A constellation of needy cat and dog owners found their way Tuesday to the holiday pet pantry outside the headquarters of animal welfare agency PAWS/LA in downtown Los Angeles.
They were the unemployed, the underemployed, the disabled.
"During the winter, it's hard on me. I have to decide whether I'm going to feed my cats or have heat," said Eddie Trejo, 50 and disabled, as he wiped away tears. He sat near the four boxes of cat food he'd received for free.
"It's a blessing," he said. "My cats are my only companions." He showed off a photo on his cellphone of his black-and-white cat, Big Pong. (The other one is Ping Pong.)
"What do you have? Cat or a dog?" Eddie Tovar asked cheerfully, standing at a table stacked high with boxes of food for both species.
Ronette Monjet told him she has two dogs and one cat.
"I've been struggling with the pet food situation," said Monjet, 30, who lost her customer service job. She said she wonders if she should give away the two dogs and just keep the cat.
But after Tovar loaded her up with two cases each of dog food and cat food, her most pressing struggle was trying to cart them away.
"If I don't eat, the cats eat," said a white-haired woman, picking up food for her three cats. She gave only Marie as her name and declined to reveal her age. "I'm a young senior citizen, but my leg is killing me. I feel like I'm 100."
Alana Triplett, an actress, peered at the table of food. "Can we get fish? Oh, chicken is good," she said, looking over the flavors. "I have a Chinese Shar-Pei and he's allergic to a lot — corn, wheat."
Triplett got her 10-month-old dog, Chan Lu, as a rescue from a city shelter. "I knew Shar-Peis have special needs," she said. "They have eye problems, ear problems."
Between coping with her dog's needs and her own dental bills, "It's been a very tough year," she said.
She's working now — "I've been playing a dead body on 'The Event' this week" — but she's still happy to get the dog food. "Pets are like people. You want to make sure their care is proper."
PAWS/LA usually helps low-income senior citizens and ill or disabled pet owners. But a donation of pet food "was an opportunity to open the program up to the public," said Pamela Magette, the agency's executive director.
"The goal was to keep pet families together," said Melissa McGinnis, chief executive of L.A.-based organic Original Pet Food Co., which donated 20,000 cans of dog and cat food.
Despite the chilly air, McGinnis was dressed in a strapless red dress edged in white fake fur — her version of Ms. Santa Claus.
"Sometimes the pets, even though they are part of the family, are the last expenditure during the holidays," she said.