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The Pet Industry’s Philanthropic Response to the Pandemic

Glenn Polyn//January 3, 2021//

Stray dogs are rescued by The HSUS. The HSUS Animal Rescue Team (ART) assists Escambia County with animal rescue and response following hurricane Sally on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Escambia County, Fla.(Tyler Kaufman/AP Images for HSUS)

The Pet Industry’s Philanthropic Response to the Pandemic

Glenn Polyn //January 3, 2021//

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Amid the darkness of the COVD-19 pandemic, business shutdowns and political strife in 2020, the pet care industry was a beacon of light by providing some good news during the year. Pet companies raised millions of dollars for rescues and shelters, while members of the pet care community volunteered their time. In addition, nonprofits benefited from tons of donated food and the environment received a boost from the industry’s recycling efforts. And even more projects gave back to communities to support abused women and pet owners in need.


Sustainable Pet Projects

The focus in 2020 was on sustainability, according to Earth Animal, the family-run company in Connecticut that has been making healthy, all-natural pet products for more than 40 years. According to Stephanie Volo, Earth Animal’s chief marketing officer, sustainability for her brand is deliberate and strategic. She said the company’s leaders “look through a sustainability lens for everything we do as a company” and weave it into their overall strategy.

“That is why, we dedicate one percent of our annual sales to like-mined organizations, industry stewardship, and mission-driven efforts that enhance and preserve quality of life for animals, people and the Earth. That doesn’t mean we simply ‘give’ on percent away, it means we dedicate and use one percent to further our positive impact in supporting our stakeholders that share in this mission,” Volo said. “And, this [past] year, more than ever, we increased our focus and supported those around us that needed it and continue to need it most—our internal team, our communities and Mother Earth.”

Earth Animal donated more than $300,000 in product and monetary donations to animal rescues and shelters including: Mission K-9 Rescue, Adopt-A-Dog Inc., Best Friends Animal Society, North Shore Animal League, Seattle Homeless Dogs Program, Anti-Cruelty Chicago, TreeHouse Rescue Chicago, Hope For Those Without Voices, Westport Animal Shelter Advocates and many others, she said.

“Without a healthy, happy pack of Earth animals behind us, we simply would not exist. Through hands-on involvement and generous giving, we demonstrate our ongoing commitment to our global and communities. To us, ‘community’ encompasses our internal pack, local communities and people around the globe,” Volo said.

In 2020, Volo said Earth Animal donated more than $50,000 to the Connecticut Food Bank, the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation, and provided our customers an opportunity to drive our charitable efforts through ShoppingGives, a program designed to allow consumers a voice in our charitable efforts

“Our one percent of net sales for the second quarter went to three organizations combating systemic racism and working to create a fair and just nation for everyone; PolicyLink, Equal Justice Initiative and the Katal Center—this is a donation of $25,794.51 per organization,” she said. “And lastly, we provide thoughtful, generous, progressive, supportive and family-friendly human resource practices and policies for our internal workforce that keep tails wagging, enables them to feel connected, productive, and most importantly, safe.”

According to Volo, Earth Animal’s pledge in 2021 is to continue to “build a sustainable business in harmony with the world around us. One of the ways we do this is to involve ourselves in natural disaster relief programs.”

“We also became the first icon member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition,” she explained. “Together with their guidance and support, we helped to develop and donate a carbon calculation tool for businesses in the industry to measure and help them find ways to reduce their carbon footprint, worked to build and implement an Environmental Management System (EMS) at our manufacturing facility, and helped to develop and sponsor the Flex Forward pilot program with our sustainability partners at the Pet Sustainability Coalition and Pet Food Experts Distribution.”


Recycling Strides

Keeping plastics, paper, cardboard and bottles out of landfills in 2020 was part of the continued, overall “Green Movement” pioneered by E.J. McKernan Co. with corporate offices in Nevada. The business finds buyers for surplus and overstock bottles, jars, closures and components, according to Jim Lemmons, McKernan’s general manager in Nevada.

