Amazing Animal Advocates

Meet four people who were inspired to improve the lives of shelter animals – and find out how you can help too.


Mimi Ausland, founder of freekibble.com


Inspiration: Grade-school student Mimi Ausland had been volunteering at the Humane Society of Central Oregon (HSCO) for a couple of years when she got an idea to help animals by reading freerice.com. The Website fights hunger by donating 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program (paid for by the site's sponsors) for each vocabulary question a visitor answers correctly. Mimi saw how she could help the HSCO in a much bigger way: She would create a Website that donates healthy dog food to the shelter every time someone answered a pet-related trivia question. "I have always loved animals," she said, "and I wanted to do something bigger to help them, because they really need our help!"

What she did: Mimi was just 11 years old when she started freekibble.com in April 2008. With some help from her parents, she designed the site, found sponsors and drummed up press, which has included appearances on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams and the Today Show. As a result, in just five months she was able to deliver more than 37 million pieces of kibble to nine shelters in Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and New York. Plus Mimi started freekibblekat.com in June 2008 to help feed hungry felines. "It has gotten very big and has become a big family project," the now 12-year-old said recently. "My parents are a great help."

How you can help: Every day you play Bow Wow Trivia on freekibble.com – and Meow Trivia on freekibblekat.com – 10 pieces of kibble will be donated to shelter animals. And help spread the word. The more people play, the more cats and dogs that will be fed.

Rae French, founder of the Snuggles Project


Inspiration: While visiting a shelter in Portland, OR, in 1995, Rae saw a blackboard that listed statistics about the number of animals who were brought in, how many of them were adopted and how many were euthanized. She left in tears and vowed to do something. A longtime knitter and crocheter, Rae had created "snuggles," or pet blankets, for her first cat, Fuzzy, when she was a child. She then decided to crochet such security blankets for the shelter's dogs and cats so they would be more comfortable as they waited to be placed in new homes.

What she did: Rae knew she couldn't make enough blankets by herself, so she asked members of an online crocheting group she was running if any of them would like to help. "To my great surprise and amazement, boxes started arriving from all over the world," she writes on the Snuggles Project Website. During the past 12 years the group has provided more than 500,000 blankets to shelter animals around the world. Today the Snuggles Project is part of Hugs for Homeless Animals, a nonprofit charity dedicated to homeless animals worldwide.

How you can help: Visit snugglesproject.org to learn how you can make security blankets for shelter animals.

Sheri Berliner, founder of Petraits.com


Inspiration: A staff member from a shelter in Chicago saw professional photographer Sheri Berliner's pet portraits at a gallery and told her, "Hey, if you can make our pets look that good, I bet we could get more adopted." So, as Sheri recalls, she agreed to snap some photos.

What she did: Since that fateful day, Sheri has photographed more shelter animals than she can count. And now her labor of love includes photographing the dogs and cats at two dozen Chicago-area shelters and then posting their "petraits" and stories on Petfinder.com and Adoptapet.com, as well as sending the information to more than 4,000 pet lovers in daily e-mails. The point, she says, is to get potential adopters to look in an animal's eyes and fall in love. And they do. "I've fostered more than 50 dogs and a dozen cats in the last two years and they've all been adopted."

How you can help: Adopt a pet. Visit your local shelter or search Petfinder.com or Adoptapet.com. But if taking a pet into your home isn't an option, you can offer to walk dogs or play with kittens at your local shelter.

Eileen Smulson, founder of 2008 Operation Blankets of Love


Inspiration: In January 2008, Eileen Smulson was just visiting Los Angeles' new West Valley animal with a friend. But when she read a sign that said the organization needed blankets for the animals, she thought of her dog, Ginger, a mixed-breed terrier whom she'd rescued four years earlier, and saw another way she could help. "When you put a blanket down, a dog just snuggles into it because he feels safe and secure," she said. "And they've proven in a survey that once a shelter animals are given blankets, they're more relaxed and more likely to be adopted."

What she did: In just over a month, Eileen collected more than 3,000 blankets and comforters by asking owners of small pet-supply stores, grooming businesses and veterinary clinics in her community if she could put flyers and donation boxes in their stores and offices. By September 2008, more than 15,000 blankets, towels and washcloths were delivered to shelters around L.A.

How you can help: Call your local shelter and ask what you can donate. Many need a steady supply of blankets, towels, food and toys. To find a shelter near you, visit Pets911.com or ASPCA.org. If you'd like to start an Operation Blankets of Love, Eileen can help you set it up. Contact her at eicreate@aol.com or (818) 402-6586 x0

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