Maris Ward is the kind of person who, in the midst of a conversation, points out the sound of baby birds chirping in a nearby tree and explains that they want their mom. She’s the kind of 9-year-old who describes a trip to see the dogs and cats at the Humane Society of Western Montana as a “nice treat” and is in the process of convincing her dad to get a new kitten.
“I like a lot of things about animals,” she said. “I mean, they’re cute, they’re funny and they’re nice to be around.”
It’s that love of animals that’s led her to spend the last few days sitting at a table in front of her house in the University District, selling an assortment of her drawings, her mom’s banana bread and cups of lemonade to raise money for AniMeals, an animal food bank and no-kill shelter in Missoula. After an hour sitting outside on Thursday afternoon, her second day of sales, she’d made about $37. Ward, who will be entering fourth grade this year, wants to be a veterinarian. She’s interested in someday moving to Miami to be an animal services officer like the ones featured in the Animal Planet show “Animal Cops.” That show brought to her attention the ASPCA – the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – and for a long time she was interested in donating money to the organization. Then her mom told her about AniMeals, and she decided to raise money for the local charity instead.
Marnie Russ, a friend of the Ward family who sometimes fosters cats for AniMeals until they’re ready to be adopted, said the money Ward raises will be put to good use. The organization has faced a shortage of dog and cat food recently, she said, which means it has had to turn down the requests of struggling shelters who need the supplies.
She’s struck by what Ward has decided to do for AniMeals.
“This girl is a like a little angel,” she said.
Ward herself has not visited the AniMeals shelter, but she’s interested in volunteering there or at the Humane Society as soon as she’s old enough. At the moment, she’s excited about an invitation to bottle-feed kittens once the cat Russ is taking care of gives birth. Russ, a Washington D.C., lobbyist, initially volunteered at AniMeals because she loves animals, but is now offering her expertise for free to help secure federal funding so the organization can expand its no-kill shelter.
The cause is getting a lot of support from Montana’s congressional delegation. But those interests remain distant from Ward and the small box decorated with flowers where she’s storing the money she’s raised. She takes her sales seriously, at one point counting out the handful of change a man gave her to make sure it equaled a dollar before pouring him a cup of lemonade. To some of her customers, she handed out handmade fliers – slips of paper on which she’s written messages in marker.
One states, “Please understand that animals are living beings, too.”
Ward’s sister Raleigh, 16, and brother William, 6, were helping out with the project. But though Raleigh was the one who bought the lemonade, she didn’t get any special treatment from her sister.
“They have to pay,” Ward said. Allison Maier is a senior studying print journalism at the University of Montana who is interning at the Missoulian this summer. She can be reached at 523-5241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.