NICHOLASVILLE — Miles King has loved animals for as long as he can remember, but he has a new outlet for that affection through a pet food pantry.
This past winter King, 18, started The Critters Cupboard, a service that collects donated pet food and then distributes it free to people who have fallen on hard times.
"A lady called me two or three weeks ago asking if we had dog food," King said. "She said she had been laid off from work and she had several large dogs in her house, and she didn't want them to go to the pound because she couldn't feed them."
Animal food banks have sprung up across the country, particularly since the economy turned sour in 2008. Many operate through a local Humane Society chapter, animal shelter, church or some other organization.
Critters Cupboard is different in that, aside from a few volunteers who will help from time to time, King is pretty much on his own. And while many pantries have clients pick up the food, King delivers it to those who seek help. The food is donated to King by individuals and companies, and he stores it in an unfinished office space.
People learn about Critters Cupboard through word-of-mouth and from flyers King has posted at the offices of Jessamine County veterinarians.
In one instance, King, who works at the Nicholasville Lowe's, was able to locate a rolled bale of hay and sweet feed for an unemployed couple in need of food for two horses. Most of those he has assisted are elderly or ill.
"You'll go for a day or so or a week (without a call), but then you'll get two or three calls," King said.
"I think people aren't sure about calling, whether they should call or not call. But I think there'll always be a need for it."
King owns four dogs, two turkeys, a goat, a ferret and a pig named Hamlet. He said he got the idea to start the service after his mother, who works at an area church, learned of a woman in need of food for a German shepherd.
"We got a big bag of dog food for her, and it just took off from there," said the 2009 graduate of West Jessamine High School.
There is no income requirement to receive food, and King said he does not screen people to confirm whether the need is legitimate.
"When people are willing to call and say, 'Hey, I need to feed my animals,' they're probably not really out to scam you for a bag of dog food," he said.
Several animal food banks operate in Lexington, Louisville and elsewhere in Kentucky.
The Jessamine County SAVE Center, the county-funded animal shelter in Nicholasville, began a food pantry for pet owners who are elderly or disabled on Feb. 1. Jenise Smith, director of the shelter, said people can pick up food any time, although that might change to a scheduled monthly time as more people learn about the service.
"I don't think a lot of people know about it yet," Smith said. "There's one little man, bless his heart, and he comes in about every three weeks, and he told me he has three dogs."
Church of the Advent in Louisville has distributed pet food one Saturday a month for the last year. "We have served well over 2,500 animals," said Gail Bonnell, who directs that operation.
Key indicators and experts might see improvement in the economy, but Bonnell said she "can't see a vast improvement" based on the need.
"We have our animal food bank open at the same time our human food bank is open, and both of those have increased tremendously and continue to do so," Bonnell said. "We always have people lined up at 7:30 a.m. on the Saturdays we're open, and we generally give away everything we have, human food and animal food."
Even with two animal food banks in Jessamine, Smith said, "I think there's probably a big-enough need that we can all help people."