Interview with Voice for Companion Animals

Voice for Companion Animals was founded in 2011 to help ensure that companion pets in Nebraska are able to remain with their owners during financial hardships. Often times when an unexpected crisis strikes, pet owners are left with no means to provide for their animals. The non-profit provides pet food and supplies, some medical care, and education to support pet owners throughout Nebraska.

The programs offer only a temporary help; pet owners are asked to take steps towards being self-sufficient. Responsible ownership is encouraged through education on spay & neutering, follow-up with families to ensure appropriate vaccinations are given, and education on how to properly house and feed their pets.

Robyn Mays has been the president of Voice for Companion Animals since 2014. She said that she had been standing in her kitchen and was in shock when founder, Gayla Hausman, called her about taking over. Mays knew that in taking on this role she had “big shoes to fill,” but she’s proud of what Voice for Companion Animals has accomplished for Grand Island.

ALLISON: Why does Voice for Companion Animals focus on prevention?

ROBYN: After over five years in an animal shelter, I was able to see and hear the needs of those pet owners who were looking for options other than surrendering their beloved pet. Many did not want to do it, but they weren’t aware of any other options. Bad things happen, and we wanted to give those people a way to keep their pet. Shelters and rescues are always full. The pet needs to stay in their own home if at all possible.

ALLISON: How many pet owners does your pet food bank serve?

ROBYN: There are 65 pet owners who are served directly through our AniMeals program. We also assist the Howard-Greeley County Food Pantry and our local Salvation Army by providing pet food next to their other food pantry.

ALLISON: How much pet food do you give out per week?

ROBYN: We give out over 700lbs each month in our AniMeals program. We also donate to the other 2 food pantries when we have extra donations.

ALLISON: Do you hand out any other supplies at the pet food bank?

ROBYN: We also provide kitty litter, soft food and treats when we can. Also, we do a holiday gift bag once a year where they also received a pet bed/blanket, toy and treats. Last year, we had volunteers make pet toys. It was a win-win. The kids loved it and the pet owners really enjoyed them.

ALLISON: Share some memorable or touching moments.

ROBYN: A memorable moment involves our holiday gift bags for each of the pet owners in our AniMeals program, the program where we deliver to a senior or a veteran. One year we recruited other volunteers to deliver with us. One individual returned with tears in her eyes and said, “Now I get why you do this. They’re so grateful. It’s awesome!”

ALLISON: Share a little of your background with animals.

ROBYN: Our family has always had pets when I was growing up. I loved cats, but there were other family members who were allergic, so I waited until I moved out before adopting one or two (or three or four).

Then when a new animal shelter was built in Grand Island, I applied to volunteer in the office. During the application process, I was hired as an administrative assistant instead.

Within the next five years, I grew into an Associate Director position. Those five years were spent being involved in just about every aspect of an animal shelter, from assisting with their care, to fundraising, to adoptions, to animal control calls.

ALLISON: Share a little of your background in volunteer work.

ROBYN: I’ve done other volunteering in the past, but animal welfare is who I am. Voice for Companion Animals is an all-volunteer nonprofit, and we are all about the animals and the people who love them. It’s a great day when you get to see the impact we are making in the community, and the community’s response to our mission.

ALLISON: How have you grown in your volunteer abilities?

ROBYN: In the past, I’ve definitely been an introvert. I was happy to be at a desk job and be left alone to do my work. Within the last several years, I’ve changed. As everyone knows, to grow a nonprofit or business, you better get out there. You have to be marketing, administration, and caregiver rolled into one. It’s been an adjustment, but a good one.

ALLISON: What have you learned about animals from being a volunteer?

ROBYN: If we slow down and observe them, they teach us so much. How they feel, who they trust, their likes and dislikes. Mostly, they don’t lie. It is what it is with them.

ALLISON: Why should other pet lovers volunteer?

ROBYN: When looking for a good volunteer or employee, it seemed everyone was saying, “I want to work/volunteer here because I love pets.” That didn’t always equate to a good worker. Some people thought all we did was play with kitties and puppies all day.
One day of volunteering was sometimes all it took to open their eyes. It is work. And sometimes it is awful work.

But then there are days that are completely awesome. Saving a life that would have been euthanized, or seeing a puppy mill dog walk on grass for the first time. These days more than make up for the bad.

ALLISON: Give a tip to future volunteers.

ROBYN: Check your ego at the door. Everyone does whatever it takes, whether loading or unloading donations, delivering food/supplies, cleaning out litterboxes, or doing laundry. The work needs done and the animals are depending on you.

Pet Food Banks Help Pet Owners in Need

An estimated 23 million dogs and cats live in poverty with their families in the United States, says the Humane Society of the United States. No wonder financial hardship accounts for 25% of the pets that are surrendered to shelters.

Sharon O'Brien, Kibbles Kitchen
Sharon O’Brien, Kibbles Kitchen

For families who face the difficult decision of whether to give up their pet, being able to turn to a pet food bank can make all the difference. A pet food bank provides emotional relief to owners who can no longer provide for their pets. Some pet owners will take food from their own mouths to feed their pets or choose homelessness rather than relinquish their pets. Pet food banks exist to help pets stay with their families

Across the United States, there are at least almost 150 pet food banks, including one run by Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. I chatted online this past month with four of them:

Kibbles Kitchen is an offering of Ventura County Animal Services in California. I spoke to Katie Navarro.

