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Full Tummy Project feeds homeless people's pets

East Orlando organization runs soup kitchen for animals

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: Photos courtesy of Pets of the Homeless, License: N/A

Photos courtesy of Pets of the Homeless

For photos of the Fully Tummy Project in action, click this link to be redirected to Doglando Foundation photo gallery.

Near the playground set out front of the Global Outreach Center in Bithlo, a line is forming. People are patiently waiting their turn for the volunteers who staff the Full Tummy Project to help them out.

Some have come here for a meal for themselves – the Global Outreach Center, a nonprofit organization in the town of Bithlo, just east of Orlando, holds a regular free meal here for the community. Though many of the people who attend are underprivileged – low income, no income or homeless – anyone is welcome to join.

More recently, their pets have been invited to join, too. For the past year and a half, the Full Tummy Project, a program run by a local nonprofit organization called the Doglando Foundation, has set up outside the Global Outreach Center every Thursday night at 6:30. The group's volunteers invite those who've come for dinner to take a meal for their pets as well.

Every week, people take them up on the offer. They patiently wait their turn for volunteers to take some information from them – How many pets? What kind? How much food do they need? Do they need anything else to help care for their pet? – and send them on their way with bags, boxes and cans of food to take home to the dogs and cats that are just as much a part of the family as their children.

So much so, says Denise Zaldivar, president of the Doglando Foundation, a nonprofit that exists to help people become more responsible dog owners, that some of them will use what little resources they have to keep their pets fed as best they can – even if that means sacrificing something they might need for themselves.

"This lady last week, actually, she said, 'I cannot afford to keep my dog anymore, but I cannot just give it away because it's going to end up in the shelter and it's probably going to be euthanized,'" Zaldivar says. "These people have a true love for their pets. Some of them don't have children, so these are their children. They will feed their pets before they feed themselves."

And often, they have to. While soup kitchens, shelters and churches feed people who are hungry, there are very few places people can go to get food for their animals – even fewer that will offer them a place to sleep or affordable veterinary care.

This became obvious to Teena Patel, a board member of the Doglando Foundation and owner of the University of Doglando dog training and education facility in East Orlando, a couple of years ago. When she'd drive around East Orlando running errands, she couldn't help but notice that a lot of homeless people she saw had dogs, and she wondered how they managed to care for them. She says she ran into a homeless man with his pit-mix behind a gas station one day, and she struck up a conversation. He was carrying an incredibly heavy-looking backpack, and she asked what was in it.

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