SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 News) – To say the past few weeks have been rough for Candi Martinez would be an understatement. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take off, she just couldn’t seem to catch a break.

Shortly after moving to Magna with her family, Martinez’s new home is now damaged with cracks from Wednesday’s 5.7 magnitude earthquake. Living off of disability and trying to support her family has proven to be a difficult task. But what’s helped her through the tough times, she said, are her cats and kittens.

“They are my therapy animals, because I also have some bipolar and some other mental issues,” she said. “They lay with me. They’re my everything, next to my kids.”

As concerned and panicked shoppers began emptying shelves at the grocery store of essential items, Martinez said she couldn’t find the specialized type of cat food her oldest pet needed.

“I started to panic a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I’m not typically an emotional person. But I got really emotional because I was just slowly watching them lose weight and there was nothing I could do.”

Then, Martinez’s car broke down and left her without a way to get around. Desperate, she turned to her community for help.

“I started to get all teary when the first person decided to bring me some food and litter. It did give me a little bit of hope because I was getting really discouraged,” she said. “There was a lot going through my head as far as whether taking my cats to the shelter would be a way to save them or have someone else take them in. I just didn’t know where to go with it.”

Jamie Usry, Executive Director for Nuzzles and Co. Pet Rescue and Adoption said this type of predicament that Martinez is going through is not uncommon for pet owners in dire situations and emergencies.

“When you’re facing a financial decision, you’re laid off, or your hours have been reduced right now, sometimes you might actually face thinking about, ‘Can I buy groceries or can I feed my pet?’ and that’s something that no one should really have to face,” said Usry. “It’s definitely one of the effects of COVID-19 that I think might be forgotten about by some people.”

In an effort to keep pet owners and their animals together during this crisis, Nuzzles and Co. is allowing families in-need to come pick up free dog food, cat food, and cat litter.

“Pets are family. You deserve to be able to keep them during this crisis. Nuzzles and Co. wants to make sure that happens,” she said. “Although we are a 501c3 nonprofit and rely on monetary donations for our programs, we have been inundated with kindness from the community in the form of dog and cat supplies. We are in no situation where we need to hoard those things right now.”

Usry encourages anyone who may be struggling mentally or emotionally to consider adopting or fostering a pet, emphasizing that animals make great companions and help alleviate the feeling of isolation and anxiety.

“They provide us with comfort and support. They also entertain us. We’re all stuck at home right now and it can be very boring. Nothing’s better than going out and walking your own dog right now,” she said. “Plus, we have all already seen a decrease in adoptions, just in the last week. It’s not healthy for the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of a pet to be stuck in a shelter for an extended period of time, especially with no chance of adoption.”

Martinez said being able to keep and care for her pets is crucial for her mental health.

“I don’t think I would be okay without them. I’m already having a really hard time with tons of anxiety and emotions. If I gave them up, I think the suicidal thoughts would probably come back, because I would just feel empty,” she said.

Nuzzles and Co. will be traveling weekly from Park City to host a donation and pick-up station beginning Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Target on 1110 South 300 West in Salt Lake City. 

“Anyone out there, there’s no shame in being in need right now. This is no fault of your own. Please come by,” said Usry. “We’re asking you only take what you need for three weeks and we’ll see where we’re at. But we absolutely intend to re-distribute these supplies.”

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