It all started last December with nine soon-to-be homeless cats, which appeared to have used up their collective 81 lives.
“I got a call from a veterinarian in Cheney who said a woman and her husband were getting evicted,” Tony Blount said. “They were just going to release their cats out into their neighborhood. I couldn’t bear the thought of those cats being out in the freezing cold.”
The vet called Blount because the nonprofit he and his wife, Amy, had founded in 2018 is well known in the community for helping those in need.
Through car washes, fashion shows and other fundraisers, the West Plains Angels have raised thousands and thousands of dollars for area food banks, local high school senior nights and other causes.
After 50 years of marriage, Amy died in 2021, but Blount continues their mission. Food banks are especially near and dear to his heart.
“We’ve lived in abject poverty – we’ve used the food bank,” said Blount, a Vietnam combat veteran. “I understand the need.”
But on that cold December night, a new need presented itself.
“The day after I got the call I went out and rescued all nine of them – they’re my cats now,” he said.
That experience opened his eyes. He knew many of the people he’d met at local food banks had pets, and he knew how expensive vet bills and pet supplies were.
“There’s a great need, and it’s not going to get any easier for folks,” Blount said.
So, he launched the Golden Wings Mobile Pet Food Pantry. Each month, he and a handful of volunteers take pet food and supplies like leashes and treats to food banks in Spangle, Rosalia and Malden.
“The focus of the West Plains Angels will be the mobile pet food pantry,” he said.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, the pet food pantry set up its table at Spangle Community Church – a Second Harvest Inland Northwest distribution site. The Rev. Lonnie Scott said the turnout was the largest they’d had for several years.
“Thirty-six client families showed up,” he said.
Scott has seen people come specifically for pet food.
“A family was delayed in Spokane and called to ask us to hold their food pantry box and asked that I make sure to get food for their pets, too,” Scott said. “Tony gave me more than enough. It meant a lot.”
But he’s not surprised by the generosity.
“I can’t express enough Tony’s dedication to those in need,” he said. “Over the years, he’s donated thousands of dollars to our food bank. We never ask – he just calls.”
Blount said partnerships with community organizations and businesses make it all possible.
“Wonderful friends at Fairchild Air Force Base gave large donations of toys, treats and pet food,” he said. “We got $1,000 worth of leashes from Fairchild. I also buy a lot from them.”
On Nov. 18, Golden Wings Mobile Pet Food Pantry launched its first pet food drive that continues through Dec. 8. In typical Blount fashion, he decided to make it fun and use the drive to help an additional cause – Boy Scouts.
Scout troops from Cheney, Rosalia and Spokane’s South Hill are competing to see which troop can bring in the most pet food by weight.
At a fundraiser at the Harvester Restaurant on Dec. 9, the winner will be announced with $1,000 going to first place, $500 to second and $300 awarded to third.
Justin Fuchs, scoutmaster of Troop 588 in Rosalia, is delighted to have his troop participate. He said the mission of the pet food pantry aligns with the values of Boy Scouts with the added perk of a cash incentive.
“Anything to help our scouts get to camp this summer,” he said.
Longtime West Plains Angels volunteer Bonnie Hoesly said Blount’s passion is for animals of all kinds, but that’s only matched by his passion for giving.
“Tony is really resourceful. He wants to better society, especially in troubled times like now,” she said. “Golden Wings just kind of took flight. He wants to leave a legacy and for the pet food pantry to continue to grow.”
Indeed, Blount said plans are in the works to expand to Whitman County and Deer Park. He said their greatest need besides pet food is money for vet costs.
“It’s amazing how much it costs for medical attention,” he said. “We raised $1,000 to cover the medical care for a German shepherd in Cheney.”
Additional volunteers are also welcome.
Blount, 75, shows no signs of slowing down.
“It gives me a sense of meaning and purpose,” he said. “The more I give, the more I receive.”