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Lawmakers craft bill aimed at boosting pet supply donations to shelters

Originally written by Angi Gonzalez and published by Spectrum News NY 1 on August 23, 2023.

Animal shelters and rescues across the country rely heavily on the donations of items, including pet food, to help as many animals as possible find forever homes. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress want to do more to boost donations of surplus pet products to organizations that help animals and and pet owners in need.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., a longtime dog owner, and dog lover Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., have cosponsored legislation called the BARK — Bring Animals Relief and Kibble — Act, which seeks to end food shortages at shelters while also reducing the amount of pet food and supplies that ends up in landfills nationwide. It would provide donor liability protections to businesses that donate pet food and supplies to shelters.

“Every year, pet stores throw out surplus pet food, which could easily be donated to feed hungry pets in animal shelters,” said Tillis. “This commonsense legislation removes unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions that keep many pet stores from donating food to animal shelters. No shelter pet should have to go hungry when so many pet stores have a surplus of readily available food.” 

companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Young Kim, R-Calif., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, and Lucy McBath, D-Ga.

“Many animal shelters face food and supply shortages while over a million pounds of useable pet supplies are wasted each year,” Kim said in a release. “The BARK Act will help reduce this waste, supply shelters in need, and feed animals.”

“Today, some animal shelters struggle to buy enough pet food for all the animals in their care—while many pet stores routinely throw away perfectly good pet food,” Raskin said. “The BARK Act makes a straightforward fix to the law governing food donation to make donating pet food as easy as donating people food. The BARK Act is a commonsense, bipartisan opportunity to help shelter animals and reduce waste.”

Tillis believes the bill has a good chance of passing thanks to the bipartisan support.

“We’re not really asking for a lot of money or taxpayer dollars,” the North Carolina Republican said. “We’re asking for better coordination and encouragement.”

The bill would make slight changes to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects companies from being sued for “good faith” donations of products for human consumption.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute, which advocated for the BARK Act, says the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act does not provide such protections in instances of gross negligence or intentional harm. The bill would modify the current law to extend the same protections to the donation of surplus pet products. 

“The House and Senate sponsors decided that the thing to do was to just include this, to add this to the existing law. So that donors, potential donors of pet food and pet supplies would have that assurance that they are covered,” said Nancy Blaney, the Government Affairs Director at the Animal Welfare Institute. 

Blaney adds that while there is currently no way to quantify exactly how much pet food and supplies are going to waste without these protections, there is anecdotal evidence that points to it being a problem.

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic has looked into this issue and its work is focused on supporting sustainable and equitable food production, reducing waste of healthy, wholesome food, and promoting community-led food system change.

“To scale up food donation operations, liability protections for food donors and food recovery organizations are absolutely critical,” said Emily Broad Leib, Faculty Director at the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. “The U.S. sets itself apart as one of a few countries in the world that establishes comprehensive national protections to food donors and nonprofits that recover and redistribute food through the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996.

“Expanding on this bill to better facilitate the donation of pet food is another opportunity to build a more sustainable food and agricultural system for our future,” Broad Leib added.

Other organizations have also come out in support of the proposal, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Best Friends Animal Society and the Humane Rescue Alliance. 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, there is a tremendous need for innovative, flexible, and resilient supply chains. For community animal shelters and rescues located across the country, that includes critical resources like pet food,” said Brynáe Riggins, manager of federal legislation for the ASPCA. 

Spectrum News also reached out to PetSmart Charities, which donates both funding and pet food to organizations such as Meals on Wheels America and Feeding America, for comment on the proposal. 

“Food insecurity impacts people and their pets, too,” PetSmart Charities President Aimee Gilbreath told Spectrum News. “If pets can’t get the care they need at home, they are often surrendered to animal shelters, so many of which are already overcrowded.

“Pets are part of the family, and supporting pet parents with pet food is key to keeping them in their homes with the people they love. These efforts help ensure people experiencing food insecurity and receiving meals for themselves can also feed their pets,” Gilbreath continued. “PetSmart Charities believes in making it easier for individuals and organizations to make lives better at both ends of the leash.”

These kind of donations can play a crucial role in getting animals out of shelters and into loving homes.

“Wolf Trap Animal Rescue gave us food, toys, a bowl, meds, pee pads … pretty much anything that we needed for his basic care,” said

Aaron Lerner, who fostered and then adopted his dog Gunner last year, said that Wolf Trap Animal Rescue in Virginia

Lerner told Spectrum News that he can’t imagine what lawmaker wouldn’t support this kind of proposal.

“Absolutely, absolutely, it sounds like common sense, it makes perfect sense,” Lerner said. 

Last year. another slight change to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act passed easily in the House and Senate and became law earlier this year.

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