People at Work in Alexandria: Animals are Hungry, Too

AniMeals’ monthly deliveries provide food for needy animals.

Shannon Brady places a 22-pound bag of Meow Mix on her metal cart beside a bag of wet cat food. “The Meow Mix is for David. He has five cats and feeds the feral cats in the neighborhood.” David is her first stop of the eleven on this morning’s AniMeals delivery route.

Brady pulls up at David’s apartment on S. Whitney Street and carries two large bags of kitty litter down a muddy incline to the backdoor patio where she delivers the monthly supplies. “This is only the second time in four years that it has rained on my Thursday deliveries. I’m glad I wore my waterproof boots.”

A quick knock on the door. “Let’s see if he is home.” Brady heads back to her car to get two additional bags of dry and wet cat food. No sign of David but the inside curtain parts open at the corner. “That little kitty there is Morris. He sees the bags of cat food outside the patio door, but we have to be careful. Morris likes to sneak out the door.” Brady points to a table with a brightly-colored blanket left outside to give the neighborhood cats a warm place to hide during bad weather.

The next person on the delivery route is Betty. “She has a black and white dog and a cat.” Brady knocks but there is no answer. Brady lifts two bags of cat food over a short stone wall and places them on Betty’s patio. “The paper bags will probably get wet, but I just have to take a chance. This is where she likes to have me leave her supplies.”

On down the street to Francine’s apartment in a high rise on S. Whitney Street. “These key codes drive me crazy,” Brady says as she balances her two heavy bags with the information sheet. “Francine likes to have both wet and dry cat food.”

“AniMeals,” Brady calls out but no answer at the door so Brady leaves the sacks of food in the hallway outside the door. “Sometimes she is there, and sometimes she is out.” Brady keeps careful notes on what she leaves at each place and where she has put it. “We are respectful of where they want it. Sometimes their balance isn’t so great.”

Next is Toni Popkin on N. Howard Street. Popkin calls out to come in. Bud, her yellow Labrador service dog, is curled up in his bed at her feet. Brady deposits two large bags of dog food next to Popkin’s chair. Brady explains Popkin had a couple of auto accidents and, “we got this dog for her in 2013. Then a year into it the dog got cancer.” So Popkin held a fundraiser to raise funds for treatment of the dog.

Popkin explains she has just returned from Capitol Hill and Richmond to raise awareness about brain injury. She is also involved in disseminating information about service dogs and writes a regular column in “The Brain Health Magazine.” As she leaves, Brady bids farewell to Popkin. She rubs Bud’s ears before she walks out the door. “Bud is my favorite.”

Brady says that AniMeals is more than delivery of food. Through networking with other groups the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is able to solve problems and to provide additional assistance. “Toni called me once when I was in Washington State for a cousin reunion. She has a painful fall and couldn’t walk her dog.” So Brady called back to the Animal Shelter, and they arranged to find a regular dog walker until Popkin was able to resume.

Mary Lee Anderson, Executive Director of Senior Services of Alexandria (SSA) says the partnership between non-profit organizations like hers and city agencies underlies the strength of this operation. Eligibility for AniMeals is determined through Alexandria Department of Social Services using income-based criteria.

The eligible names are provided to Norma Roberts who is the AniMeals volunteer coordinator for Senior Services of Alexandria. Roberts calls each person once a month to determine what they are looking for that month and provides the list to the three drivers who pick up and deliver the supplies from the Animal Welfare League each month. She says some animals may have special needs such as bird seed or special diets.

Although the community, business and sometimes Amazon overstocks provide most of the supplies that are delivered, the special needs supplies often have to be purchased. Anderson says this is where grants play a role. She says they have had several grants, but the funds are running out and there is need for additional support.

Anderson says this effort all started 6-7 years ago when she got a behind the scenes tour of the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter operated by the Animal Welfare League. “They told me they couldn’t believe how many donations they got. ...They said they needed to get them out into the community.” This gave her an idea so she went to the Alexandria Division of Aging, and a partnership began with the City of Alexandria Social Services and SSA to begin the AniMeals program. Last year they served 61 animals.

Brady says many of these people who receive the pet supplies live alone, and their pet gives them someone to wake up to and care back. This program means they don’t have to choose between food for themselves and food for their pets.

Brady is soon out the door and on to her next delivery.

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