussen. “I donated dog food to help her out. At the same time, several local homeless people would also come into the pet store where I work, asking about food donations to help their dog or cat. As an animal lover, I always said ‘yes’. Belinda (Lacombe, Regional Mentor – Northwestern BC) asked if I wanted to do more of this kind of work, and I said…‘yes’!”
Precious Companions launched in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic in an effort to help people who couldn’t access animal food. BC CRN provided funding to pilot the program. The program continues to be run by the Northern Society for Domestic Peace and the Northwest Animal Shelter Society.
Animal feed donations were collected, divided among those who expressed need, and then delivered directly.
A Strategic Three-Way Partnership
Through her role as CRN coordinator and as the manager of the local pet store, Tianna bridged the mandates of the Northern Society of Domestic Peace, the BC CRN, and the Northwest Animal Shelter Society with Precious Companions.
Feed donations received by the animal shelter were shared among animal shelter residents and the individuals who reached out through the program on behalf of their pets. “The shelter never stopped helping. Neither will I,” says Tianna.
And the word of the need got out to the community. “Suddenly, I was receiving birdseed, cracked salt blocks for livestock, and bales of hay on top of dog and cat food at my house,” continues Tianna. “We definitely appreciate everyone’s help, but the need is mainly for canine and feline pet food.”
“We knew if people were having troubles feeding their pets, they were also having troubles feeding themselves,” says Belinda. “When animal feed deliveries were made, Tianna ensured that information on local support services and on the BC CRN were included to support the ‘pet parent’.”
The Need Continues to Grow
Since March 2020, over 200 individuals have received pet food through Precious Companions. Approximately $3,000 of animal feed has been donated by the community.
“The program kind of evolved and grew organically,” Belinda explains. “It demonstrates the power of grassroots efforts and of the caring community members behind them.”
How did the name Precious Companions come to be?
“We just brainstormed, threw ideas out into the air, and Precious Companions kind of fell out,” says Tianna. “Our pets are ‘precious companions’: that’s what they are.”
For more information on the Precious Companions Program, or to assist with an animal feed or in-kind donation, or to volunteer, please contact Smithers CRN Coordinator Tianna Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Regional Mentor Belinda Lacombe at email@example.com.
Tianna is also profiled as our volunteer of the month! Read her story.
(Header Photo: Creative Commons License)