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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

But perhaps there should be – one of the biggest reasons women tend to stay in homes with abusive partners, rather than leave and seek help, Robinson says, is because they do not want to leave their pets behind. It's a big enough concern that Harbor House of Central Florida, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, opened a Paws for Peace Kennel in 2012. According to the organization's statistics, nearly half of all domestic abuse survivors say they delayed seeking help because they didn't have a safe place for their dogs or cats to go. Paws for Peace allows its residents to bring their pets with them – the pets must live in the kennel but the residents have full access to them. It's the only facility of its kind in Central Florida.

A couple of years ago, says Timothy McKinney, executive vice president of United Global Outreach, he wouldn't have really considered feeding homeless pets an integral part of what his organization did. He said he knew of people who were homeless and had pets – he'd read a study that came out of UCF in 2004 that said that one big reason that a lot of people living in homeless camps in the woods said they didn't participate in social-services programs was because they were afraid to leave their dogs alone. "They don't want to leave their pets," he says. "If they're left alone, they could be injured or stolen."

So when the Doglando Foundation approached him last year about handing out free pet food at his organization's weekly meals, he was more than willing to bring them on board. Since the Full Tummy Project started coming out, he says, he's seen that the help they offer goes beyond just handing out food for dogs and cats. They've also begun to add some basic medical care and assistance to their menu of services – for instance, a boy approached the table with a chocolate lab puppy he was watching for a friend. A Full Tummy Project volunteer took his information, played with the puppy, gave him some food and clipped the dog's nails. They're also helping people who have intact pets get them spayed or neutered. And in the process, McKinney says, they're helping people whose lives have come apart at the seams help pull things back together.

"I've seen the Full Tummy Project take a guy who lived in a shell of a camper in the woods with his old dog, who was all mangy-looking, they got him looking like a puppy again," McKinney says. "Turns out, he had fleas, and the person who owned him was also flea-infested because the dog was."

That's when McKinney realized just how important animals were to building a healthier community. McKinney says Bithlo's reputation is that "everyone has six pit bulls" that they don't take care of – programs like the Full Tummy Project help people provide better care for their animals, thus helping the community become a safer, cleaner place. One of United Global Outreach's goals is to help rebuild a sense of community in this troubled East Orlando hamlet, which has long been written off as a "poor" town with nothing going for it. McKinney's organization wants to transform Bithlo by bringing people the services they need to improve their lives, and in turn improve the place where they live. "More than the services to just dogs and cats," McKinney says, the Full Tummy Project "has been building relationships with the people of Bithlo. The physical thing they do with dogs and cats is great, but the human aspect that they bring to the pet owners is essential."

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