MILL CREEK — Outside Paddywack, a pet food store in Mill Creek, there stands a little red box. It’s impossible to miss, though it blends in seamlessly with the cheery red color scheme of the rest of the store. The hand-drawn art on its sides, depicting happy cats and dogs, and the lettering on the front tells you immediately it’s there for a purpose.
“Give what you can, take what you need,” it says in a child’s crooked handwriting.
Through the box’s glass panes, you can see countless varieties of canned cat food and dog treats, catnip-filled toys and a bejeweled harness. Paddywack co-owner Shane Somerville said she wanted the whole community to know they can get anything their pets need in a pinch from the pantry, not just the barest necessities.
“Food and cat litter is obviously critically important. But if you have a pet, you love them and care about them,” Somerville said. “It feels good to give them a treat or something to chew on or something to play with. So it’s not just the question of what do we need for sustenance, it’s also something that you can enrich their life with. When pets are happy, people are happy.”
Paddywack’s pet food pantry opened Dec. 18 after a local Girl Scout troop helped bring the project to fruition. Mill Creek Mayor Pro Tem Stephanie Vignalattended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with 50 customers, parents and pet lovers. Somerville believes it’s the only 24-hour pantry dedicated to pet needs in all of Snohomish County, a gap in the local support network she’s been wanting to fill for years.
Somerville said the store at 15407 Main St., co-owned with her husband, Adam, has focused on giving back to charitable organizations and community needs since they bought Paddywack in 2014. Somerville noticed pet food was always in high demand at their local food bank, especially when the pandemic forced many pet owners out of their jobs.
The store began offering free pet supplies by request on a rolling cart when they turned curbside-only during the pandemic. Plenty of folks put it to use, but Somerville said she felt there was still more they could do to help. She thought of essential workers getting off late-night shifts only to realize there’s no more cat food, but stores are closed for the night. And besides, she knew it isn’t always easy to ask for help when you need it.
Somerville had been mulling over the idea for a while when she mentioned her plans in passing to another parent at her children’s school. Amber Butler, a fellow mom and co-leader of Girl Scout Troop 46475, happened to overhear.
Butler said her troop’s 11 members, ranging in age from 9 to 12, had been looking for a new community service project. They’d been planning to set up a Little Free Library, but it didn’t pan out. They’d already made blankets to donate to a local animal shelter, but of course they wanted to spend more time helping cats and dogs. Somerville’s idea was a perfect fit, and the troop set right away to drafting plans for the pantry.
When a scout’s mom found a battered old cabinet for free at a yard sale, the troop upcycled it into the cheerful, brightly decorated pantry that stands outside Paddywack today. The girls loved that they could help hungry pets, but Butler said the hands-on learning that happened while they helped renovate the cabinet was an important bonus.
“We had girls who’d never used a hammer before, who didn’t know what a screwdriver did,” Butler said. “Watching them figure it out with the parents’ help, and them getting to see this project come from a plan they drew on paper to a real-life thing, was so rewarding for them.”
The girls added some personal touches, too. Below the pantry on Paddywack’s sidewalk sits a stone planter with a dozen flags in neon shades planted in the soil, bearing positive messages like “You’re Purr-fect” and “Keep going! You’re doing great!”
Butler said the scouts hoped folks using the pantry would take a flag that spoke to them, because chances are they could use a little pick-me-up. As they go off to their new homes, the girls will make more to keep the source of inspiration flowing.
It’s been open for barely a week, but Somerville said she has already seen an outpouring of support for the project. Customers often add extra food to their purchases and donate it to the pantry, and one of the store’s vendors came through with a dozen boxes of food, treats and supplements. As soon as the first night it was open, she noticed some of the supplies had been taken.
To Somerville, that drove the message home: The need was there, and the pantry was already helping.
“I really feel strongly that people should not have to choose between feeding their pet and feeding themselves,” Somerville said. “And so if we can help provide a resource that will assist people in getting that need met, in taking care of their pets, then I think we’ve done a good thing there.”