Items collected for financially struggling pet owners stolen from Kingston building
Tracey Morgan-Chopick broke down Thursday discussing the theft of thousands of dollars in pet food and cat litter she had collected for area pet owners struggling financially in the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m just so disheartened somebody would do this. We’re doing a service for free to help people,” she said, her voice shaky. “It breaks my heart, honestly.”
Passionate about animals, Morgan-Chopick has been volunteering to oversee the Luzerne County Animal Response Team for at least eight years. The all-volunteer team is trained and dispatched as a first responder when animals are involved in fires, vehicle accidents or other emergencies. It also sets up animal shelters in disaster situations.
When local residents started losing their jobs at the start of the pandemic in March, Morgan-Chopick saw food pantries for people but decided one was needed for their pets.
“We don’t want someone to have to give up what is a family member — which we consider pets to be — because of finances,” she said. “We want to keep pets in their homes and fed.”
After weeks of bugging many businesses and entities, with mixed results, Morgan-Chopick rounded up enough initial pet supply donations to serve the need but had to figure out where she could keep it for free.
“We’re nonprofit. We don’t have any money,” she said.
Unable to find someone with a large enough building willing to turn over the keys for nothing, she reached out to a family friend who agreed to let her use his Kingston property.
She set up a system through the county Animal Response Team on social media in which those in need made appointments to pick up the pet items at the doorstep of her husband’s business, with no physical contact required due to the pandemic. Morgan-Chopick also held an October drive-through pet pantry at the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming.
Since the invitation to provide pet items went out in April, 800 to 1,000 families have received pet supplies, sometimes multiple times, Morgan-Chopick estimates. She thought it would be a temporary service for a month or two but kept it going due to the demand.
At times, she was able to finagle donated food for rabbits, hamsters and birds.
It was during her retrieval of resident-requested supplies at the storage place Tuesday night that she discovered the theft.
She unlocked the door as usual and immediately noticed hundreds of pounds of cat litter bags and pallets of food and pet treats were gone.
Fearful the thieves were still there, Morgan-Chopick ran outside and contacted 911, which dispatched Kingston Police. Anyone with information on the theft should contact the police department at 570-288-3674.
Morgan-Chopick said it appeared the culprits targeted certain items they thought they could sell, and she questions how they was hauled out because of the quantity and weight. The building has multiple entrances.
Because only a select few knew about the contents there, she surmises the thieves must have been watching the building and her activities to know the items were inside. She’s afraid to identify the building address.
“I feel completely violated,” Morgan-Chopick said. “Now I’m paranoid they’re going to come back and steal the rest.”
Some have offered donations to replace the stolen goods, but Morgan-Chopick said she does not want to accept them and have those items stolen too. Most of the stolen goods were intended for another drive-through pantry event she planned to hold soon.
She is contemplating putting out a plea for another location. Stopping the service would only hurt families and their pets, which goes against her nature. Morgan-Chopick is particularly sensitive to financial struggles because she works in the financial management profession and lost her full-time job in the pandemic.
“It’s incredibly time-consuming and back-breaking work providing this service, but we do it because we love animals and want to help the community,” she said. “I hope these people can be found and prosecuted for what they did.”