Losing a pet can be just as bad as losing a family member.

Many times pet owners are not only left with their grief but also with unused medications and food. What if you could not only donate their unexpired food but also the unexpired medicines they were on? 

After unexpectedly losing my Brussels Griffon, Dandy, I was left with a good number of costly medications — he was on four drugs daily — and several cases of expensive prescription dog food.   

Trying to make sense of the loss, I inquired at the vet’s office if there was a program where I could donate his meds; I knew the food could be donated. The vet did not know of any place that took medication, but I decided to call around. Dandy’s prescriptions had just been refilled, and the thought of throwing that money down the drain when it could help another pet was upsetting.

After contacting two local rescues, who never called back, I got in touch with Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh on the North Side. I found out about an exceptional program it takes part in called The Street Dog Coalition.  

The program, which is not limited to dogs, was established in 2019 specifically to provide free veterinary care for pets of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. It is part of a national organization, and the rescue had to qualify to join. Run in conjunction with the Allegheny Health Network Center for Inclusion Health, the local group visits different locations, chosen by AHN based on need, on the first Thursday of the month. The coalition has visited the North Side, Downtown and Homewood areas, to name a few.

Brianna Kaufman, a vet tech and shelter medical services manager at Humane Animal Rescue, took the helm of Pittsburgh’s Street Dog Coalition in 2022. She and veterinarian Dr. Ariella Samson, along with two more techs, give health exams, vaccines and flea and tick treatment to pets at the same time AHN is providing medical help to their humans.

“For some of these people, their pets are a lifeline,” says Kaufman.

Some of the donated medicines — they take anything but controlled substances — are given out during those exams. The program has been a success, says Kaufman; the group regularly serves 19 to 20 pets during each outing, which is all it can handle at the present time. Pets are served only by appointments, which can be made by calling Ben Talik at 412-396-9483.

At first things were slow with the program, says Kaufman, but the word has gotten out in the homeless community. The monthly slots fill up fast. While the group can provide regular exams for cats and dogs, anything more serious is referred to the Humane Animal Rescue clinic.  

The Street Dog program isn’t the only way the rescue makes use of donated drugs. It also distributes those medications to clinic clients who are under financial duress and not able to purchase them. Medical center visits are by appointment Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 412-345-7320. The clinic does not take walk-ins or emergencies.

A third way Animal Humane Rescue can use donated medicine and food is for dogs and cats that are up for adoption and need medical attention and/or regular drugs. On my visit to the rescue, Kaufman pointed out a dog waiting for a home that needs to be on a prescription urinary diet for life.  

The rescue also runs a food pantry at its North Side and East End locations on the last Wednesday of the month. To qualify, the recipient must be at least 18 years of age. The pet must be spayed or neutered — the clinic can help with that — and the animal must be kept inside a home and maintained in healthy living conditions. Food can be picked up at the assigned time and location. For more information on the pantry, call 412-345-7300, ext. 290.

The loss of a pet is traumatic, but helping less fortunate animals and their owners makes the grieving process a little easier. 

“I love being out and being part of [The Street Dog Coalition]. I wanted to help the community,” Kaufman says.

Donations can help her achieve that goal.

Susan Banks was a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who was on strike from October 2022 until she retired at the end of 2023. Email her at klebergardens@gmail.com.

Susan Banks

Susan Banks was a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who was on strike from October 2022 until she retired at the end of 2023. Email her at klebergardens@gmail.com.