Lemmons said the pet industry falls in the category of the personal care industry when it comes to packaging.

“One of the things about the pet market that we have watched over the years is that they don’t have innovative packaging,” he explained. “They don’t need it and they just have standard packaging. But like the personal care industry, they use containers the same as the stuff we wash our hair with, brush our teeth with.”

In 2020, when COVID-19 forced many workplace closures, Lemmons said there was an even greater demand for packaging—especially from mom-and-pop pet stores. For instance, some stores had pet products like fur de-tangler or shampoo, but were unable to get the bottle or sprayer they needed for the liquid product, he said.

“[Pet stores] were cut off and couldn’t buy a sprayer or a cap,” he said. “We found out we were able to help a lot of suppliers we never dealt with.”

When Lemmons looks back at 2020, he said he thinks of new relationships built in a time of crisis–but also new opportunity to keep even more containers out of landfills and on the shelves at pet stores.

“The [past] year has been a unique year, because we’ve had a massive year with COVID-19. I would say in the neighborhood of tonnage we kept out of the landfill, it was about 20 million tons–and that’s really a shotgun answer. Overall, millions of tons go to landfill every year, but we are able to repurpose much of it before it gets there,” said Lemmons, adding that he sees more work with the pet industry in 2021. “We provide a service that keeps these items out of landfills–and there is a need by the pet industry and others.”


Charity and Philanthropy

Pure and Natural Pet, an all-natural pet supplier headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, is involved with a variety of different charities and their philanthropy encompass pet safety and the environment working with Paws for Life K9 Rescue.

According to Julie Creed, vice president of marketing for Pure and Natural Pet, her brand was one of 40 companies 9two of which were pet-related) that in 2020 participated in the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) Virtual Hill Visits on Advocacy Day for Climate Change. They met with officials from Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, who was one of 11 senators who sponsored the 2019 Climate Security Act.

Looking forward to 2021, Creed wants to get others in the pet industry involved in important issues. Last year alone, she said Pure and Natural Pet donated over $50,000 and “thousands of countless hours at events and promoting the causes that are dear to our hearts.”

“We encourage other manufacturers in our industry to take a more active role in protecting and advancing organic farming,” she added. “Organic farming can be part of the solution and help tackle climate change through its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Creed said they also have been active with the OTA in other Legislative and Regulatory Roundups. “We are big believers that organic makes the planet healthier for all,” she said.

In 2020, Pure and Natural Pet also participated in the “Summer Smile Campaign” with the Grey Muzzle organization. Several hundred Senior Dental Kits were gifted to 10 of their Grant Recipient rescue groups.

“We actively communicate with our retailers and customers on the good works we are doing and how they can help,” Creed explained. “Our customers who follow us on social media have always had ways they can further organic legislation, adopt pets, and share in our givebacks, either directly or with product tie-ins. Select SKUs are tied to charities: Our Buy One Give One promotion gives a Paw Rescue to Paws for Life K9 Rescue, and our new Bamboo Toothbrushes and Dental Kits aid in planting trees with One Tree Planted.”


Donation Dollars

Chillicothe, Ohio-based Petland has been matching the right pet with the right customer for more than 53 years. The retailer also helps to support families who find the right pet at the Ross County Humane Society (RCHS) and the Licking County Dog Shelter and Adoption Center.

Since March of 2016, any individual or family who has adopted a dog from RCHS has received a $50 Petland gift card. By the end of 2020, Petland has redeemed nearly $110,000 in those cards at the local stores on Bridge Street and Western Avenue. The Petland store in Heath has redeemed more than $7,000 in $25 gift cards for families who adopted their pet at the Licking County Dog Shelter and Adoption Center.

Petland lauds its relationship with RCHS, maintaining a position on the board as well as raising awareness through fundraisers and donation events. In 2020, Petland began a feeding program at RCHS and by the end of the year, had provided over $35,000 in dog food donations.

