Four Paws Food Bank will have a new leader at the helm later this year — founder and president Bonnie McBride is retiring from the role.
McBride, who's been working with animals in some capacity for the last 25 years, created the Kamloops-based non-profit in the fall of 2016. It started with her picking up leftover cans of pet food from the SPCA, and then distributing the goods to those less fortunate at the Sally Ann's Tuesday night dinner.
"It took a while to have the street population trust me," McBride tells KamloopsMatters.
"One of the great things is... I wasn't connected with the SPCA or city bylaw or any of those people, who the (homeless) may have been afraid of connecting to," she says.
McBride ran the food bank service for four months. Then, on a cold January day in 2017, she realized a bigger gap needed to be filled.
"This woman who came to the dinner was very agitated and stumbled off and fell. I was so worried about what was going to happen to her. It made me think of what someone would do if they had a pet."
The next day, McBride called Emerald House and found out there were no shelters in Kamloops that allowed their clients to bring in their furry companions.
At that moment, McBride knew she had to implement a foster program into Four Paws.
Fast forward to now; Four Paws provided foster care to 25 animals in 2019. That includes 11 dogs, 13 cats and kittens and one hamster. The shelter duties were split among 14 volunteers. Vet bills and food expenses, meanwhile, were covered by donations collected through the group's charity Facebook and Paypal pages. (The organization recently gained society status, too.)
Today, many of the shelters in town allow pets, McBride says.
But the work isn't done. Four Paws constantly liaises with the social agencies in town and supports them, she says, as a "wrap-around service." Agencies like Interior Health and the mission refer clients to Four Paws and McBride and her team help out the best they can.
"This is a hidden part of homelessness," McBride says of the street population and their pets. "It's not something that's been addressed often. ... BC Housing and some of the other agencies are beginning to recognize the importance of pets for people with mental-health problems."
McBride believes Four Paws has been able to make people better pet owners (they provide coaching and guidance), as well as free up local shelter space for animals that need to be surrendered.
"We are leading the country in terms of available services for pet owners who find themselves on the streets," she says.
McBride, who also operates the Second Chances thrift stores in support of the BC SPCA, intends on staying on until the group's AGM in March.
"We'll transition slowly."
As for what's next, McBride has her sights set on new projects. She says she intends to get more involved in lobbying city hall to change and implement bylaws dealing with animals.