Dog Social Ecology - Level 3
Helping Dogs, Helping the Planet
Learn more about how volunteering for dog-related causes can impact pets worldwide.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson
Larry Chusid changes dogs’ lives one meal at a time. His nonprofit organization, a pet food bank called The Pongo Fund, gives away high-quality dog and cat food to any Portland, Ore.-area family in need. Chusid’s reach, however, goes beyond the Emerald City’s borders. Thanks to his cause’s intricate pet food distribution network and generous donations from food maker Canidae Corp., hungry pets across Oregon and southwest Washington can go to bed with full bellies.
“When we opened our doors on Nov. 8, 2009, we had 40 people that came that day and received literally life-saving food for the most valuable members of their family: their pets, the soul of the family,” Chusid said. “On our one-year anniversary, we gave out our one millionth meal. Instead of 40 people in line, there were now almost 200.”
Chusid’s individual efforts struck a deep chord in both the Portland area and among pet communities nationwide, a chord that harmonized with not only dog and cat rescue organizations and adoption groups, but also veterinarians, spay-neuter nonprofits and social services, including the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services, which currently refers clients to The Pongo Fund for help feeding their furry family members.
For the sake of pets’ health and well being, droves of volunteers have joined The Pongo Fund’s cause, adding to a growing ensemble of individuals dedicated to feeding hungry dogs and cats.
“We built this mission into a fully operational endeavor that not only opens the door and gives food to the public,” Chusid says. “We have developed, integrated and managed a pet-food distribution network that now supplies pet food to more than 50 different nonprofit organizations throughout Oregon and southwest Washington. That is, as far as I can tell, the largest pet-food distribution network in America.”
Chusid has now shifted his gaze nationwide. His new goal: to establish satellite Pongo Fund locations in areas of need and help even more pets and their families.
“If we can continue building on what we’ve done, I will remain cautiously optimistic that we can make a bigger difference than we already have,” he says.
The Pongo Fund, its affiliates, and countless individuals and organizations like them worldwide are improving the lives of animals at the grassroots, local level – and their actions then reverberate into the community, the nation and, eventually, the planet. That’s the idea behind affecting social change: When like-minded individuals unite for a cause, their combined efforts can make a greater difference.
Any volunteer-based nonprofit organization requires a host of passionate people and their talents to be successful. Sociologists say that to effectively orchestrate change, leaders of these organizations should practice these principles:
- Define your mission. Whether you’re an individual looking to make a change in your neighborhood, the head of a rescue group or someone in between, you should have a targeted and clearly articulated goal or mission statement. Chusid, for instance, identified a need in his community, made the decision to affect change, and set out a goal of “providing quality pet food for the family pets of anyone in honest need.”
- Design a strategy. With your mission defined, the next step is to decide how you will go about accomplishing those goals. As an individual, it could be as simple as setting aside three hours a week to transport rescued animals from shelters to foster homes. If you have a larger goal in mind, you could establish a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization. When Chusid started The Pongo Fund, his strategy was to purchase and hand deliver food to families in transition. “I started going on the inner east side by the bridges and helping people in need who had pets,” Chusid says. “Now, we’re developing the foundation to take this to the next level. We’re doing things internally that will give us the ability to reach more families who need.”
- Connect with others. Next, seek out others who share your philosophy and goals. If you’re setting out, for example, to rehabilitate and find homes for retired racing Greyhounds, speak with decision makers at a race track, or call Greyhound rescue organizations and find out how you can help. When Chusid realized and was working toward his mission, he connected with key people at Canidae – including chief executive officer Scott Whipple, who generously agreed to donate top-quality food to The Pongo Fund’s cause. “I cannot imagine doing this without Canidae,” Chusid says. “They’re doing this knowing that many of the people we assist will not become Canidae customers. They’re doing this out of true goodwill.”
- Trumpet your cause. To generate interest in your mission (not to mention raising money to fund it), make your presence known in your community. Marketing and public relations aren’t just for the for-profit sector. Get out and share you goals with allied outlets, such as the local media, kennel clubs, pet specialty boutiques, and dog trainers.
Think outside the box, just as Chusid did with The Pongo Fund. By sharing his mission with the Portland Development Commission, for example, Chusid was able to secure a donated warehouse and distribution center. “It was a building slated for demolition, but it’s our building to use now,” he says. “And while there’s no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer, as far as we’re concerned, it’s a five-star hotel. It is a clean, well-lit place. It’s dry, it’s safe, it’s secure, and we’re able to fill it with food that can’t be provided elsewhere.”
- Engage and sustain the mission. Finally, to keep the program’s momentum going, sustain interest and see your goals realized, continue to focus your efforts, redefining your mission and goals if necessary. For example, you may find your Greyhound rescue is making a greater impact by transporting animals from one place to another rather than fostering them. Chusid refocused his efforts: He went from hand delivering food to people in need to establishing a pet food bank open to anyone – even those who just need a little extra help. “Overall, we have become the go-to organization in this community,” he says. “We are working to become a clearinghouse of services, all operating at a level of best practices, meaning courtesy, dignity, respect.”
Change begins with one idea. When that idea is acted upon, and when others see how that idea develops into a cause, the momentum can take it from the neighborhood to the community and beyond.
“I wanted to open pet-food bank that would exceed the expectations that anyone ever had when it came to opening any food bank,” Chusid says. “I wanted to reach out and care for a community that was in such dire need, that could not afford to feed their pets, but I wanted to do it in a way that was filled with courtesy and dignity. I wanted to do something beyond what anyone even imagined possible.”
He certainly has.
Wendy Bedwell-Wilson writes about life with pets from her home in Southwest Oregon, which she shares with a retired racing Greyhound, a hound mix and a barnyard full of critters.
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