“Our mission is to match the right pet with the right family and we want families to find the right pet whether they visit Petland or a local humane society or shelter. If a family finds their perfect pet at the Ross County Humane Society or the Licking County Dog Shelter and Adoption Center, we can help them with food, supplies or toys,” said Petland vice president Steve Huggins, who also serves on the Ross County Humane Society Board.


Global Pet Projects

Purina supports pets, pet owners, communities and the planet by providing more than $30 million in funding and Purina pet food and Tidy Cats litter supplies to nonprofit organizations across the country annually. And 2020 was no different, said Joe Toscano, vice president of trade & industry development.

“Every year, Purina says it provides tens of millions of pounds of pet food and cat litter to pet shelters across the country and has a dedicated pet welfare team to support shelters and rescue organizations,” Toscano said. “These donations provide high-quality nutrition to hundreds of thousands of pets through Purina’s Shelter Champion partners.”

The company also supports the Petfinder Foundation through a number of annual campaigns that generate grants for Petfinder shelters and subsidize pet adoption fees.

Toscano said supporting communities in need when a natural disaster strikes continues to be a key priority at Purina. That is why they partner with Greater Good Charities to make financial donations to aid victims of natural disasters, and also work with Rescue Bank, a national pet food bank and program of Greater Good, to distribute pet food and litter to pet shelters and owners in need.

“Purina also knows the bond between pets and their owners is unbreakable, but the lack of pet-friendly domestic violence shelters leaves many victims with a heartbreaking decision—stay in an abusive relationship with their beloved pet or leave their pet behind,” Toscano said.

“As few as 10 percent of domestic violence shelters in the United States allow pets, and nearly half of victims (48%) will stay with their abuser in fear of what will happen to their pet if they leave. In 2018, Purina joined forces with RedRover to raise awareness of the issue and develop a program to help bridge this gap,” he said.

Several of Purina’s brands, including Beggin Strips, Tidy Cats and Fancy Feast have helped RedRover. Purple Leash Project was launched in 2019 and in 2020 continued to provide grant-based funding to help domestic violence shelters become pet-friendly so domestic abuse victims can escape with their pets and begin to heal together as survivors.

Toscano states 2020 saw a surge in enthusiasm to support the Purple Leash Project.

“Our consumers and associates have volunteered their time to renovate shelters, raised awareness of this issue and support of the Purple Leash Project has increased dramatically in 2020 as the pandemic has presented even more obstacles for victims of abuse to leave,” Toscano noted.


Cat Litter Contributes

In 2020, World’s Best Cat Litter donated 3,500 pounds of litter to seven animal shelters through their GiveLitter charity initiative. To aid adoption efforts, Give Litter donated 500 pounds of litter each to seven partner shelters in need: Idaho Humane Society, Bloomington Animal Care & Control (Indiana), Eau Claire County Humane Association (Wisconsin), AnimalKind (New York), Charleston Animal Society (South Carolina), Utah Humane Society and Homeward Pet Adoption (Washington).

“At World’s Best Cat Litter, a top priority is supporting shelter cats, so they can one day find a forever home,” said Jean Broders, senior brand manager, Kent Pet Group. “GiveLitter allows us to provide aid to the hardworking shelters that need this litter to keep helping cats.”

Launched in 2010, GiveLitter has supported animal shelters and cat adoption by donating over 662,000 pounds of litter to shelters across the country. Kim Halstead, marketing and communications specialist for Homeward Pet Adoption Center in Woodville, Washington, appreciates the delivery.

“We can’t thank World’s Best enough for their generous donation—especially during kitten season,” Halstead said. “We go through hundreds of pounds of litter taking care of about 500 kittens each year, and their donation makes a big difference in the lives of these homeless kittens and cats.”


Hurricane Sally

Whitebridge Pet Brands donated 28,000 pounds of Tiki Dog and Cloud Star food and treats to Alabama shelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally in September 2020. The St. Louis-based manufacturer, known for Tiki Dog and Cloud Star, donated 1,400 bags of kibble, 70,800 cans of wet dog food and 4,800 bags of dog treats to help with the animal rescue effort in the aftermath of the devastating Category 2 storm.

