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.”
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.
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.
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.