An Underdog Becomes Leader of the Pack.

The dogs at Tito’s Handmade Vodka offices and distillery are a constant reminder of the company’s mission to “unite with our friends, fans and partners to better the lives of pets and their families far and wide.”

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by Anna Cooke

One of the very first employees of Tito’s Handmade Vodka was a dog named Dogjo. She was right by Tito Beveridge’s side when he started his distillery in 1997. It was the first legal distillery in Texas and the only crafts spirits distillery in the country, at the time.

During those early years, Tito’s Handmade Vodka was a one-man operation – from crafting and packaging to selling, delivering and dealing with paperwork. Beveridge and Jo often ate and slept at the warehouse. The 50-pound bags of dog food that Beveridge stored for Jo eventually attracted a revolving door of homeless pups, fondly called “distillery dogs.”

Beveridge has always said that he makes the vodka he likes to drink. “Since I was the guy making it, bottling it and selling it, I realized I couldn’t make something for somebody else. It was just fortunate for me that my palate falls into the bell curve of what vodka drinkers like.”

Taki
This is Taki, the current official distillery dog.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka grew and so did the number of dogs who hung around the distillery, as Beveridge continued to feed and take care of them. Today, the distillery is home to a handful of rescued dogs, including Taki, the current resident distillery dog who eats, plays and lives there. The dogs are a constant reminder of the company’s mission to “unite with our friends, fans and partners to better the lives of pets and their families far and wide.” Following the devastating destruction that resulted from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, it is no surprise that this dog-loving team came together to brainstorm the most effective and immediate ways to help those affected.

“When a natural disaster strikes, one of the largest groups affected is always stray and abandoned animals,” said Amy Lukken, Chief Joyologist of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. “We knew we would have to act quickly, even before the storm made landfall, in order to save as many animals’ lives as possible,” she added. The Tito’s team has an ongoing relationship with local animal shelter Austin Pets Alive! When they reached out for help, the Tito’s team provided as much support as possible, even as some of their own family members in Houston and surrounding areas would be displaced because of the hurricane.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka animal advocacy program, Vodka For Dog People, donated money to Austin Pets Alive! to help with the purchase of food, supplies and shelter for displaced animals after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. More than 5,000 animals who were in Harvey’s direct path have been saved. Vodka For Dog People also gave locally to Wags Hope and Healing and Bailing Out Benji. On the people front, the company partnered with the American Red Cross with a dollar-for-dollar match of up.

Although Austin Pets Alive! and other Texas shelters have done a fantastic job at providing aid to these animals, disaster aid is still needed beyond the Texas border. The Tito’s team continues to help fund transportation methods for pets out of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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Tito’s employees and volunteers collecting donations after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Through the Vodka For Dog People (VFDP) initiative, more than 1,000 animal welfare nonprofits in over seven countries have been helped since its inception, six years ago. VFDP, which partners in more than 700 fundraising events each year, has been a permanent company-wide cause program for three years.

In Florida, VFDP has provided support to more than 50 different events and charities, including Vets For Pets Charitable Clinic in Tampa and Pet Pal Animal Shelter in St. Petersburg. “We expect those numbers will continue to grow as our Vodka For Dog People program gains more recognition and visibility, thanks to partners such as The New Barker,” said Beth Bellanti, Vodka For Dog People Program Manager at Tito’s Handmade Vodka. “The easiest way to get involved with Florida animal advocacy programs is by donating to local shelters and charities. We host VFDP events all over Florida,” Beth added. By the way, we saw a beautiful raffle basket of Tito’s Handmade Vodka with fun goodies at Manatee County Animal Services 4th Annual Adopt-A-Palooza  this past Saturday.

Vodka For Dog People is the perfect legacy to honor Jo, Tito’s first companion dog, almost 21 years ago. “Everyone has an incredible rescue story, including those of us who have adopted dogs from the distillery,” said Beveridge.

Reflecting on those earlier days, Tito thinks about failure in terms of energy. Harkening back to his geophysics days (he graduated from The University of Texas with degrees in geology and geophysics in 1984), Beveridge said, “Energy isn’t destroyed. It simply changes forms.” He uses this knowledge to his advantage whenever he is struggling with a project. “Your first instinct is to blame everyone else,” said Beveridge. “But, don’t blame it on anyone. Wrap your arms around [the failure] and take the blame, so all the energy becomes yours. You can’t destroy energy. You can, however, change the phase.”

We’ll toast to that.

Ulele_Group_Tito
The marketing team for Columbia Restaurant Group invited Tito Beveridge to Ulele. The Tampa restaurant serves Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

The New Barker is a Florida-based lifestyle magazine all about dogs and the humans who love them. Featuring original stories with award-winning photography in each quarterly publication since 2006 – each cover of The New Barker features an original work of art by a different artist. Subscribe today. 

Meeting Fellow Dog Lovers

Waiting (not patiently) for the newest edition of The New Barker dog magazine to come off the presses, it seemed like a good idea to attend a couple of dog events. Listening to what other people are dealing with, especially in the world of animal advocacy and dog rescue, puts things back into proper perspective.

