Helping holiday paws: Support local businesses & animals in need during the COVID-19 pandemic

Paws to Support Local: How you can give back to local businesses and animals in need at the same time

Paws to Support Local Renfrew County OSPCA Christmas fundraiser

Are you able to lend a helping paw to a pet in need? Or give a local small business a bone? Ontario SPCA Renfrew County Animal Centre, located in Pembroke, Ontario, has found a way to give back to animals in need and local businesses this holiday season. Paws to Support Local is the purrr-fect way to get in the spirit of giving. 

Heather Jobe, the Community Development Coordinator at the Ontario SPCA Renfrew County Animal Centre, said that the spark of the giving season has already ignited in the community. The centre has had a lot of support from the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, but physical distancing recommendations made it difficult for people to help out in the traditional way they have in the past.

"With our center just being open by appointment we are still here to help animals in the community but you can't come into the center and visit," said Heather. "People want to help and are reaching out to say 'Hey, what can I do to help?' Paws to Support Local gives you the opportunity to help out."

Helping holiday paws: Support local businesses and animals in need during the COVID-19 pandemic

Heather and Hulk, who was recently adopted!

What is Paws to Support Local?

"Make a purchase at a local business, whether it be a gift certificate, a service, or an item, and then that can be donated back to our local SPCA and we are going to include it in an online auction in December," Heather said. "Funds raised at that auction will stay local and be used to care for the animals that are in our center right now. That’s the safest approach if you are looking for a way to help out."

Local small businesses need a lot of extra help right now. Visit a local business you love in Renfrew County and purchase an item, gift card, or service and request it to be donated to the OSPCA for their Paws to Support Local online auction. How do you get the item to the OSPCA? There are a few ways you can do that:

  • You can leave the item at the business and the business will contact the OSPCA and arrange for safe, contact-free pick-up
  • Purchase an e-gift card online and have it emailed to the OSPCA
  • If you absolutely have to drop the item off, email the OSPCA Facebook page and they will arrange to obtain your item safely

"It's a win-win situation because you're supporting a local business and in turn helping animals in need," said Heather. "People who are able to give, we're giving them the opportunity to support a local business, and that ultimately supports our animals as well. It's such a bonus."


Paws to Support Local: How you can give back to local businesses and animals in need at the same time

Why is Paws to Support Local such an important event? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made people hyper-aware of how important it is to support local businesses. We have all watched local businesses close their doors during the pandemic, resulting in the loss of jobs, homes, people suffering, and diminished mental health. Even large companies have closed. Businesses are evolving to find ways to operate during the pandemic while still keeping their employees and patrons safe, and it hasn't been easy. Non-profits and charities have been hit especially hard. Paws to Support Local is the answer to the question "How do I safely support community members in need this holiday season?"

"With Paws to Support Local, I want this to be the start of a conversation about supporting and investing in our own community," Heather explained. "All of these businesses that we love are not going to be there if we don't support them. And that goes for the businesses, the charities, and the nonprofits like us." 

The Renfrew County Animal Centre, like many non-profits, generate a lot of their funding from donations raised at events they hold in their community. The revenue from those events feeds hungry animals, provides veterinary care for sick pets, and keeps the lights on. This year those events have been canceled. 

"Normally we have our Kibbles and Bids Auction every year. It's an in-person event that raises anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000 for the centre," said Heather. "We haven't been able to have that event this year. With Paws to Support Local the goal in the next two weeks is to gather as many things, items, and services as we can from local businesses by people purchasing these items, and then being able to have this auction from the 1st to the 15th of December to try and raise this missing revenue." 

Helping holiday paws: Support local businesses and animals in need during the COVID-19 pandemic Saint Bernese

Keira was rescued by the Ontario SPCA Renfrew County Animal Centre before she came to me!

The Kibbles and Bids auction that they've done in the past usually features donated items and services from local businesses all over the Ottawa Valley. It's a fun event I've attended in the past. I even out-bid one of the centre employees to win a free tattoo. Since businesses were hit so hard during the pandemic and continue to be affected during the second wave, Heather decided that asking for donations was not the appropriate way to approach this year's auction. Like everything else the community has dealt with during the pandemic, the centre was forced to innovate and change their game-plan.

