At 6 a.m. Friday, Ellie and Ron McCue drove away from Myrtle Beach in a rented U-Haul.
Their destination: A warehouse on Old Dairy Road in Columbia.
There, the McCues, who volunteer with the Grand Strand Humane Society, watched as other animal rescue volunteers loaded six pallets of dog and cat food into the U-Haul. Within a half-hour, the McCues were back on the road.
“Oh, they won’t believe it when we get back with all of this,” said Ellie McCue, the Humane Society’s president.
The Grand Strand Humane Society was one of 17 animal rescue organizations that picked up free premium pet food Friday as part of the new Good Bowl program. Good Bowl is a partnership between Natural Balance Pet Foods; Columbia’s Animal Mission; a Columbia advertising firm, The Gillespie Agency; and Austin Meyer, a Columbia philanthropist.
In the past five months, Good Bowl has given away 250,000 pounds of food. Free pet food is a huge benefit to cash-strapped animal rescue groups that often are run on donations and by volunteers. Also, shelters using the premium food already are reporting an improvement in animal health and, as a result, higher adoption rates.
The Grand Strand Humane Society’s annual operating budget is $750,000, and it receives $215,000 from the county, Ellie McCue said. “You can do the math and see what we have to do to make up the difference,” she said.
Among their haul Friday were 5-pound bags of Natural Balance Organic Formulas food that retail for more than $15 each.
Natural Balance, which has a distribution center in Columbia, donates pet food that can’t be sold in retail stores, said Mark Gumola, assistant facility manager. For example, bags are randomly opened for quality tests, then resealed and shipped to the Good Bowl stockpile. There are other reasons good food might otherwise go to waste: Sometimes bar codes on bags are wrong, for example.
The company wanted to work with shelters but didn’t have the resources to make sure its products went to worthy charities. So, the Animal Mission’s Nola Armstrong and Elaine Gillespie came up with the Good Bowl.
The Animal Mission manages the storage and distribution of the food. They also inspect every shelter receiving food to make sure each is well-run and the food is properly stored and efficiently used, Armstrong said.
The high-quality food is making a difference.
At the Chester County animal shelter, fewer dogs have been euthanized since they started eating the better food, said Jaime Henry, the county’s animal control officer. Adoption rates have gone up.
The shelter often receives dogs that are emaciated. If the dogs eat a cheaper food, it takes two to three weeks to nurse them back to health. They bounce back within a week on the better diet, Henry said.
“It allows them to perk up a lot faster,” she said.
This month, zero dogs have been put down at the Chester shelter. Four were euthanized in June for being too aggressive, not because of health problems. Last year, the shelter was forced to euthanize about 20 dogs a month, Henry said.
“No one is going to come in and say, ‘I want that sick dog right there,’” Henry said.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.