Deb Colburn knows from experience how Voice for Companion Animals can assist pet owners in the Grand Island area.

“I am disabled,” said Colburn, who lives in Grandview Apartments, a senior apartment community. “With my surgeries, it was very hard to afford pet care. Voice for Companion Animals helped when I didn’t have any food for my dog. My puppy — well, he was an older dog, not a puppy — needed puppy pads because of his age. They helped me out with those when I was having difficulties.”

Colburn’s beloved pet passed away last year, but she is still involved with Voice for Companion Animals in a different way — as a volunteer.

She helps distribute food to approximately 25 different pet owners at Grandview Apartments on a regular basis.

“I know a couple of people who would not have been able to afford keeping their pets without Voice for Companion Animals,” Colburn said. “When the end of the month comes and the money runs out, you have to either feed yourself or feed your pet. This really helps them out. You know how much they love their pets.”

That is the focus of VCA, which was founded in 2011 and officially became a non-profit organization the next year.

Fulfilling a need

“Our mission is we work to keep pets at home with seniors and veterans,” said Voice for Companion Animals president Robyn Mays. “It’s adjusted over the past couple of years, but we provide pet food and supplies each month to 60 to 80 different individuals. We deliver to different areas of Grand Island as well as Hastings.

“These are seniors and veterans — those on low incomes — that rely on a little bit of help. As everybody knows, especially right now, there’s a lot of need out there, so we’re blessed to still be up and running to fill the need in not just Grand Island but the Grand Island area as well with some emergency sheltering during the March flooding (in 2019).”

Mays, who has been VCA president since 2014, said the organization fills a void for some pet owners and their animals.

“When I worked in the shelter 12 years ago, just listening to the phone calls, there was still a need that wasn’t being quite addressed,” she said. “It was those people, especially seniors and veterans, that didn’t see another way to keep their pet. They just needed a little bit of help or maybe something happened. One little thing will change their life, and they didn’t see any way around it.

“Our volunteers are thinkers and animal welfare people. They will do anything creative. We have volunteers who have been in it for 15 years. They’re a little creative, they think outside the box on ‘hey, have you thought about this?’”

VCA provides pet food and supplies (through its AniMeals program), some medical care and education to pet owners. The programs are provided as a temporary help to allow owners who are facing tough economic struggles to remain with their pets.

And with the current state of the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic, more and more seniors and veterans are facing challenges that make it difficult to keep their pets. This comes at a time when the companionship of a pet may be more valuable than it has ever been.

“If you have animal welfare in your heart, you know the bond that people have with their pets,” Mays said. “Especially right now, seniors and veterans, you are asking them to stay home. Stay home and do what? Their pets are it.

“If you talk to many of us who stay home, we get crazy sitting around. Their pets are their lives. They need their pets, their pets need them. They need a little bit of help, so let’s help them out.”

Fueled by animal lovers

Staffed solely by volunteers, Voice for Companion Animals is an organization fueled by animal lovers.

“We are so blessed to be able to do it, and we’re all volunteers,” Mays said. “We all have jobs. Our volunteers are amazing. They step up every single time. They care for the animals in our building, in our rescue. They make sure that they are safe and they have anything that they need.

“It’s very rewarding. We delivered to Grandview a couple weeks ago. You have to adjust with what’s going on. You can’t go in, and we’re respectful to the facility. We have awesome volunteers within these places that help sort it out and help unload.”

Also a small shelter with an average of 25 animals, VCA sees two or three of its volunteers stop in a couple of times a day to take care of the animals.

On weekends, staff members work in the building to accept donations of supplies and set up one-on-one meetings of potential adopters of the animals. One success story occurred earlier this month when Faith, a 4-year-old cat that was born at Voice for Companion Animals, was adopted after 1,483 days.

Saturdays are also times to prepare for its AniMeals program, such as a future trip to Goldbeck Towers senior apartments in Hastings.

VCA also helped over 70 pets get spayed or neutered free-of-charge on World Spay Day in February.

Being able to help keep animals with their owners is worth all of the work, Mays said.

Doing whatever it takes

Voice for Companion Animals shows a willingness to do whatever it takes to help out.

Currently it is sheltering one of 60 feral dogs that were found on a property near Alliance. Different shelters throughout the Midwest work together to help animals in large cases such as this.

Sometimes health care workers contact Voice for Companion Animals to request assistance.

Mays said one memorable experience came when a truck driver become violently ill and had to be rushed to the emergency room. A social worker had VCA volunteers come to the hospital where they put on gowns and masks to go into the ICU to briefly talk to the man. They found out about his small dog that was still in his cab at the truck stop and got his keys.

With the aid of another trucker to locate the right vehicle and get up to the cab, the Voice for Companion Animal workers got the dog and kept him safe until his owner recovered.

“That trucker — that’s his life,” Mays said. “That animal’s his life. They were reunited four days later. His owner got him and they got back on the road. That was such a sweet little dog.”

Another memorable experience was working with a homeless veteran who lived in an abandoned house with no heat along with his pit bull Sampson.

Around Thanksgiving a few years ago, VCA provided a care package of a blanket and dog food for Sampson.

After other agencies helped the veteran set up in an apartment, Voice for Companion Animals continued to assist through its AniMeals program.

“I still have a picture of the owner and Sampson,” Mays said. “That one will be etched into my memory.”

COVID-19 making an impact

While always willing to lend out a helping hand, Voice for Companion Animals is looking for a little assistance itself. It is trying purchase its building located at 524 S. Webb Road.

“Our landlord is selling our property,” Mays said. “Now we have that challenge as well. We’re going to be needing some funding. We’re trying to adjust and find ways to be creative and keep going.

“We’re now up to five grants out there, but the grants are on hold because they are either not meeting or the funds aren’t quite there anymore or the funds are going immediately to COVID-19 direct funding. We don’t qualify for COVID-19 funding. We don’t qualify for the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding. So the grants that are out there, we’re hoping that we get something by June 1.”

VCA has 50% of the funds it needs to go to closing. If one of the grants comes through, it will have the rest to get to that point.

But the COVID-19 crises has really hurt non-profit organizations.

“I just hope we can keep going,” Mays said. “It’s a challenge right now, especially from a non-profit standpoint — especially a really small non-profit like us. We had to cancel our March fundraiser, March Meowness, due to COVID-19. Then our first biggest fundraiser is Go Big Give. That’s been moved from May to July, so we lost the fundraiser in March and we lost the fundraiser in May.

“We’re going to try to figure out a way through maybe social media of getting the word out there. On June 1, we’re really going to have to bear down and keep going.”

If Voice for Companion Animals can successfully reach that point, then Mays feels the future is bright.

“When everything starts to turn, we have fundraisers coming up,” she said. “We just have to get there. We’ve already pushed back the closing and pushed back the sale of the property as far as we can, so June 1 will be it.

“We’re going to do it. It’s just how are we going to do it? How will it look when we get there? We want to continue to be here. COVID-19 has really done a number on non-profits that only rely on donations and grants. When there’s a screeching halt on both and fundraisers, you’re left with how do you adjust to this? We go back to the people.”

Donations can be made through the VCA website, voiceforcompanionanimals.com.

Voice for Companion Animals hopes to continue to be a gem in the Grand Island area for pet owners and their furry family members for many years to come.

If there’s a possibility of helping, VCA will find a way to do it.

“We’re a food pantry; we’re a small rescue; we’re a voice for the four-footeds,” Mays said.

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