September 13, 2010
Kids With A Cause: Mimi Ausland
Young advocates channel their love of animals into making a difference
by Arna Cohen
Mimi Ausland, 14
Donating pet food to animal shelters
Why We Love Her:
This teenage entrepreneur has created a website that generates pet food donations for animal shelters across the country. Business savvy with a passion for helping homeless pets, she devotes most of her spare time to running the site, doing national media promotions, and delivering kibble to her local shelter.
At 14 years old, Mimi Ausland has already garnered plenty of media attention. She’s been interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres and NBC news anchor Brian Williams, and her profile has appeared in newspapers and magazines and on the Internet and radio. She’s not an actor or a singer; she’s a Bend, Ore., teen who saw a need and devised a way to meet it.
Passionate about animals, Mimi started volunteering as a pet socializer at the Humane Society of Central Oregon when she was 9. Eventually wanting to give more than time and labor, Mimi was inspired when her cousins introduced her to freerice.org, where users donate rice to the U.N. World Food Program by answering trivia questions. “I thought it would be really cool if we could do that for animals,” she says.
Mimi created freekibble.comand began posting daily pet care questions for site visitors to answer. Right or wrong doesn’t matter---it’s the act of answering that counts, with each click translating into 10 pieces of kibble for shelters and pet food pantries.
The project started small, with 16 local businesses offering monetary sponsorships and an area pet supply store, Bend Pet Express, donating the dog food. The website went live in April 2008 and was an instant hit, attracting pet lovers and the local media. The venture quickly drew national attention, with pet food manufacturers Castor and Pollux and Canidae signing up to also contribute kibble. This summer, Halo, Purely for Pets---the holistic pet food company partially owned by DeGeneres---signed up to become the exclusive pet food donor for the project.
Since startup, clickers in 137 countries have generated more than 277 tons of donated pet food at freekibble.comand companion site freekibblekat.com. The statistics astound Mimi. “When we started, we didn’t know if we could feed even half the dogs at HSCO,” she recalls. Now 14 shelters across the country receive regular shipments, while more than 86 others have received one-time donations.
Mimi describes her life as “almost like two separate worlds.” In one she’s a normal kid, going to school, doing homework and “normal teenager stuff.” The other she devotes to freekibble.com, helping animals, doing interviews, and appearing on TV. “It’s weird and cool at the same time.” she says. Naturally, Mimi would like to have a career working with animals, perhaps running a sanctuary.
Almost all her free time is spent working on the websites, creating trivia questions, maintaining records, and answering e-mails from kids who want to know how they can help. “Do whatever you can,” she advises, “whether it’s volunteering, something like freekibble.com, setting up a lemonade stand, a car wash, a birthday party [fundraiser]. Your age doesn’t matter. You can be 6 or 62; you can still make a difference. Just try to make something happen.”