Thankful Paws

Lynn Molnar established Thankful Paws, a food bank for pets, to help needy owners keep their pets. She is with her dog, Hero at the First Presbyterian Church of Bel Air. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / February 3, 2012)

A woman who grew up rescuing lost critters has launched an effort to help pets and their owners survive financial crises together.

Lynn Molnar is operating Thankful Paws, a food bank for pets, out of her White Marsh home.

"The idea is to keep people and their pets together even in the most trying situations," she said. "Often in hard times, the pet is the cut that people have to make."

The seeds for the nonprofit organization sprang from the parade of stray cats, dogs and other assorted critters that found shelter in Molnar's childhood home, and from her mother, who nurtured a "spirit for animals" in her daughter. Some of those animals were returned to their owners, but many went unclaimed and spent the rest of their lives with the family. Their plight instilled in Molnar a lifelong empathy for abandoned and lost pets.

She began Thankful Paws four months ago, and offers food and supplies to pet owners stressed by unemployment, impending eviction and other financial crises.

"This economy is hard on everyone, and pets are often the silent victims of the economic downturn," Molnar said. "'People are so desperate that I thought there had to be some way to help. The food bank is not a permanent solution, but it can help many get over the hump."

Through donations of money and supplies, the organization has already purchased more than $700 worth of dog and cat food and also given out dozens of 25-pound bags, which were donated unopened. The supplies are delivered through organizations like Meals on Wheels or given to area food pantries throughout the city and in Baltimore and Harford counties. She helped fill several shelves at a Bel Air church's food bank Friday.

"Some of those who use our pantry have pets," said the Rev. Richard Link, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bel Air. "If they are using this pantry, they probably have need for pet food, too."

Molnar also has gathered sample-sized bags of dog food that she said would be ideal for homeless pet owners. Sue Bull, homeless services coordinator for Baltimore County, said some people prefer the streets to giving up a beloved pet.

"This is a serious issue that we definitely see," Bull said. "Our shelters have no resources for pets, and this kind of separation is really a tough one for people. I would love to make use of this pet resource."

Molnar, who shares her home with 4-year-old Hero, a golden retriever she has raised from a pup, has heard the stories of abandoned pets and tearful partings brought on by a financial crisis.

"Hero is one of the reasons I started this," she said. "Like most pet owners, I would do anything to keep him."

A real estate agent told her of finding dogs and cats abandoned in foreclosed homes. One family at her favorite dog park introduced her to the pup they acquired when they spotted the animal abruptly shoved from the back seat of a car onto the side of a little-traveled road.

She is spreading word of Thankful Paws through mailings and the Internet and is picking up donations, all while working part-time at a retirement community and completing a master's degree at the Johns Hopkins University.

She has partnered with organizations like Meals on Wheels and Pets on Wheels and pet rescue groups. She is also supplying area food pantries with as much dog and cat food as she can gather. Monetary donations go to food purchases, and she is willing to collect large unopened bags of food and other supplies from donors. Thankful Paws also offers leashes, bowls, blankets, even flea medicines, and the organization will soon apply for grants to provide assistance with veterinary bills.

"I want to be a resource like any food bank, only this one is for pets," she said. "We are here for you. You don't have to surrender your pet. Hold on to your pet because a better day is coming. Don't do something that you will regret for the rest of your life."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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