In a sign of the times in Europe’s biggest economy, poodles, pinschers, terriers and sheep dogs are queuing up for rations at Berlin’s first soup kitchen for pets.
The venue is a disused nightschool in the former communist east Berlin where the smell of straw, dry food and wet dog lingers in the air as a Jack Russell in a checkered coat waddles past on its way to the kibbles line for biscuits.
Pensioners and those on the dole qualify for the free pet food buffet, which opened in the district of Treptow in mid-October, allowing those with no disposable income the chance to hold on to their beloved dogs and cats.
“We’ve already signed up nearly 400 people and our stocks are dwindling fast. Today cat owners are just getting a single tin each,” said Julia Raasch, who heads the capital’s sole animal soup kitchen, run by Tiertafel (Animal Dining Table), a pet welfare association.
Berlin, where unemployment hovers around 13 percent, has some 100,000 registered dogs, many of them owned by pensioners.
The soup kitchen also caters to other pets — including cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and budgerigars. Twelve volunteers hand out food and advice, while keeping an eye on the animals’ health.
Food rations, donated by individuals and food companies alike, will normally cover the animal’s needs for four to five days.
Tiertafel, launched two years ago, now runs 19 soup kitchens across the country. With the looming prospect of a long and deep recession, the group is planning on opening 30 more.
Claudia Hollm, who owns three dogs herself, said she came up with the idea of pet soup kitchens after seeing a television report about a family having to give their dog to an animal rescue center after the father was made redundant.
“The dog didn’t understand what was going on; all the family was upset, and we just thought — it just can’t be that for the sake of 30 or 40 euros [US$42 or US$56] they’ve got to turn their pet out,” she said.
“Everyday we see people who can’t keep their pets anymore because of the cost,” said Evamarie Koenig, spokeswoman for Berlin’s central animal rescue center.
The facility takes in more than 10,000 animals each year, with one in three handed over by owners who say they can no longer look after them, she said.