First stop of the day: Heritage Park in Land O’Lakes, Florida for Woofstock, an event co-hosted by Friends of Animal Services. 

Koda_TheNewBarkerKoda’s Story (above), as told by his humans: As a puppy, he was left outside with his litter mates to fend for themselves. “Our dad found him on the side of a busy road. He was the only puppy alive. The others died while trying to get across the road,” said one of the two sisters with Koda. They nursed the pup, a Lhasa Apso mix, back to health. “And, 13 years later, here he is,” they said.

K9KnoxK9 Knox and Deputy Wilkins (above): Tracking is tough, as evidenced by the swamp track work done last month by K9 Knox and Deputy Wilkins. A vehicle, traveling southbound on US 41 at a high rate of speed, was the subject of a case in Hernando County. When the vehicle slowed, the driver jumped out and fled on foot into a densely wooded, swampy area. Pasco Sheriff’s K9 Knox and Deputy Wilkins, along with Corporal Andrew Denbo, tracked the subject through the swamp and located the suspect, who was almost entirely submerged in mud.

K9 Knox has been working on the department’s K9 team since November. “He’s an incredible tracker,” said Deputy Wilkins. “So, tracking with him is really fun.” At home, Knox is the family pet, receiving lots of love and attention from everyone. “But, as soon as his harness goes on, he knows he’s going to work. And he’s ready,” said Deputy Wilkins.

Here is a link to a video of K9 Knox during some down time Deputy Wilkins. We love the hop, hop, hop…and that tongue!

We met Scarlett, below, an adoptable with Skyway Dachshund Rescue…

PCAS_TheNewBarker_CPartner Rescue Groups: The rescue groups are vital to any shelter, as they help to reduce crowding, by pulling dogs.  We said hello to the volunteers at several of the rescue groups participating at Woofstock: Florida Cocker Spaniel Rescue, English Springer Spaniel Rescue Southeast and Skyway Dachshund Rescue, who had the most adoptables on-site, with one wanna-be Doxie, Ms. Scarlett.

Volunteer Stephanie was picking up a Dachshund at Hillsborough County Animal Services (HCAS) when she saw a very pregnant black dog named Scarlett. She was also heart worm positive. “We rescue Doxies, but I’ll take pregnant dogs and any dogs in a desperate situation, if I’m able to,” said Stephanie. So, Scarlett went home with her. Only one of the two puppies Scarlett delivered lived, and eventually adopted. Then, HCAS helped with Scarlett’s heart worm treatment and she’s now ready for her forever home. She is a very sweet, well-mannered dog, greeting people, who came to the booth, with a wide grin and a happy tail.

PCAS_TheNewBarker_BSweet Reese (above): She is also available for adoption through Skyway Dachshund Rescue. The group pulled her from Pasco County Animal Service when she was also very pregnant. All of Reese’s puppies were healthy and have since been adopted. Now, it’s Reese’s turn to find her forever home.

Before leaving the event, we met with Abby Cox, president of Friends of Animal Services; Michael Shumate, director of Pasco County Animal Services and Spencer Conover, the newly-hired Assistant Director of Animal Services at the shelter. They’re excited to be participants, once again, during this year’s Just One Day event on June 11 with The New Barker and Morgan Auto Group. We’re doing something a little different. Stay tuned for the announcement, this week.

Our next stop: Asturia for Dog Day Afternoon: Co-hosted by David Weekley Homes with proceeds benefiting Vets4Pets Charitable Clinic. Residents came out to support and learn more about what the clinic is doing.

TheNewBarker_Asturia
Travis and Buddy the Beagle take a break with their human during Dog Day Afternoon at Asturia in Odessa.

The Tampa non-profit is providing medical care and food for the pets of those citizens on limited income. This is not a service provided to people who want to pay less for veterinary care. This is a service for those who have little to no means of treating their pets.

Earlier this week the clinic assisted a man and his dog who are homeless. Standing on a corner in downtown Tampa, the man was asking for money to pay for veterinary care for Karma, his dog. Tampa Police Department’s MPO Bart Wester watched the man panhandling and instead of arresting him, he put the man and his dog in his police car and drove them to Vets4Pets. Then, he paid the entire veterinary bill. Wester, who has been with the department for 10+ years, responded to the outpouring of kind words in response to the Vet4Pets social media post:   “I would like to thank the staff at Vets4Pets for their service to the community and for taking care of Karma. I would also like to say “thank you” for all the kind words said in this post. When I chose a career in law enforcement I never expected recognition for doing what is right. With sincere appreciation, I thank you.” – MPO Wester

Karma_Vets4Pets
Karma at Vets4Pets Charitable Clinic, brought in with his human by MPO Bart Wester of the Tampa Police Department.

Suds On Sunday, a benefit for Vets4Pets, will be on June 3rd at Ferg’s Live Tampa. The fundraising event, co-hosted by Tito’s Handmade Vodka and The New Barker, will be for Tampa Bay area first responders, in honor of Karma and MPO Wester. We’ll see you there.

Chloe_PCAS
Chloe, a happy dog, with her human during Woofstock for Pasco County Animal Services.