They say that good fences make good neighbors, but in a rural area of Austin, Texas, it’s good liquor and a love of animals that unite neighbors in a good cause — and in a Valentine’s Day tradition.
“Tito’s Vodka is a company that’s based in Austin, just down the road from our flagship clinic,” explains Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, a nonprofit provider of affordable and accessible spay and neuter services.
“We’ve spayed so many of their dogs over the years,” she says.
The dogs she’s referring to aren’t really Tito’s — or at least, they weren’t at first. Dozens of homeless dogs and cats have found their way to the distillery over the years. The rural location seems to attract animals who have nowhere else to go. The team at Tito’s Handmade Vodka has absorbed many of the strays into their own families and wanted to give back to Emancipet for helping the animals who stole their hearts. That’s why the folks at the distillery created Vodka For Dog People, a booze-free line of dog toys and accessories to showcase one’s dual love of vodka and dogs. Squeaky toys, T-shirts, leashes, and food dishes are among the items bearing the Tito’s branding to benefit Emancipet.
“Everything that they sell, 100 percent of the money goes to Emancipet,” says Mills.
Of course, the dogs rescued by Tito’s aren’t the only ones receiving low- or no-cost spay and neuter surgeries through the Central Texas organization.
Since its inception in 1999, Emancipet has helped more than 200,000 pets get spayed or neutered at little or no cost to their families. After humble beginnings offering free weekly spay and neuter services from its mobile clinic, Emancipet opened its first permanent clinic in Austin in 2005, and by 2011 the team had added a second mobile clinic, allowing the organization to expand out of the city and into Central Texas. A second brick-and-mortar clinic was opened in Pflugerville in 2013, and a mobile trailer was permanently parked in Killeen in 2014. The organization expects to continue its expansion.
“Right now we’re working to identify cities that either don’t have low-cost spay and neuter clinics or don’t have enough services available for the number of low-income families,” Mills explains.
Mills has seen first hand what can happen when families can’t access spay and neuter services in time. She has four dogs and a cat at home — all of them rescues.
“Gracie’s my oldest, she is almost 14 years old. She is my chocolate Lab,” says Mills, whose second oldest dog, Rudy, is almost 12.
“My last two dogs were born at Emancipet,” she says, adding that the owners of the dogs’ mother did not realize their Lab mix was pregnant when they brought her in for a low-cost spay surgery.
“I’ve been with Emancipet for eight years, and that was the only time that that has happened,” says Mills, who dubbed the surprise pups she adopted Angus and Banjo.
The birth of the dogs may have been unexpected, but unwanted pet pregnancies are an all too common story. When financial times get tough, it can be difficult for families to put a high priority on spaying or neutering their pets, so organizations like Emancipet need support to be able to provide these much-needed veterinary services at low or no cost.
That’s one reason why Emancipet teamed up with local pet company, PrideBites (the same company behind the Tito’s branded squeak toys) to create a line of Emancipet-branded collars and leashes, so pets and their people could show their support for the organization on every dog walk.
According to Mills, the Vodka For Dog People line and Emancipet’s own accessories are a great way to spread the word about the organization and its services.
“These products are a really awesome way for us to do that.”
While the Vodka For Dog People products are helping spread the gospel of Emancipet’s spay and neuter mission, Tito’s core product — Handmade Vodka — is also part of Emancipet’s Sit Stay Day kits, a made-in-Austin alternative to a Valentine’s Day dinner out.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the dinner, drink, and dessert kits, which include dozens of local products, to be delivered to hundreds of Austin homes and offices the day before Valentine’s Day. Along with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, the Sit Stay Day kits also contain beers from Independence Brewery Co. and the Houston-based Saint Arnold Brewing Company, along with dinner ingredients, snacks, sweets such as LovePuppies Brownies, and even treats for furry family members. The kits each sell for $175, money that helps Emancipet help pets in need — a mission that would be a lot harder if it weren’t for neighbors like the team at Tito’s and the rest of the Austin-based businesses who donated to the Sit Stay Day kits.
“We serve thousands and thousands of pets and their families,” says Mills, who is grateful for all the love Austin businesses show Emancipet on Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year.
On February 14, when hundreds of romantic Austinites settle in for an evening at home with their Sit Stay Day kits, they — along with the folks at Tito’s Homemade Vodka, the other businesses donating to the kit, as well as Mills and her team at Emancipet — will become heroes to the dogs of Central Texas (and the families who love them).
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.