By Martin Kidston

Two months ago a woman burning debris in her yard received multiple burns after an accidental splash of gasoline accelerated the flames. She was rushed to the burn center in Seattle, leaving behind nine horses and multiple dogs, cats, ducks and chickens.

When the phone call rang in at AniMeals, the staff jumped into action. It arranged for a shipment of hay, worked with a neighbor to feed the woman's pets, and wrote a check to cover the expenses. It's one of the many services the Missoula nonprofit has provided for the past 13 years.

“Those animals still had to eat,” said Karyn Moltzen, founder and executive director of AniMeals. “We fed all those animals for two months. Our crisis program helps pets until the owners get back on their feet. The thing about a catastrophic incident is that few people are prepared for it.”

AniMeals is now enduring its own looming catastrophe, one that has seen donations dwindle and income dry up. Motlzen emotionally admits to laying off seven staff members recently and reducing the shelter's hours of operation in a desperate effort to cut expenses.

The organization is also looking to place the cats from its no-kill shelter into other facilities. Moltzen described the financial situation as dire, and barring a sudden flood of donations, AniMeals could soon cease operations.

“We're in jeopardy of closing our doors,” Motlzen said as a lithe black cat slept blissfully in a padded tree behind her desk. “We've got two weeks to pull ourselves out.”

Moltzen found it difficult to discuss the organization's finances, describing the situation as humbling. The organization needs $60,000 to cover back debt and another $30,000 to buy it time to firm up its fundraising efforts.

“We have cut everything,” she said. “Seven positions have been eliminated, leaving three people to run this entire place. We changed our hours. We stopped taking animals. We're going to have to transfer some out.”

Losing the no-kill adoption shelter and the services it provides, from spay and neuter to the animal food bank, would leave a noticeable hole in western Montana's efforts to help both animals and people in need.

In 2015, the organization adopted 386 cats and provided 162,000 pounds of dog and cat food, including 768 pounds to 90 families enduring crisis. More than 6,000 pounds of hay went to the woman's horses after she was burned.

AniMeals also provided nearly 13,000 pounds of food and supplies to Missoula's home-bound and disabled pet owners.

“If they don't have us, they're going to go back to feeding their pets applesauce, or whatever they have because they don't have the money to stretch,” said Moltzen. “Their animals are their family. They're more than just a pet. For the emotional well-being of the person, who knows they're giving nutritious food to their pet – and benefiting the health of the pet – it's essential that we're able to continue that program.”

Last year, AniMeals also helped 23 families cover veterinary expenses they couldn't otherwise afford. As if a caveat was needed, it saved 13 critically injured animals taken off the street, including a 2-month old kitten with wide green eyes.

In an effort to stay afloat, Karyn Moltzen, founder and executive director of AniMeals, has laid off staff, cut the shelter's hours and is looking to relocate animals to other shelters. (Photo by Martin Kidston).

On Tuesday, the kitten was still wearing a head cone – the stitches still fresh in parts of its body. Someone in Billings had thrown the kitten from a moving car. It barely survived, and AniMeals was called to take it in.

“The ripple effect would be catastrophic if we had to close,” said Moltzen. “Our food bank supports 53 shelters all over the state. We have people who carry food around in the trunk of their cars and pour it on the ground for the stray dogs and feral cat colonies. They would go hungry. They would starve to death.”

Moltzen announced AniMeals' dire situation in a recent email, making an urgent plea for help. In part it read: “With donations at an all time low, we find ourselves in a position where without an immediate infusion of cash and the support of the community behind us, we will most certainly have to discontinue many of the programs we currently have in place.”

Moltzen said donations have been down for some time and the trouble facing AniMeals' accumulated quickly. The monthly payroll was once around $15,000 a month. It has since been slashed by recent layoffs.

“It was hard to let the staff go – I have never been in that position,” Motlzen said. “I'm the kind of person – and this is a bad business decision – but I always weighed the human factor. They needed their jobs, so I carried it.”

Moltzen said she was out of ideas.

“At this point I've done everything, changing hours, cutting staff – we're at bare bones,” she said. “We have nothing to sell but good will.”

Donations can be sent to AniMeals, 1700 Rankin Street, Missoula, Mt 59808, or made online.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at