Exploring The World of Animal Shelters: An Inside Look At AniMeals

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An interview with AniMeals from Missoula, Montana.

Introducing AniMeals

I am Kyle O’Neill, Executive Director at AniMeals. I came on board at the beginning of 2023 but have worked with AniMeals as a supporter, collaborator, and friend for many years. I have worked in animal welfare and well care for ten years in veterinary assistance, pet nutrition, and county shelter operations. Throughout that time, I have worked to partner with AniMeals in varying capacities. AniMeals is near and dear to my heart because no other organization in our area focuses its sheltering and adoption services specifically on cats. We specialize in helping the most at-risk pet populations in our community.

How did AniMeals Start? What Are The Challenges Encountered Along The Way?

In 2003, our founder and current Board Chair, Karyn Moltzen, started AniMeals as a pet food bank, collecting and distributing pet food for local shelters and rescues. She read an article in the newspaper about a local rescue needing food donations. Karyn decided to run a food drive for them and soon realized the need for a pet food bank in our community. 

In 2006, AniMeals received its 501(c)3 designation letter. That year, Karyn received a call from a local shelter requesting help. They were overwhelmed with cats and looking for any help to prevent large-scale euthanasia. Karyn brought 25 cats back to the food bank warehouse and purchased chain link dog kennels, litter boxes, and supplies, becoming a makeshift cat shelter overnight. 

Tell Us About The Most “Unusual” Animal That AniMeals Has Ever Taken.

As a cat shelter, one would think we wouldn’t venture too far from residents of the feline variety. However, we have assisted with hoarding cases occasionally that brought dogs into our care. Seagulls, Mallard ducklings, and baby squirrels have managed to find their way through our doors on occasion. We also had a calf in the building when one of our employees was rehabilitating it. It was a strange day when meows turned to moos.

Tell Us About The Most Unique And Creative Fundraising Campaigns That AniMeals Has Done.

Our shelter started a recycling program, collecting aluminum cans, in 2009. That program grew to the extent it was more of a program of the shelter than just a fundraiser. We recently transferred ownership of that program to another nonprofit organization that works specifically with recycling. 

One of my favorite fundraising endeavors was a dog-house auction. We partnered with local artists to build and paint a dozen dog houses in their own style. We then auctioned those one-of-a-kind creations. 

We also hold a “No Ball” Ball every year. This is a mailing request for funding. Rather than purchasing tickets, auction items, a meal, or fancy attire, our supporters can send us that same monetary value as support for our mission.

Tell Us About The Most Rewarding Part Of Running AniMeals

The most rewarding aspect of running an animal shelter is seeing the difference we make for individual lives every day. We take in the most desperate cats, provide them with all the care they need, and find them their perfect forever home. The reward of this work is seen every time we save the life of a cat that is deemed a lost cause and would have otherwise died. The reward is felt every time we see one of these saved cats find its perfect forever home. The reward is heard every time our shelter’s name is spoken in gratitude in reference to the life-saving efforts we make every day.

What Do You Think Might Be The Greatest Challenge Of Running AniMeals?

The most frequent challenge we meet head-on regularly is that of funding. Animal sheltering is not an inexpensive mission. We take in the injured, the ill and those struggling the most just to survive. We rehabilitate them, bringing them to their healthiest. We hold on to them until we find them a home. Our shelter serves as a hospice and sanctuary for many cats, as we’ll never tell them they’ve been here too long. Taking in this population of pets means our costs are that much greater than shelters that restrict intake or elect for euthanasia based on health care costs. We are always searching for new ways to fundraise to see our work continue far into the future.

Tell Us More About The Volunteers In AniMeals

We rely heavily on our steadfast volunteers. Last month volunteers logged a total of 248 hours in the shelter. Some of these volunteers helped with cleaning, maintenance, and general labor. Our largest volunteer base is through our Shelter Buddy program. 

Shelter Buddies are volunteers who specialize in feline enrichment activities for our most stressed residents. Many cats, when brought into a shelter environment, experience stress or depression in their new surroundings. Cats are territorial by nature, and finding themselves in a strange and often busy new place can be a tough adjustment. Often, this can lead to a lack of appetite, weakened immune systems, and illness. 

AniMeals employs many environmental enrichment processes to keep cats in our care happy. Shelter Buddies provide the man hours to help the most shy and unsure cats decompress. Sometimes that is as simple as reading to a shy cat several times a week or playing relaxing music while visiting a stressed cat’s kennel. Last month alone, 79 hours of volunteer time were logged by our Shelter Buddies.

In the past year, we’ve seen a vast reduction in the number of cats that refuse to eat as well as a decrease in how much time it takes shy cats to become more social. These results can directly be linked to the work of our Shelter Buddies!

Where Do Most Of The Animals In AniMeals Come From, And What Is The Process For Rescuing And Rehabilitating Them?

Most of our cats come to us as strays or owner surrenders, often brought into our shelter because of health or behavioral reasons that make them less adoptable at other shelters. We take in emergency cases from local veterinary offices as well as transfers from partner shelters when they don’t fit within their standards of adaptability.

What Are The Busiest Periods, And How Does AniMeals Cope?

Spring through summer is the busiest time of year for cat sheltering. This falls in sync with the time of year that cats are breeding and birthing litters. We call it kitten season. Our population capacity increases from 65 cats to 85-100 as kittens flood our doorways every year. 

What Animals Does AniMeals Focus On?

