Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kibble for a Cause

Mimi Ausland, the junior-high-schooler who invented, is personally responsible for feeding thousands of dogs and cats in shelters across America.

When she was a toddler, Mimi Ausland loved animals so much her parents called her Dr. Doolittle. At her home in Bend, Oregon, Mimi rescued injured birds and fish, even spiders. At the age of seven, told she was too young to work at the local Humane Society, Mimi started mailing spare change to the shelter. "She just has this huge heart and it plays out with animals," says her father, Kelly, 48. "She's always been protective and passionate about animals."

In 2008, Mimi, now thirteen, shared her passion with the world in a big way, developing an online trivia game called and with the help of her mom and dad. Players answer one question about dogs, another about cats, and whether right or wrong, 10 pieces of kibble per question are donated to a shelter by a holistic pet food maker.

How much pet food could actually be raised 10 bits at a time, you ask?

Since its start on April 1, 2008, has donated more than 400,000 pounds of dog and cat food. The organization is the sole supplier of food for 14 shelters across the country. Another 60 rescues have received tens of thousands of pounds of huge one-time donations. An average of 45,000 people visit the site daily. "It's so cool, it's really exciting," says Mimi, a seventh grader. "I knew it was important that I did something for others."

Scores of financially-strapped animal welfare organizations are grateful. The day after hurricane Fay hit South Florida in August 2008 and destroyed most of the food at Sanctuary Animal Refuge in Clewiston, Mimi contacted the rescue and asked if they needed food. "When I got her email, all I could do was cry," says sanctuary founder Palena Dorsey. "It was like heaven had opened and the hand of God touched my heart."

For Mimi, success has increased her awareness of a dire need: hundreds of shelters have now contacted her. "I just got another email from a shelter asking for food," she says. "I would love to feed all of them."

The idea for was serendipitous. Mimi and some relatives had been playing an Internet game called, where for every correct vocabulary word answered, several grains of rice are donated by sponsors to feed the poor. "I thought we could do this for animals," says Mimi, "with kibble pieces for animals instead of rice."

With help from her father, Kelly, a product designer, and mother Brooke Smith, 47, a fine artist, Mimi designed a website and approached local pet businesses for food donations. She researched trivia using Google and the books "Planet Dog" and "Planet Cat" to create a mix of funny and highly informative questions. "Her initial goal," says Kelly, "was to feed our local shelter."

Mimi quickly outgrew her local pet food sponsors and is now working with holistic pet food makers Castor & Pollux, and Halo, Purely for Pets. Eager to motivate other kids, Mimi asked the site's younger players to write an essay on why their local shelter deserved $1000 worth of food. Mimi received over 400 submissions, and she picked five winners. "We're so exceptionally proud of her," says Kelly. "We're thrilled she's having the impact she wanted to have."

Mimi quickly admits she could not have accomplished all she has without her parents. "It's impossible for a kid to do it all by yourself," she says. "It definitely takes hard work." For readers who have an idea but have difficulty in the execution, Mimi shares some tips. "Just go after it," she says, "even if it seems impossible." Take your time finding sponsors and building your website. Be patient and work hard. "It's like a homework assignment," she says, "but more fun than that."

Mimi — an only child — was finally able to start volunteering at her local shelter, the Humane Society of Central Oregon, when she was 9. At least once a week, she continues to walk the homeless dogs and helps with the cats. An avid equestrian, Mimi is also mom to a golden retriever, Aspen, a cat named Dot and several fish. She envisions one day training horses and founding an animal sanctuary similar to Best Friends in Utah, the country's largest animal refuge.

"I can't imagine where this little girl will go when she's an adult," says Lynne Ouchida of the local shelter where Mimi first sent the coins she collected for strays. "Whatever she sets her heart to, she will accomplish it."

Help raise five times the amount of kibble today! Go to

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