A businesswoman who donated dog provisions to food banks during the pandemic was so moved by the plight of owners who cannot afford to feed their pooches that she now supplies nine banks directly from her dog food firm.
Besotted by her own four-year-old German Shepherd, Bear, entrepreneur Tara Paonessa, 50, says her heart was broken by the thought of fellow animal lovers having to give pets they can no longer afford to keep away.
Tara, who lives in Reading, Berkshire, with her husband, Francis, 54, who works for Thames Water, and his two children from a previous relationship, Alessio, 17, and Antonella, 16, said: “Hearing about people struggling to put food on the table broke my heart.”
She added: “Then, when I realised there was a serious lack of dog food at food banks, it really tugged on my heartstrings again.
“As a dog owner, I know how much these pups mean and I could not bear to imagine having to give up a pet because of financial hardship.
“Just the thought of losing my own dog brought me to tears.”
She added: “Dogs are family and I wanted to make sure people who needed help with affording their food were able to get it.”
Tara, who started Cavendish Dogs in 2019, making healthy dog food products mostly sold locally, was first alerted to the plight of hard-up dog owners in 2020.
She said: “I wasn’t in the dog food business before getting a dog, but once I had one, I was very inspired to create healthy products for him.”
She added: “Then, during the pandemic, I became interested in donating some of our products to families who needed the extra help.”
Receiving a food bank collection leaflet through the letterbox in June 2020, she suddenly realised that financially challenged families probably could not afford dog food.
She said: “People suffering hardships have animals to feed, too, and it really alarmed me to think that someone could be making the tough choice to give up their pets because they could no longer afford them.”
That month, Tara contacted local food banks in Derbyshire, where she was living until August 2021, to offer supplies of her company’s dog food.
She said: “I found out that it was important to the food banks to have continuity, because they had people who would come in regularly who needed to pick up dog food.
“At first, we collected and donated what we could, but it struck me that this wasn’t just a pandemic problem and I wanted to create a long-term solution.”
Keen to help out in her local area, Tara created The Happy Dog Store, an online marketplace for dog food and canine products, where all her profits went straight to food banks.
She said: “At first, there was no strategy, just the idea that I wanted to do some good during this difficult time, but the website snowballed.
“The more custom we got, the more food banks we were able to add to our list.”
Tara’s business now supports nine food banks and provides them with monthly packages of around 10 two kilo bags of dog food.
She said: “The support we’ve had has been overwhelming and we’re so delighted with how it’s going.
“It’s been a real labour of love and I’m very proud of what we have achieved.”
She added: “I have a friend who has rescued over 20 dogs. One pup she rescued two years ago was given up because the family had fallen on hard times and could no longer afford to keep it.
“The dog had a beautiful nature, and it just breaks my heart to know that the family had been forced to make such a heart wrenching decision.”
With the rise of pet ownership in lockdown, Tara is keen to make sure rescue centres do not become inundated with animals.
She said: “There are a lot of people who are getting dogs because they no longer need to be an office, or they work from home.
“It’s a wonderful thing, but it is definitely a worry that this will increase the amount of animals ending up in shelters if people’s financial situations change.
“That’s why I’m committed to keeping up with my monthly contributions to food banks.”
She added: “Any dog owner will understand that they are just as much a part of our family as anyone else.
“I’m really pleased that my business can help to keep dogs and owners together.”
For more information, visit: www.thehappydog.store