Mimi Ausland’s parents never have to nag her to feed the family pooch. Mimi, a 13-year-old seventh grader, takes care of her own dog — and millions more.
Her Web site, FreeKibble.com combines trivia with charity, helping to feed shelter dogs across the country. Since Mimi began her work in April 2008, FreeKibble.com and a companion site for cats, FreeKibbleKat.com, have provided enough food for an astonishing 1.9 million meals!
How Free Kibble Works
Visit FreeKibble.com, and you’re invited to play Bow Wow Trivia. Mimi and her father research dog-related questions for the game and offer multiple choices that players can click on. Here’s a sample of recent questions:
- “In their first few weeks, puppies sleep ____ of the day.” The correct answer is 90 percent.
- “Which one of the following is the only dog breed whose evidence is accepted in a court of law?” The correct answer is bloodhound.
FreeKibble.com features a different question every day. Each day you play, your participation earns 10 pieces of kibble for a shelter dog. It doesn’t matter if you answer the question correctly or not. Kibble is currently donated to 70 shelters across the United States. The game itself attracts visitors worldwide, from 137 countries so far.
Mimi got the idea from another popular Web site, FreeRice.com, which raises money to feed hungry people through online multiple-choice games involving vocabulary, art and more.
“When we started, we were just planning on feeding our local shelter,” says Mimi, who also volunteers at her local animal shelter. “I’ve always loved animals since I was a little girl, and I wanted to do something more for them somehow.”
Free Kibble has now become a family project. The family found a Web designer to create the site, and now Mimi’s mother makes the whimsical, charming cartoons that appear on the site. Mimi devotes some time each day to important emails, then spends Friday afternoons catching up on her FreeKibble work.
How to Get Started
You might not be ready to feed millions of animals, but your smallest effort will be much appreciated by those who help animals. Here’s our experts’ advice on getting started:
- Check with your local shelter. Visit the shelter Web site to research volunteer opportunities and to review a wish list of needs, suggests Carol Shiveley, humane education manager for the Oregon Humane Society in Portland. Many shelters offer formal volunteer programs with education or training components. In return, they may ask for a regular time commitment. The Oregon Humane Society relies heavily on young volunteers, who often walk the dogs. “Our youths are our best resource for open minds, willing help and dedication to the OHS animals,” says Shiveley.
- Collect goods. If you can’t give your time on a regular basis, consider a one-time drive to raise needed materials, such as food, paper towels, blankets, toys, leashes and collars. “If you’re having a birthday party, ask for money or toys for animals at shelters,” suggests Mimi. “It is fun to get presents, but it does make you feel good to get things for the animals.”
- Consider fostering a dog. Many shelters offer fostering programs that allow you to make a short-term commitment to taking care of a dog or another animal in your home. At the Seattle Humane Society, foster volunteers attend an orientation, then agree to foster for a period of one to eight weeks. The Society provides supplies and any needed medications. “It just amazes me how generous our volunteers are with their time,” says animal care supervisor Virginia Dalton. “Many foster animals so that we can free up space to accommodate the incoming animals.”
- Stick With It. Whatever you undertake, don’t get discouraged. The sense of need can be overwhelming in charity work. “One person can make a huge difference,” says Mimi. “I’m definitely going to keep this up. We’re just going to try to feed as many dogs and cats as possible and see where it goes.”