AniMeals is focused on cat sheltering and adoptions, while our food bank assists the caretakers of both cats and dogs. The large number of homeless cats in our community outpaces the capacity of other area shelters. AniMeals fills a much-needed gap in animal welfare by providing for these under-served pets, reducing unnecessary euthanasia in our community, and creating a safe landing spot for many cats experiencing illness, injury, or age-related issues.

Working With The Local Community

AniMeals collaborates with other area shelters and rescues, transferring in cats with health and behavior issues that make them less adoptable in other shelters. We work with many veterinarians in town, providing support when cats are surrendered at local clinics. AniMeals also collaborates with many organizations that serve the disabled, homebound, homeless, and people in crisis, providing pet food and temporary boarding. Our educational programs allow us to provide field trips for local schools and collaborate with several after-school programs. 

Tell Us More About Your Events

AniMeals will be celebrating our 20th anniversary of serving Missoula and the surrounding areas! July 15, 2023, 3-10 pm, Caras Park, Missoula, MT. We will have games, activities, live music, food vendors, and more. Please consider attending this commemorative event. You only turn 20 once!

What Is Done Differently at AniMeals?

AniMeals offers several unique programs. Gaia’s Landing is a placement program that helps remove barriers to adoption. Cats in Gaia’s Landing are 15+ years old or have been diagnosed with a life-long medical condition. These cats continue to receive care from AniMeals even after adoption. Our Hospice Program is a foster-based program for cats that have a terminal condition that is not in the end stages. We find them a home that allows them to live out the rest of their comfortable days in dignity and love. 

We are the only shelter in our area that operates a Community Cat TNR and a Barn Cat placement program. These programs prevent the continuation of unmanaged populations while simultaneously honoring these cats by providing them with the kind of home they need.

We also have several food bank programs. Our Homebound/Disabled program for senior citizens provides food for their beloved pets. Pets of the Homeless provides pet food and other services for some of our most disadvantaged populations, and Families in Crisis helps keep pets with the people that love them when faced with unexpected hardships.

How Has AniMeals Adapted To The Challenges Presented By The Pandemic?

The pandemic presented many challenges world over. Our shelter did not escape any of them, from closures to illnesses to shipment delays and shortages. We were forced to reduce employee hours, adjust work shifts, and adopt social distance standards in the workplace. This meant in-shelter volunteer efforts were put on hold, employees often managed animal care on a skeleton crew, and we still had to address how we would promote our adoptable cats while our shelter was closed for visitation. 

Many creative solutions came out of this hard shift. New policies were put in place for the workspaces which we maintain today. Our phone systems became remote, allowing staff to make and receive calls through an app, so germs weren’t being spread by multiple people sharing a desk phone. All our applications, including adoption questionnaires and surrender forms, went online. Consultations were handled exclusively over the phone. By year’s end, AniMeals only experienced a slight dip in intakes and adoptions.

Since 2020, our biggest challenge has been an increase in surrender requests from multi-pet households., Pre-pandemic, AniMeals received five to ten surrender requests a week, with one to three cats per request. Post-pandemic, we receive ten to fifteen requests a day, with many having between five and fifteen cats. Our surrender wait list is longer than it has ever been. With widespread housing and economic hardships facing our community, many people are forced to make hard decisions, including relinquishing their pets or relocating. Our pet food bank is seeing an increased volume of participants, which tells us people are more desperate to afford their beloved pets than ever before. Our only recourse is to weather this storm and maintain our position as a resource to the pet families in our community.

Share With Us Some Of The Heartwarming Stories Of Animals Rehabilitated And Rehomed By AniMeals


Grogu survived many obstacles early on in her life. Grogu’s mother was full-term pregnant when she was transferred to AniMeals from another shelter. Within a few days, she gave birth to 5 kittens, two of which were stillborn. After about a week, things started to go downhill for this family. 

Grogu’s mother was very sick and taken to the emergency vet, where she was diagnosed with Calici Virus. Calici is a highly contagious virus that causes high temps and painful ulcers on the inside and outside of the mouth. Grogu’s mother, unfortunately, did not make it. Grogu was the only one who survived in this family of 6.


Grogu needed round-the-clock feeding and supportive care. As we feared, she did develop ulcers in her mouth as well as a Staph infection that caused swelling and sores on her feet, legs, and butt. This girl defied all the odds and survived Calici with mouth ulcers and a Staph infection at only one week old at a weight of 3.6 ounces. She never gave up, so we never gave up on her! Her chances of survival were so slim, 0% to be exact, but somehow with love, support, and the highest quality care, she pulled through!! 

Today Grogu lives a happy, full life with two feline siblings, two canine siblings, and a little girl she sleeps with every night. Grogu was given a chance at life and has become of the most affectionate cats her adoptive family has ever met. 

Grogu Now

What Are The Help Needed From The Local Community?

AniMeals always welcomes volunteers to assist with animal care and companionship in shelters, short-term fosters, in-kind donations of pet food for our pet food bank, and monetary gifts to fund the continuation of our life-saving work. A gift of $100 purchases five pounds of kitten milk replacer, feeding one litter of neonatal kittens. A gift of $250 covers the cost of spay/neuter, vaccines, and ear tip for one community cat. A gift of $1,000 keeps AniMeals pet food pantry stocked for an entire month.

Connect With AniMeals here:

Address: 1700 Rankin St, Missoula, MT 59808

Phone: (406) 721-4710

Website: is thankful to AniMeals for the interview. 

Check out this page for the list of animal shelters in Missoula, Montana.

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