You may have read about Mieke and her event, Bark with Bam, in our latest issue of Connecting Lives. We are so grateful to have Mieke’s generous support and to be involved with Bark with Bam each year.
Today we are sharing our full interview with Mieke about how she started volunteering and her history with Calgary Humane Society. Thank you for your support, Mieke!
When did you first start volunteering in the Calgary community and why?
I started raising money for charity when I was quite young but I remember my first real volunteering experience was in Junior High at a Feed The Hungry dinner. I was signed up as a part of a Human Rights educational program and it ended up engraving quite an interest in me. I can still remember the joy it gave me to just simply give my time. I know from that moment on volunteering was going to be a big part of my life. Growing up my mom was also an active volunteer involved in Junior League as well as one of my favorite Halloween events, Scarecrow festival, I am sure this also contributed to my interest in helping others and volunteering.
When did your love of animals, and specifically blue heelers develop?
Ever since I can remember I always loved dogs and oddly enough cows – which might be why I love heelers so much. I could never have my own dog growing up because my dad was severely allergic, but I did know every dog in the neighbourhood and I would even bring my neighbours dog Ginger to ‘Show and Tell’ in Elementary – she was a long haired golden retriever and Ginger was nothing less than my best friend. I still have a picture of her framed above my bed to this very day. I also have vivid memories from when I was young of the animals at my uncle and aunts’ farm. I think it was this exposure that really blossomed my love for animals to include more than just dogs and cows. As I got older I discovered more and more animals that I loved.
Following my first year of my Health Science degree at Mount Royal, I was 17 and set off on a 2 part volunteer trip to Africa; half of which I spent with ALERT lion conservation in Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. It was such a privilege to work hands on with these incredible and powerful African lions and it was from this experience that I began to not only love but truly appreciate animals and recognize how important they are. There is something about animals that provides a calming and safe place for me. Whether it is interacting with animals or watching them in their nature, it gives me something special, a peacefulness that is hard to describe.
Specifically, my love for blue heelers however didn’t began until our first rescue dog name Sonny when I was about 14. He was a 7 year old mix who looked more like a fox than anything but we knew he was part sheba part heeler part a lot of who knows. His feisty yet smart personality made him seem more like a brother than a pet and when I was 16 and saw little blue heeler collie pups I needed to go visit them and sure enough came home with my first puppy, my instant love and best friend, my current business partner, Rambo. The smartest most mischievous and handsome doggo, aka Bam. From that point on I knew heelers were going to be in my life FOREVER. And as if the match wasn’t already made, my next dog a pure Blue Heeler came to me one day at the dog park from a lady at her wits end with her loving yet crazy powerhouse named Symon. After a week of thought and getting to know Symon he soon became my special boy Rocco. Those 3 heeler boys were my first pack and most definitely are the reason for my love of the beautiful blue heeler.
Tell us about your history with Calgary Humane Society (you as a child/teen and now as an adult).
My history with CHS goes WAY back to I think my 8th birthday party. I remember instead of gifts I asked for donations for the Calgary Humane Society. I didn’t have any pets at the time, but I knew there were animals that needed my help and as an 8 year old I thought this would be a good way to give back to them. I remember getting collars and leashes, rolls of change, bills and even some cheques for my birthday that year (and many more after it). I also remember walking into the Humane society with my jar of donations and shoving each coin and bill through that little slot in the donation bin up front. Just thinking about how happy it made 8 year old me makes me smile still to this day. After taking a loop to see all the doggos, we were walking out the door and a staff member stopped us, asking where all that money came from. I very happily told her I raised it at my birthday party – they were amazed and very grateful. At that age I don’t think I even knew what gratitude was, but I did know I was helping the animals I loved and that is all that really mattered to me. I continued to do this for my birthdays until birthday parties were no longer cool then instead I collected change jars – change from my slurpee addiction, change off the table, from the street, any loose change quickly became apart of my donation fund which I would slip into the black and white ‘doggy bank’ at CHS when I would go visit dogs in the shelter, it never was tons but hey! It was something.
