A Scottish terrier named Pepper keeps 78-year-old Bernice Richardson going in life.

A Scottish terrier named Pepper keeps 78-year-old Bernice Richardson going in life.

“She gets me up and makes me do for her,” says Independence resident Richardson of her 12-year-old dog. “I was just telling my sister the other day that I don’t think I would get up most days if it wasn’t for her. There’s no sleeping in around her. She keeps me going.”

Pepper was close at Richardson’s side Thursday morning as they received their dog food donations from Ray Barker, an Independence volunteer with Animal Services. Barker, 74, has volunteered with Animal Services for more than two years, but Thursday marked his first experience with Bones for Buster, a program that is essentially Meals on Wheels for pets.  

“With weather like this, I don’t drive,” Richardson says. “I don’t drive in snow at all. I can get out and get it, but it helps out a lot, I’ll tell you.”

Barker is a short man who speaks in a whispery voice and wears a cowboy hat. Raised on a farm outside of Holden, Mo., Barker has a soft spot for animals, and his worn tan-colored leather coat showcases the claw marks of cats because of his volunteer work.

Country music plays in the background as Barker makes his hour’s worth of deliveries in a city-marked vehicle. Barker plays guitar in a Gospel music group and serves on the board of trustees at Bethel Baptist Church on Missouri 291.

The sounds of two barking dogs are heard from outside as he pulls up to the home of Karen and Lee Goodrich.

“Oh my goodness. Thank you, sir,” says Goodrich as she collects the food for her two dogs and one cat. “Thank you so much. It means I don’t have to get out in this for a while.”

“I’m glad we made it,” Barker replies. “That ought to hold you over for a while.”

In her late 60s, Karen Goodrich is on oxygen, leaving her unable to cook, she says. She also struggles walking down stairs because of her knee replacement, and her husband has a bad back. Shopping trips are rare for the couple, Karen says, calling Bones for Buster “a blessing.”

“We could not afford the groceries like we get if it wasn’t for this program,” Karen says. “I’ll admit, we would buy food for our animals before we bought them for ourselves. They mean that much to us.”

The three animals serve as the Goodrich couple’s companions, often close at their sides as they walk around their home.

“We don’t have a lot of people who come by, and (the animals) are our babies,” Karen says. We tell people that they’re real good pets because they let us sleep in their beds at night.”  

Barker says he recognizes Karen’s and Lee’s love for their animals.

“Probably about all they got is their pets,” Barker says. “If we can help to keep them, that’s way cool, as my grandson would say.”

Bones for Buster started about 18 months ago and operates as a partnership with the Palmer Senior Center. Those who qualify for meals at the center also qualify for assistance through Bones for Buster, according to Aimee Wells, director of Animal Services.

The program now includes about 25 participants who usually receive food for their pets once a month, depending on the how well the shelter’s food pantry is stocked.

“We don’t have a lot of people who are giving to our pantry right now because everyone is struggling,” Wells says. What we do get, we are very careful to ration out to those so it will last longer.”

Bones for Buster has allowed the shelter’s volunteers to interact more often with community members and also helps maintain an open line of communication with senior citizens, Wells says.

“It’s really helped not only our volunteers to get out into the community but also our staff because they’ll get out as a change of pace, assisting and helping the community by meeting these people,” she says.  

Barker, a retired diesel mechanic for Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, contributes about five non-paid volunteer hours each week toward Animal Services. Barker’s wife, Diana, also volunteers in the shelter’s office and assists with spay and neuter clinics. His daughter, Carol Leibold, works full-time as an Animal Services administrative specialist.

He usually picks up adopted animals and delivers them for their shots and spay or neutering appointments at local veterinarian offices. Those residents who have adopted them then pick up their new animals.

 At home, Barker has two shelties, Jake and Shelby, and Toughie, “a big gray cat.” Toughie earned his name because he ate – even when it made him sick – and survived, even when the others in his litter faltered, Barker says.

He says Bones for Buster makes him feel grateful that he’s able to volunteer at his age, though he wishes he could do more, like shovel snow from others’ driveways.

“It’s always made me feel good to help people,” Barker says. “You know, when you retire, you have to have things to do so you don’t just sit. Otherwise, you get to where you can’t do nothing but just sit.”

As Barker pulled away from Richardson’s home near the Independence and Sugar Creek city line, he glanced out into the open land.

“It’s a good thing I don’t live out in the country,” he says, laughing. “I’d be in trouble with the state for having too many animals.”