Pet Food Pantry is an offering of Because Animals Matter (BAM), an animal welfare organization located in Utah. Its primary focus is providing pet services to the community and humane education to school children, but it also does rescue. Because Animals Matter is currently working to alter a program we have called Meika’s Medical Fund which was originally designed to help shelter pets. Because more and more shelters are placing medically needy animals with rescues, they’re changing the focus to assist in providing low-income senior citizens with veterinary financial assistance to help them keep their senior pet healthy.
I spoke to J.C. Schilling

Critter Cupboard is an offering of Voice for Companion Animals, an animal welfare organization in Nebraska. The nonprofit started in 2011 with the goal of keeping pets in their home with their family. VCA serves 65 pet owners, gives out 70 pounds of food each month, and donates to two food pantries when there are extra donations. When possible, VCA provides kitty litter, soft food, and treats. A holiday gift bag is also given out once a year that includes a pet bed/blanket, toy, and treats. I spoke to Robyn Mays.

35,000 ponds total of feed, food, and litter, and more were donated to Kibble Kitchen to help victims of Hurricane Irma.
35,000 ponds total of feed, food, and litter, and more were donated to Kibble Kitchen to help victims of Hurricane Irma.

Kibbles Kitchen is an offering of K9 Rescue in Florida. The pantry started in 2007. It feeds 50 families and gives out 1,500 pounds of food and 500 pounds of litter. The rescue collects information on pets in the home and then gives extra supplies for the needs of those pets, such as collars, leashes, shampoo, grooming supplies, dog beds, cat trees, bowls, toys, treats, litter boxes, and pet sweaters. In addition, the pantry hands out a holiday bonus, and disaster kits are handed out in times of emergency. I spoke to Sharon O’Brien.

Every town has pets and people who need help.–J.C. Schilling

Voice of Companion Animals
Voice of Companion Animals

All four pet food banks were started to assist those that would otherwise surrender their pet due to inadequate finances. Robyn Mays specified that Voice for Companion Animals started “after working in a shelter and hearing the calls that would come in from people looking for options. They just hit a rough patch and needed a little help to get through it.”

Reception has been so positive that all could expand, and two have grown beyond their original offerings. Voice for Companion Animals has grown from assisting 18 people to over 65 monthly, and it works with two food pantries to provide pet food too. It runs an Ani-Meals program, which provides monthly pet food delivered to homes of seniors and veterans.

The group called Because Animals Matter (BAM) offers two pet food services. One is a free pet food bank open to low-income people low-income people who are physically able to come to the food bank. The other is Kibbles on Wheels (KOW), a program that provides free dog/cat food to anyone who receives Meals on Wheels. “Most of these people are elderly,” says Schilling, “and losing a pet for lack of food could be devastating for them.” The group is in the process of changing the KOW program to include low-income people who are physically unable to come to the pet food bank.

We have received some very nice thank you notes from folks telling us how important our programs were to their being able to keep their pets.–J.C. Schilling

Such an overwhelming reception to pet food banks is bound to result in memorable stories. Schilling said that often when Because Animals Matter volunteers make the first delivery to a new pet food bank recipient, “They come back to me and tell me how the family hugged them and cried on their shoulders and have thanked them profusely.” One recipient of the pet food program showed appreciation in a concrete way, by making a wall hanging that depicts her family for the volunteer that delivers her pet food.

Voice of Companion Animals
Voice of Companion Animals

Mays also had a story to share from Voice for Companion Animals. “A couple of years ago we gave a holiday gift package to each of the folks on our Ani-Meals program. We asked for more volunteers and they helped deliver the packages. A couple of volunteers returned with tears in their eyes, stories of meeting the people and pets, and the repeated comment was ‘Now I get it. Now I understand why you do what you do.’ “

Our group tried to think of what was needed in the community that wasn’t already there to help keep animals from going to the shelter. The pet food bank was born. —Mary Douglas

My own interest in pet food banks arose from my involvement with Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. Its pet food bank was started by LAA president, Mary Douglas, who initially drummed up a few donations of pet food and operated services out of her garage. Now the pet food bank is in the Center for People in Need building, where 2,000 pounds of food is given out every week.

In previous interviews, volunteers shared many memorable moments. Ron Stow said that he’ll never forget one gentleman: “We had our military ball caps on. He was in the Korean War, and I was in Desert Storm. We were sitting on the loading dock of the old place, relating where each had been, and had been doing so for about 30 minutes. Mrs. Okra was getting a little impatient with our B.S. session and stepped out of the car and said, ‘When are you two gonna quit jack-jawin’ and take me home?’ His response was priceless: ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble!’ Sadly, Mr. Okra passed away a few months later.”

Other volunteers told of dedicated pet owners who take the bus across town to pick up food that they would carry home in a backpack. One client rode a bike 18 blocks in 100-degree heat to pick up supplies. And then there’s a lady who from the moment she would walk in to the moment she left, she said thank you.

In previous interviews, I also personally talked to pet food bank recipients. Sharon owns a lovable six-year-old male rat terrier named Buddy. Once a month, she receives a five-pound bag of dog food, canned food, and treats. Sharon is thankful for the support that allows her to continue to care for Buddy. He follows her everywhere, and the two depend on one another.

Lynn owns a one-year-old poodle that had been brought to the Capital Humane Society after he had been found wandering the streets of Crete, Nebraska. When Lynn took him to the vet, it was discovered that he had digestive problems that required prescription dog food. Lynn prefers not to depend on government assistance, but she knew something had to be done. “I know Lincoln Animal Ambassadors only has so much money, and is all run by volunteers, but I appreciate that they buy food from the vet office for me,” said Lynn.

Kibbles Kitchen
Kibbles Kitchen

All the organizations I interviewed depend on volunteers to pick up, package and distribute donated pet food. They also rely on the community for donations of food, litter, and other supplies. Be part of the no-more-homeless-pets solution by supporting your local pet food bank with time and/or donations.

If you’re interested in helping Lincoln Animal Ambassadors specifically, please spread the word about its services, volunteer as a telephone interviewer, and give generously on Give to Lincoln Day this May 31st.