Trucker, Turned Animal Activist!
August 29, 2020
Joe Kaiser has a heart for animals. He's been coordinating Damien Center's pet food pantry for nearly three years. "I'm a client myself," says Joe. "I use the food pantry here now that I'm on disability. I got to thinking: 'If people can't afford food for themselves, how can they feed their animals?"
A Heart for Animals
Joe realized he could do something. He already understood better than most the need to help animals in our community. He is a 14-year volunteer at Indy Humane, and in years' past served as a media spokesperson for the organization. Today, he volunteers by transporting sick animals for them up to Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Lafayette, Indiana.
Joe drove a semi-truck for 30 years, but before that he grew up on a farm in Noblesville, raising Black Angus cattle. "Animals are big to farm people," he said, reflecting on his early start in caring for creatures. And he laughs when he talks about his own two pugs. "Rufus is 14. Molly is 12. Her previous owners were hoarders. She was filthy. I had to give her three baths the day I got her. But they keep me warm at night!”
Joe laughs a lot, actually. He has a buoyancy in his tone that belies some of the challenges he's had. Not just AIDS, but he casually mentioned a recent drive to receive his chemo treatments. He mingled the mention of his cancer with stories of clients' dogs. "One guy had a Doberman who was my best friend!" He laughed. "Another had two beagles. The owner was a drug user, and went into rehab. I gave him my phone number to give to the folks taking care of the beagles to be sure they had food. One of the beagles died and it was heartbreaking."
Start of the Pet Food Pantry
He knew a pet food pantry at Damien Center was needed but space inside the building was limited. So he developed an outdoor plan. Indy Humane already had a relationship with online pet food retailer Chewy.com for pet food donations, so Joe arranged a delivery twice a month of dog and cat food, cat litter and treats. He sets up shop twice a month in the Damien Center parking lot using his own SUV.
"I like to get the good stuff!" says Joe, referring to the quality, grain-free brands of food. "Blue Buffalo, Nutro, Merrick. People have to be a Damien Center food pantry client to come to me for pet food, but when they do, it's not the cheap brands." (And Joe is working on making the pet food pantry available to all Damien Center clients.)
Indy Humane is a tremendous partner, and it is working with Damien Center to develop a plan to offer other services, such as shots, microchipping, and spays/neuters to clients in the future. Joe says demand has grown a lot in three years. When asked his thoughts on why, he made an astute observation. "Damien Center is finally getting known for helping not just the LGBT community, but anyone with HIV/AIDS. And it's been proven that having a pet helps relieve stress. Believe me, there is lots of stress with having HIV/AIDS."
Thoughts on HIV/AIDS
Joe understands firsthand how donors indeed play a big part in supporting Damien Center's prevention and education initiatives. I was diagnosed with HIV in the 80's," he said. "There is no excuse for unsafe practices. Treatment has gotten better, but these days I often hear 'Oh, don't worry. I don't need a condom. There is medicine now.' And what donors need to realize is that there is still such a need to educate people who are at risk of getting HIV.”
Thanks to Joe, animals are being fed. And uplifting the spirits of their owners as well. That may not sound critically important in the work to offer comprehensive HIV/AIDS care, but it is. We all know someone, and many times it's ourselves, who become stressed and worried when their pet is sick or in need. Imagine not even being able to feed those furry friends.
"The goal of Damien Center is to eliminate HIV/AIDS one day in Indianapolis, and Indiana" says Joe. "What I would say to donors is that 'you've made a world of difference in a number of people's lives. People think it's just the LGBT community. That's just not the case."
Joe offers pet food every Wednesday from 11am - 2pm.