Nancy Edmonds Hanson
It came as a big surprise to Wendy Cowan: After seven years in the former Earl’s Super Valu building on Main Avenue in Dilworth, she and the charity thrift shop she runs were about to become homeless.
“We had just signed a new lease,” Wendy reports, “and agreed to pay $200 more per month. Then, a week later, I got a call from the landlady. She had sold the building, and we had to be out by Nov. 15.”
Easier said than done. Jazzy & Mumbo’s Animal Aid Thrift Store has always had a big heart but the smallest of budgets. Operated by Wendy and five volunteers, it devotes every extra cent its sales bring in – beyond rent and utilities – to area pet owners faced with unexpected veterinary emergencies and the bills they generate. The nonprofit shop uses its limited funds to assist owners with the cost of that care for their cats and dogs. They have received more than 200 calls for help so far this year – far more than the shop’s earnings can stretch.
The future looked bleak in September when Wendy got the news; she considered shutting the shop for good. But the can-do attitude that led her to launch the store more than 15 years ago propelled her forward. Since then, she has secured a new spot in the EasTen Shopping Center, agreed to substantially higher rent, and turned to GoFundMe in the hope that those who support her store and its mission will come through to help with some $4,000 in moving costs.
Last weekend, Wendy and half a dozen helpers were packing racks of clothing and box after box of household goods and trundling them into car trunks and a U-Haul parked beside the store. It looked as if they were making progress: Half of the storefront was empty. Not so fast, she confided: “You should see the back room!”
With a temporary pause on accepting donations, the move to EasTen is wrapping up this week. There, it will stay boxed while Wendy, friends and volunteers paint the interior of the new space. “Then the volunteers will put it all back together,” she promises.
In addition to a monthly rent $1,000 higher than what she’d paid in Dilworth, Jazzy & Mumbo’s will have to add translucent frosting to the windows at a cost of $200 and somehow acquire a new sign. The sign could cost $10,000, she says. She is counting, though, on the shopping center location helping to accelerate both merchandise donations and sales. She thinks they can make it work with adjustments here and there: “Our prices will have to go up just a little, and we won’t be able to have sales.”
Donations to Jazzy & Mumbo’s, a 501(c)3 corporation, are tax deductible. What seems to matter most to its loyal donors and customers, though, is the cause they are supporting – helping pets in need.
The inspiration for the store, as well as its name, is two much-loved animals whom Wendy and her family lost. Jazzy was a rescued mixed-breed dog who was poisoned. Mumbo, a year-old kitten, had to be put to sleep after the Cowan family couldn’t afford the cost of having a veterinarian amputate her crushed paw.
The Cowans’ experience, she realized, was shared by many. Few think about the cost of medical and surgical services when they care for a pet – not until the worst happens. “Then it can be absolutely staggering,” she reports. “Even pretty basic care can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Veterinarians won’t help your animal if you can’t pay the bill.”
Limited funds mean that she must make sometimes-tough decisions on whom Jazzy & Mumbo’s can aid. Pet owners are expected to pay for the initial exam and a portion of the bill for treatment; the amount of aid they can receive depends on what’s available. “We’ve helped with all kinds of care, from pets being hit by cars to pyometra (a life-threatening uterine infection),” she says. “We don’t have the funds to help with vaccinations, spays and neuters.” Nor does the charity cover tail docking, declawing, ear cropping or any other cosmetic surgery.
Wendy emphasizes that her volunteers are the lifeblood of Jazzy & Mumbo’s. She herself works four 10-hour shifts per week at Braaten Cabinets. From Monday through Thursday, the volunteers – Dorothy Vincent, Connie Streifel, Audrey Farol, Kelly Zak and Lisa Lach – keep the store open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wendy comes in on her days off, Friday and Saturday, along with her pair of personable puggles (a mix of beagle and pug).
Will Jazzy & Mumbo’s supporters follow them to their new EasTen location? “We’re really hoping so,” Wendy says. “We’ve been part of this community for a long time.” Not only that: “There are other animal welfare organizations that help animals find homes, but we fill a need that no one else addresses. We hope that this will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.”
To help support the animal aid store, go to gofundme.com/f/help-us-fund-a-new-location.