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North Hills Monthly

Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon Partners with Food Pantries to Meet Growing Need

Dec 30, 2014 12:08PM ● By Veronica Tucker
On April 16, 2007, Animal Friends created a program that would impact pets in the Pittsburgh community for years to come. Chow Wagon has helped thousands of pets since its inception, as well as helped those families in economic distress who might have had to choose between feeding their animals or themselves.

“The goal of Animal Friends is to constantly expand our help to the pet-owning community, and every added program has that goal in mind,” explained Ann Cadman, director of Animal Friends’ Chow Wagon. Chow Wagon helps families provide appropriate food for their pets and empowers them to keep their animals in their loving homes instead of surrendering them to shelters.

“People were splitting their human food with pets; one man had been taking cans of tuna during each visit to the food pantry, but was feeding his cat and not himself,” said Cadman of the many heart-wrenching stories behind the establishment of Chow Wagon. “A policeman injured off-duty was unable to feed his dog, and a local resident with a seizure-alert dog could not afford his food. Knowing these situations were prevalent, Animal Friends knew that they had to help.”

The first load of food was delivered to Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in April 2007; now 24 food pantries partner with Chow Wagon. “Food pantries in Pittsburgh, North Hills, South Hills, East Hills, West Hills as well as Ambridge and Armstrong counties are helped by Animal Friends,” said Cadman. “Each is contacted to assess their needs, and this assessment happens repeatedly so that we can make accommodations as needs change.”

One pantry being helped by Chow Wagon is the Ambridge Center of Hope. Director Sue Otto appreciates the relationship that the two organizations have built since 2007. “Chow Wagon has brought us dog food, cat food and even rabbit food, which we distribute when our clients come for their ‘people’ food,” she explained.

In these challenging economic times, both Cadman and Otto see an increase in those asking for help. “The need is picking up; we are breaking records distributing food,” said Otto. “Along with more food automatically comes the need for more pet food.

“People find themselves coming to a food pantry for the first time with much heartache,” she added. “And they sure don’t want to have to give away the family pet because they can’t feed it. Imagine telling a low-income child that they have to give their pet away, or seeing an elderly person give up that little kitty or dog that gives them such joy.”

“Our numbers are on the rise,” agreed Cadman. “In November 2013, we gave 1,300 pounds of food to help 320 families. Just one year later, we gave 1,900 pounds of food to help 600 families.”

To date, Chow Wagon has given over 200,501 pounds of food just to food pantries, and there is no end in sight to this growing need. In addition to helping food pantries, Chow Wagon works with Meals on Wheels as well as animal shelters, feral cat colonies and individual pet owners.

The program is funded completely by donations, and volunteers distribute the food and develop relationships with each pantry. “The credit for the success of this program goes to the Pittsburgh community,” expressed Cadman. “The citizens have wrapped their arms around this program.

“Sometimes we forget that a family is made up of many dynamics—some members are two-legged and some are four-legged. Some swim and some fly,” said Cadman. “When the dynamic is disturbed, all suffer. That’s where Animal Friends comes in to fulfill its mission and help.”  

Anyone interested in getting involved with this program by donating or volunteering is encouraged to contact Animal Friends at