Spirited Giving

By The Bark, September 2017

Dogs and vodka? At first glance, an unlikely pairing. Dig a little deeper, however, and the connection emerges. Through its Vodka for Dog People program, Tito’s Handmade Vodka of Austin, Texas, pursues its mission to “unite with our friends, fans and partners to better the lives of pets and their families far and wide.”

Today, the company is honoring that mission as southeastern Texas reels from the havoc created by Hurricane Harvey. The VDP program is actively supporting the work of nonprofit Austin Pets Alive! with a $10K donation to help the organization purchase food, supplies and shelter for displaced animals, and giving locally to Wags Hope and Healing and Bailing Out Benji for food and supplies. On the people front, the company is partnering with the American Red Cross, offering a dollar-for-dollar match up to $50K (lend a hand by donating here).

Two decades ago, when Tito Beveridge got serious about bringing his artisanal vodka to the marketplace, he got equally serious about using his business to help Austin-based charities, and has been doing so ever since. Dog-lover-in-chief of a company whose employees are also devoted to the animals in their lives—“We love dogs, cats, hedgehogs, iguanas, you name it,” he says—he naturally gravitated to humane causes.

As Beveridge tells it, career-wise, he had several false starts, ventures that didn’t turn out as he’d hoped. It wasn’t until he decided to turn his avocation—crafting vodka for friends—into his life’s work that he found success. And even that didn’t come easy.

During its early years, Tito’s Handmade Vodka (the first distillery in the state of Texas) was a one-man operation. Crafting, packaging, selling, delivering, and dealing with paperwork took every minute of his time; at night, he says, he often slept at the warehouse. But, though he was the only employee, he wasn’t alone: Dogjo, his big, rescued mixed-breed, was with him every step of the way.

Because the two pals were always at the warehouse, Dogjo had most of her meals there, and Beveridge stored 50-pound bags of dog food along with the ingredients for his product. Over time, stray dogs began coming around, and Beveridge fed them as well. He could see that many of these dogs needed vet care, but he wasn’t in a financial position to provide it. Then he discovered Emancipet, Austin’s community-based, no- and low-cost spay/neuter and preventive care network.

Like Beveridge’s business at the time, the nonprofit was in start-up mode. When it was founded in 1999, its only facility was a single mobile trailer. Fast-forward 18 years, and, again like Tito’s, Emancipet is on an upward trajectory. Last year alone, more than 100,000 dogs and cats were cared for in its multiple Texas locations, mobile clinic and new treatment center in Philadelphia.

One of Emancipet’s core principles is the belief that “every pet needs and deserves high-quality veterinary care to keep them healthy and happy for their entire lives.” Putting that principle into action, the organization focuses on those for whom routine vet care is financially out of reach, or inaccessible. Each year, its vets perform thousands of surgeries, and it provides other clinics with training to improve their services and skills.

Another part of Emancipet’s success can be attributed to its skill at collaboration with groups that reach out to people in need. For example, it partners with Meals on Wheels and those who serve the homeless to help participants’ dogs and cats.

Originally, Tito’s and Emancipet bonded over dogs, but as their partnership has matured, it’s become clear that they also have other things in common, including a dedication to compassionate service. As Tito’s has flourished, the company has remained a staunch supporter of Emancipet’s work, including helping with fundraising and underwriting adoptions. The Vodka for Dog People program is part of this commitment. As Amy Mills, Emancipet’s CEO, says, “They came up with this brilliant idea of selling these … products and brands as a way to fund our expansion and really bring awareness to the fact that we want to build as many clinics as possible.”

With Vodka for Dog People, Tito’s has created a truly inspired pairing: business and heart.