“Like all natural disasters, Hurricane Sally put an extreme burden on local animal rescue groups, and we learned that the need was exceptionally great in Alabama,” said Anne Hudson, vice president of marketing at Whitebridge.

In spring 2020, Whitebridge joined with Rescue Bank in another donation, providing $750,000 worth of Tiki Dog and Tiki Cat food to help shelters and pet parents meet the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitebridge says it likes to support animal welfare groups that have developed innovative and unique programs to get pets adopted. The company was pleased to make donations to two such extraordinary rescue groups in 2020: Dogs Playing For Life and Paws For Life K-9 Rescue, Hudson said.

Shelters have expressed concern they could see a flood of animals being returned if fostering individuals and families who lost their jobs experience financial hardships. Another concern is if people who return to work find they no longer have time to care for their companion animal.

According to the Melia Reeves-Long, consumer engagement associate at Tiki Pets, getting ahead of these concerns with food donations in 2021 is key.

“Whether the food is used to help a needy family who might not otherwise be able to keep their foster pet, or support an animal welfare organization that has lost a large part of its revenue stream, donating Tiki Dog and Tiki Cat food is a way we can offer assistance during this unprecedented crisis,” Reeves-Long explained.


Challenges in a Pandemic

Amid COVID-19, Americans are staying apart to stay safe, but for canine rescue Dogs Playing For Life (DPFL) social distancing is not an option. The Colorado-based organization’s innovative program relies on social interaction and shared playtime to make shelter dogs better behaved and more adoptable. The COVID-19 crisis has created new challenges for the group, which mentors shelters around the nation on how to implement its playgroup program and now must perform this service digitally.

DPFL also operates its own advanced canine behavior center in North Central Florida, where the 2020 crisis had an impact. Most of the dogs that come to the organization are at risk of euthanasia at their originating shelter due to behavior concerns.

“The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t impacted our ability to serve these dogs, but it has held up some of the dogs that are ready to be transported to adoption partners,” said Emily Grossheider, Chief Innovation Officer for DPFL.

With dogs moving through its system more slowly, a donation of dog food that DPFL recently received from Cloud Star is proving especially timely. The St. Louis-based dog food company has provided the rescue with almost 2,000 pounds or 114 bags of Cloud Star baked kibble, known for its grain-free recipes with limited ingredients that are high in protein and use ingredients such as chicken, peas and lentils.

California-based Paws For Life K9 Rescue (PFL), which launched COVID-19 Operation Pandemic last year, was amazed by the outpouring from local pet lovers. Within a short time, more than 50 dogs had been removed from Los Angeles-area shelters and placed in new foster homes. St. Louis-based pet product manufacturer Crazy Dog is helping PFL with a large donation of training treats—nearly 13,000 bags of its Crazy Train-Me! Treats–while also supporting the group’s innovative Prison Program.

According to Kati Garrido, director of operations for Paws For Life, the Crazy Dog Train-Me! treats will be sent to people who are fostering dogs through Operation Pandemic to help them meet the costs of caring for a pet. The treats are being shared with two food banks that assist low-income pet parents in the Los Angeles area. PFL also will use the training treats in their Paws for Life Prison program.


Pet Meal Donations

Petcurean, a Canadian premium pet food manufacturer with a founding corporate mission to put pets first, donated 200,000 meals of premium quality dog and cat food in 2020 to support the work of Quebec and Ontario animal rescue groups and shelters. Donations also were made to several shelters that are supporting families and seniors who are struggling to feed their pets right now, particularly as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic placed a greater strain on resources.

Petcurean’s donations were made in collaboration with the rescue group Westies in Need, which gets a large amount food to support its own operations, in addition to acting as a distribution partner in the Province of Quebec. Two Ontario-based organizations, Gentle Jakes Coonhound Rescue and Kitchener Stray Cat Rescue, also are receiving major donations from Petcurean. Since the food began to arrive in mid-September, more than 100 organizations have received donations so far.