"With our auction what we typically do is go out into the community and ask for support from these local businesses and this year we wanted to not put that pressure on local businesses and we thought this was a better approach," said Heather. "It's our responsibility as a community to support each other and I think this is a good way to do so."

Why shop local?

Christmas isn't just the season of giving- it is also the season of buying. The fact is, the holiday season is a huge boost to the economy. The Amazons and the Wal-marts of the world may have a larger selection of goods and convenient shipping, but they aren't at risk of closure if two or three people don't shop there. The small, family-owned businesses in your community face that risk. Shopping local is something I take pride in, and I hope you do too. Heather agreed with me that supporting local businesses is a way to say thank you to your community, and she plans to continue Paws to Support Local once the holidays are over.

"In the New Year, we are still going to have a Paws to Support Local program. It's not to slam Amazon or non locally owned businesses, that's not the intention. But it's important to raise awareness," Heather said. "Right now everyone is really trying to support local businesses, and that’s good. We should be doing that, and it shouldn't have taken a pandemic to recognize that, but it did."

OSPCA Renfrew County Paws to Support Local holiday fundraiser for pets and local business

Will the OSPCA hold their holiday food drive?

An event that Heather takes a lot of pride in is the annual holiday food drive that the OSPCA usually holds. They take donations of human food and pet food and distribute it to families in need in the community. She is disapointed that the pandemic has made it impossible to hold a similar food drive this year.

"It's very difficult for us to accept food donations at the center because we're trying not to encourage people to leave their homes to drop donations off at our front door," Heather explained.  


If you are visiting a local pet store like Bright Eyes and Bushy Tails or PetValu, Heather recommends purchasing an item for a pet in need and donating it through the store. PetValu usually has a donation bin for items that they give to the OSPCA. The centre will make sure they can safely obtain the item from the pet store. You can also purchase a gift card for the centre to buy supplies, like cleaning products, litter, and paper towels. 

Another initiative Heather and the team at the centre have been working on is their Community Pet Pantry. It's not just for the holidays. It is a year-round pantry of pet food that families in need can access to feed their pets.

"We've tried to establish a pet pantry here for people that need it. Again there is a little bit of a barrier because our doors are not open so people can't necessarily come and go. But the idea is that if you are a pet parent and need food for your pet, our Renfrew County Animal Centre has food that is accessible to you," Heather said. "You just need to reach out to us. It's all confidential and we can help. If people want to contribute to the pet pantry the best way to do that is to send a message to me on our Facebook page and I can direct you on how to contribute safely." 

Helping holiday paws: Support local businesses and animals in need during the COVID-19 pandemic Saint Bernese dog

This is a newer project that the centre has been working on. They received a grant from the Pembroke Petawawa District Community Foundation that helped kick off their community pet pantry and they are just starting to grow it. They are also making sure that none of the food goes to waste. 

"With the food that's coming into us, if we can't make use of it here or if we get a ton of dog food in and we don't have any dogs we are reaching out to the local food banks and we're distributing the food," said Heather. "We want to let the community know that it's available to them and we don't want any animals to go hungry. But we don't want food to go to waste either, so we will reach out to local food banks and local food banks are also reaching out to us. Ultimately the goal is to help feed as many animals as we can."

While it is not exactly like the food drive Heather has promoted in the past, it's another way the centre is giving back to the community. This holiday season should be about family, even if we can only meet virtually, and community support. And of course, our fur-family. If you are in the position to give, please give back to a small business or an animal in need. If you are in the position that you need to receive help, don't be ashamed to reach out and take advantage of what our community has to offer. Don't be afraid to ask. I've been in that position, I've used a food bank, and I want you to know that you and your pets don't need to go hungry. Know that your community and loved ones stand beside you. 

We can still celebrate the best parts of Christmas and what makes this season great, even if we have to sacrifice our Christmas celebrations. What makes this season great is the spirit of giving and coming together in any way we can. We need to come together and rebuild. Connections in our community are so vital right now, and no one should feel alone.

"We all have a pretty unique opportunity to work together," Heather said.

Heather is accepting donations for the Paws to Support Local online auction right now! The auction will take place from December 1st to December 15th, 2020 on their Facebook page. Don't hesitate to message Heather on the OSPCA Renfrew County Facebook page if you want to make a donation, get involved, or learn more. 

OSPCA Renfrew County Paws to Support Local holiday fundraiser for pets and local business

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