West Side News

Faithful Forgotten helps homeless with pet care

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Some central Ohio homeless might not have much to give, but they give all they have to their pets.

Thanks to Faithful Forgotten Best Friends, a Columbus-based nonprofit organization founded in 2011, the homeless and less fortunate are provided pet food and basic vet care on the second and fourth Thursdays every month in the rear parking lot of Holy Family Church Parish Center, 584 W. Broad St.

The group works with the Mount Carmel Medical Outreach Program and Holy Family Church.

"We're all just several paychecks from being in this line," said Constance Swackhammer, the group's co-founder. "These folks were feeding their food to the animals."

The group serves people living in the Franklinton area in Columbus.

Raymond Ruth received some food and treats for his dog, Stara, on May 8.

"I came across this group by word of mouth," he said. "I heard there was a place down the street that helped pets. They have been true to the game. They gave her shots for rabies and parvo."

His friendly 14-month-old pit bull seems to be a favorite of the volunteers, visiting everyone she could reach and wagging her entire body with delight.

Ruth said he visits Faithful Forgotten only when he needs help. He helped unload donated pet-food bags from a delivery truck last week and departed, saying, "You have a blessed one."

Brandy Givens, who lives out of her van, said she has received food and medicine for her dog, Charlie, a Jack Russell terrier.

She became homeless after losing her job as a bus driver that paid $20 an hour.

Given said she rescued Charlie because he was living in a cage in frigid temperatures in January.

"There have been many nights Charlie has eaten, and we haven't," she said.

Givens said Charlie is the recipient of much love, and he's fed. She said every other Thursday is like Christmas for Charlie, thanks to Faithful Forgotten.

"They are invaluable," she said. "Everyone is a genuine animal lover."

Georgia Pepper received assistance for her dog, Buttons.

"She's my girl," Pepper said. "I fed her table scraps before. I heard about (this group) through the food pantry."

She found Buttons 19 months ago, tied in a yard, while she was riding her bike, she said.

"They were going to put her on the Internet to get rid of her," Pepper said. "She goes with me wherever I go."

She said the nonprofit has helped her with her dog, in addition to placing two kittens.

Swackhammer, a Gahanna resident who lives in the Westerville school district, said the foundation was formed after co-founder Stacey Lambright received a donation of hundreds of pounds of pet food from a small business that had closed.

Swackhammer said she wanted the pet food to go to the homeless.

Her late son, Christian Lodge, was a huge animal lover, she said.

"He rescued numerous dogs in his short life," Swackhammer said. "I currently have four of the dogs he rescued. And he had a huge heart for the homeless. Often we would eat in the Short North, and he would buy a sandwich for a person out sitting on the sidewalk."

For her, the nonprofit is an extension of Lodge's work to help animals and the homeless.

Lambright, a New Albany resident, said Mount Carmel's Ken Andrews told her about the need to help homeless with their pets.

"We wanted to join others, but no one else in the Midwest was doing this," she said. "It has been grass roots. We have had so much support in two years."

Lambright said the missing piece was a veterinarian to help with basic care, and that hole was filled by Dr. Kelli French, a Blacklick resident who works at Beechwold Veterinary Hospital.

Grandview's Dr. Adam Parson, a veterinarian from Northstar Animal Hospital & Upper Arlington Veterinary Hospital, also recently started helping the cause.

"I was looking for a way to give back and help pets of the homeless," French said. "Connie was a client where I work. They had this group, so I could step right in and help."

She said she could do only so much working out of a church, but she makes do with what she has.

French said she mainly provides vaccinations and treats skin and ear infections.

"We need more funding," she said. "We do as much as we can with our funding. We're helping a tiny population. You think about those not getting help."

Volunteer Andrew Bazemore was feeding people at homeless camps when he contacted Swackhammer.

"That's the type of people we have," she said.

He said he knew only Swackhammer when he first volunteered, but it was like he knew everyone when he left.

Reynoldsburg resident Cinda Likes has been volunteering to help with the vet clinic.

"I have a real love for the homeless," she said. "They love their animals."

Volunteer Natalie Freshour of Columbus said she always has had a passion for helping dogs. She has been involved in dog rescue and outreach for 13 years, she said.

Freshour said she hopes to have her own nonprofit someday to help senior and special-needs dogs.

Larry Swackhammer, the foundation's treasurer, estimates 1,000 animals were helped last year alone and more than 75,000 pounds of pet food was distributed.

"We hope to double that this year," he said.

From June to December, the group assisted with the spaying and neutering of 130 animals.

Constance Swackhammer said the group makes sure pets are legally registered with Franklin County dog tags.

"We also insist that all animals are spayed or neutered," she said. "Our folks sign an agreement that they cannot add to their animal family. It would make no sense for them to add animals when they need help with the ones they currently have."

She said the people the foundation helps can't get into shelters with their pet, and their pet is all they have left of a normal life.

"The folks could go into a shelter if they would surrender their 'best friend' but to surrender their pet to a shelter is almost a certain death," Swackhammer said. "That said, we have seen homeless and their pets eventually get into homes together. That is the ultimate joy for us, when we get to see them get back into housing with their best friend."

To make a donation or to volunteer, go online to ffbf-columbus.org or on Facebook at faithfulforgottenbestfriends.

The third annual Faithful Forgotten Best Friends golf outing also will be held as a fundraiser beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 7, at the Blackhawk Golf Club in Galena.

All proceeds will benefit the foundation's spay/neuter program. To register online, go to TournEvents.com/ FFBF2014.

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