Hamilton’s pet dogs and cats were the ones getting a free meal this week at St. Matthew’s House, a food bank and family assistance facility on Barton Street.

The Pet Pantry, a national program that aims to provide food and care for cats and dogs whose families are in need, was in town handing out bags of pet chow.

The bags, donated by Purina, retail for around $25-$35.

Set up along the sidewalk in the sun, workers from Associate Veterinary Clinics and PAWS Hamilton were handing out 90 bags each of cat food and dog food, and were also on hand to clip dogs’ nails.

Importance of companions

It wasn’t a huge amount of pet food in the grand scheme, and more than 100 bags were snatched up by 10 a.m., but the event was also aimed at ending the stigma that if you have fallen on hard times you should not have a pet.

“Pet companions are so important. They have a positive impact and emphasize value in people’s lives,” said St. Matthew’s manager of social services Karen Randell. “Interaction with animals can have an immeasurable benefit on both physical and mental health of individuals, particularly those who are living in isolation.”

The event, in conjunction with a food bank, doesn’t just help hungry pets, but hungry people as well, as many pet owners will pay for a vet or pet food and then not have sufficient money to feed themselves.

“That human animal bond is huge, and that is the feedback we’ve been getting today. ‘My pet is my child,’’” said Jen Danyliw, operations director for the Associate Veterinary Clinics.

“We know everyone is in different places, but we know that bond is important and that people would give up for themselves to feed their pets, who are members of families.”