“The donations have been shared as widely as possible, including with some groups who drove more than three hours one way to get food for their shelters,” said Elizabeth Pierce, Quebec representative for Westies in Need. “A lot of these rescues were down to nothing. We are extremely grateful to Petcurean for stepping up to support our communities—and animals in need.”

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge nearly every aspect of our lives, we’ve been incredibly inspired to see the countless ways people are helping vulnerable animals who are at risk,” said Christine Mallier, community relations and sustainability manager for Petcurean. “Petcurean is honored to be part of the community of pet lovers in Quebec and Ontario, and we will never stop doing what we can to help those in need.”

In 2020, Petcurean said it donated more than one million meals for homeless pets and those at risk, supporting the work of more than 300 animal shelters and rescue groups across North America.


Environment Campaigns

ZIWI, the New Zealand-based producer of air-dried pet food, has prided itself in its commitment to sourcing from ethical farms in New Zealand.

“Our sourcing is a foundational pillar of our brand’s identity,” said Andrew Tippin, marketing manager at ZIWI. We source our meat and seafood from New Zealand’s beautiful farms and clean oceans for many reasons.”

According to ZIWI, New Zealand is recognized for having clean ethical farming practices and superior-quality meats. Another important aspect is traceability, as ZIWI sources from farmers it knows and trust.

“They share our commitment to sustainability,” Tippin noted. “Like us, they believe that the environment must be preserved and protected, and animals should be raised and managed ethically and humanely.”

Nature’s Logic launched a campaign in 2020 to “apply the logic of nature to everything we touch,” said Carolina Golon, VP Marketing for Nature’s Logic. “Our exciting program is called Clean Food, Clean Energy. The environment is a topic on many peoples’ minds these days—from recycling to composting to clearing the oceans to sustainable packaging to clean energy. Nature’s Logic is on a mission: to apply the logic of nature to everything we touch. That means creating 100 percent natural pet food with no synthetics and being a voice for sustainability.”

One way Nature’s Logic is getting hoping to continue the program in 2021 is by involving customers in the mission to make a positive impact on the environment. “So, for every pound of food Nature’s Logic sells, the company will purchase ‘one kWh of renewable energy’ to help power our future,” Golon said.

“Just recently we launched our Clean Food, Clean Energy retailer program in which Nature’s Logic is converting participating retailers’ stores to renewable energy. The store receives POP and other in store materials about the Clean Food, Clean Energy program and Nature’s Logic works with the store to promote the partnership locally through environmental groups, local media and community organizations,” Golon said. “The program allows independent retailers to demonstrate their own commitment to the environment and promote that commitment to their customers, giving them a compelling differentiator.”

However, Nature’s Logic’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond the energy program. Nature’s Logic’s support for environmental non-profits is notable including sponsoring the recent Greater Good Charities Nature’s Voice Awards, which recognize outstanding voices for the environment. Nature’s Logic, a member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, was recently named one of PSC’s top 20 sustainable brands.



  • The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced in 2020 that Pet Partners, the nation’s leading organization in animal-assisted interventions, donated $100,000 to fund scientific research on the health, education and wellness outcomes of therapy animals, for both the people and the animals involved. This marked the second year in a row that Pet Partners has contributed to HABRI’s research grant program, raising the total amount awarded to $200,000
  • In 2020, Pet Supplies Plus teamed up with Natural Balance and Rachael Ray Nutrish to raise awareness about the positive impact pets have on active and former military servicemen and women. The three brands donated $50,000 to Patriot PAWS Service Dogs, a non-profit that trains and provides service dogs for disabled veterans.
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food, a family-owned supplier of super premium pet food, donated 11,455 pounds of their nutritious pet food in 2020 to help feed animals in need in Jacksonville, Florida. The donation is part of the pet food company’s Fill A Bowl… Feed A Soul (FABFAS) program, a national campaign targeting the donation of one million meals for shelter pets annually. Over five tons of premium dog and cat food were donated to two Jacksonville, Florida-based organizations.

(Photo courtesy Tyler Kaufman/AP Images for HSUS)