Then Bark with Bam came along. Rambos birthday each year was always something I celebrated and in July 2014 for his 4th birthday we threw a backyard BBQ and I lovingly ‘forced’ my friends and family to pay at least $5 to eat with all ‘donations’ going to the Calgary Humane Society. Because they all played along and it ended up raising over $2,200 the next year I opened it up to the public and threw my first real fundraiser called Bark With Bam. Each year everything raised is split between the Calgary Humane Society and another deserving animal rescue. Since 2015, it is crazy to say, Bark with Bam has now raised and donated a total of $64,666 – half of which has been donated to CHS. And I must mention Vision Sports Center each year provides a vital sponsorship that makes Bark with Bam able to happen, they also provide us with our party location at NO charge – that is pretty incredible.
CHS also assisted me however with the cremation of my dearest Rocco who passed away very unexpectedly. We were able to bring our boy right to the facility and have a private cremation. As painful as it was losing my boy it was comforting knowing what was left of him was in loving and caring hands until his ashes were returned back to me. I couldn’t thank them enough for their patience and kindness on that painful day.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
THIS is actually a question I still ask myself every day. If you would have asked me 10 even 5 years ago my answer would have been to be a dentist, open my own practice, and have a non-profit providing free dental care to families and children throughout poverty stricken countries. But after completing my Health Science degree yet ‘failing’ to reach my dreams of getting accepted into dental school and getting waitlisted 2 years in a row I took a step back to re-evaluate my values, my goals, and myself and realized I had NO idea who I was or what I really wanted to do. As a 23 year old who had their heart set on dentistry almost their whole life not knowing what to do or what I even wanted to do seemed terrifying. So of coarse I turned to dogs and opened my own dog walking business called PupVentures YYC that has keep me quite busy for just over 1.5 years now. As for the future this question still scares me but I know what ever is set out for me won’t be one single path. Whether I continue dog walking and expand my business, become a dentist, become a vet, or continue some other way in the science field, or do something completely unexpected… what I do know is that animals will ALWAYS be involved in my future.
What would you tell others who wanted to try doing a fundraiser?
The first thing I would tell someone is to not get discouraged when you hear the word no. Trust me, not everyone will be interested in putting your flyer up and not everyone will take the invites from you, some people might not even look at you, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other people who will! Not everyone can donate, not everyone can donate each year, and that is okay. No is not a bad thing to hear so please don’t get discouraged by it. Second, utilize yourself, you will discover many hidden talents (and somethings you’re not so good at haha!). Third, utilize those around you. I knew I had some amazing people in my life, but my closest friends and family really bring their A game around Bark with Bam and I could not do it without them. Those closest to you are your most valuable resources when fundraising, they provide not only their valuable time but donations, extra hands, ideas, and important connections which is a huge cost saver.
Lastly, I would say GO FOR IT, I am not an event planner, I am not a professional, I just love dogs and wanted to make a difference.. Anyone can fundraise, and every dollar raised counts! I started Bark with Bam because I thought it would be a clever, fun, and unique way to raise a few extra dollars for CHS like back in the day of my own birthday parties. I never thought it would be what it is or raise that type of money. Five years later my grand total raised is over $66,000. I first anticipated on raising a few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars but donations from the animal community and from animal lovers just like me, from my family and friends and from their families kept coming in. I always try to tell people I didn’t raise the money, Rambo and the animals did, they are the ones who deserve the credit, the animals in the dire situations need the credit. Yes, planning and preparation is a lot of work but when you think of how many animals need help on a daily basis it makes every hour and dollar spent worth it. Not every fundraiser has to bring in thousands either… like I said EVERY dollar counts, and I think every rescue foundation including CHS would agree.
I have always appreciated the vital roles CHS provides within the animal community. By supporting them it provides resources for those doing so much for the animals, things I feel I cannot do. I am asked this question a lot, and the truth is, without the Calgary Humane Society there is no doubt the other rescues in the city couldn’t keep up – they truly are the staple in the rescue community. They not only handle surrenders and adoptions, they also perform animal welfare and cruelty investigations, they have a lost and found, emergency boarding, training classes, memorial/ cremation services, and even MORE. Yes sure, they may get a lot of support but when you are as active and involved as CHS I believe they need and deserve as much support as they can get. CHS has always been one of my charities of choice, ever since I was young and I know that I will continue to support them into the future. In a way my support is not for CHS directly but in light of the thousands of animal and human lives they have change in such an amazing way.