How We Began
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it became apparent that there was a problem with keeping people and their pets together during periods of temporary homelessness. Thousands of displaced pets were recovered and sent to other states where humane societies offered to shelter and place them, but many were never reunited with their owners. This dilemma received a great deal of national publicity and touched animal lovers everywhere.
In 2007, some individuals in Topeka wondered how we might address that issue with Topeka’s homeless shelter, the Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM). After inquiring, we discovered that there was indeed a real dilemma when it came to homeless TRM guests who arrived with their pets. The Mission had no place for the pets of guests to stay. Oftentimes that meant that clients arriving at the Mission with pets had to permanently surrender their pets, leading to an almost certain euthanization of the animals at the local humane society. These were often long-time family pets, so the impact was devastating. Or, potential guests, not wanting to permanently surrender their pets, would continue to live in their cars or under a bridge, frequently putting their children at risk in order to keep their pets. This was a choice no one should have to make.
In August 2007, a committee of animal-loving volunteers began meeting every two weeks to explore how the community might resolve this situation, allowing humans and their pets to remain together during times of temporary homelessness. These volunteers included Topeka Rescue Mission Executive Director Barry Feaker, a City of Topeka Animal Control officer, humane society members, zoning officials, North Topeka area business leaders, and many others involved in the Topeka animal care community. Many options were explored, including the building of our own shelter, foster care, and licensing and zoning requirements. While the initial concept was to build an animal shelter close to the Topeka Rescue Mission where TRM guests’ pets might stay, it became apparent that zoning and other licensing regulations made this impractical.
Meanwhile, another social service agency also faced a similar situation and asked to join our group. The Battered Women’s Task Force, as it was called then, had sad experiences of “pets left behind” when one family member would flee an abusive situation but could not take the pet with her/him. Just like the TRM, the temporarily homeless clients of the BWTF had no place to house their pets until they could secure permanent housing. So the BWTF became part of our fledging endeavor.
After months of discussion and research the volunteers decided to form a non-profit organization, to become incorporated, to work under the umbrella of the Topeka Community Foundation and their 501(c)3 status, and to use existing licensed animal service providers rather than build and staff one of our own. Then began the slow and careful process of building an organization from scratch, using all volunteers. More committee members were recruited, including two attorneys, a CPA, and a veterinarian. Documents, by-laws, policies, and marketing materials were debated, designed, and adopted. The organization registered with the Kansas Secretary of State. A website was built. Board members and officers were elected. Then things really began to happen.
In April of 2008, the Pet Assistance Network of Topeka, Inc. (or PANT for short) was granted the status of a non-profit corporation in Kansas. In July 2008, PANT received a substantial grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, allowing us the funding to begin offering services. In August 2008, PANT held a kick-off press conference to announce the formation and mission of PANT, how it helped the greater Topeka community, and how the greater Topeka community could help PANT. Speakers at the press conference included the Shawnee County Sheriff, the City of Topeka Chief of Police, the head of the YWCA Battered Women’s Task Force, the Director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, and PANT’s President. The event received excellent news coverage in the region, with both the Sheriff and Police Chief explaining how PANT’s existence benefitted the community in many ways.
Since that time PANT has continued to write grant applications for our primary source of funding. We also solicit public donations and explain PANT’s mission at public events and a local pet store. The BWTF has secured other sources of housing for their guests’ pets, so are no longer affiliated with PANT. We remain an all volunteer, non-profit organization, currently with the Topeka Rescue Mission as our only partner. Since PANT first began our exploratory meetings in 2007 we have helped numerous animals and their humans stay together, thus strengthening the human/animal bond and benefitting the entire community. It is our hope that with time and additional resources we will be able to partner with other non-profits who have requested our services, assisting even more humans and their pets.
PANT received their 501(c) (3) non-profit status in 2013.