Mycale Downey is Creston’s 2017 Citizen of the Year.
Nominated for her dedication to Creston’s animals without a home, Downey has served as Creston Animal Rescue Effort’s (CARE) lead volunteer since the organization was founded in 1998.
Downey was born and raised in Creston. She has worked with animals for just about her entire life.
“I suppose my love for animals started when I was a kid,” said Downey. “I can remember taking my allowance money, and buying dog food for dogs in my neighborhood when it was Christmas time.
“We had an old junky shed across the street from my house, and I used to mix cat food with warm milk and take it over there for cats in the wintertime,” said Downey. “And that started probably when I was 8 or so — or at least old enough to leave the yard by myself.”
Downey and her group of volunteers serve Creston-area animals by way of the city pound. CARE’s services primarily revolve around cleaning for and taking care of the pound’s animals, coordinating veterinary care and finding them new homes. The group relies solely on fundraisers and donations for funding.
“I guess my love for them (the animals) has just always been there,” said Downey. “I’ve just always felt a connection to animals. I guess I was kind of a shy kid, you know, and so I loved animals.”
Downey’s ‘first rescue’
Downey’s first introduction into stray animal care came at an early age.
“I always tell people my first rescue was in sixth grade,” said Downey. “At that time, we went to school in Cromwell, and so we rode the bus. And every day, for a week, there was this scroungy, little dog that would hang out by the school. And I would play with it at recess, but over the weekend I thought ‘Oh no, nobody is going to play with that dog on Saturday!’
“And so I talked my aunt (who was three years younger than me) into riding our bikes to school in Cromwell and getting this dog. And so we did, and I tucked it inside my shirt and we rode our bikes back.”
Downey and her aunt didn’t make it home without getting lost, however, and found themselves sitting on the side of the road and crying as the sky grew darker. They were saved by a passerby just in time.
“And then this really nice lady stopped,” said Downey, “and said ‘Are you guys lost?’ And so she put our bikes in the trunk of her car and gave us a ride home. And of course we didn’t tell our parents, because we knew we would get in trouble. So we hid the dog for about three days in my aunt’s garage.
“It was kind of scary,” continued Downey. “I mean it was the first time we’d ever been out of our town. We knew the bus route — we just didn’t know it would take that long on bikes. And so our parents were really worried. When my mom found out about it, she helped me clean the dog up and put an ad in the newspaper and found it a home. So that was my very first animal rescue.”
Around this same period of time, Downey became more and more interested in Creston’s stray animals. Downey and her friends would often ride their bikes to the city pound to see the animals, and out of these early experiences grew Downey’s desire to help.
Beginnings of CARE
In 1998, Downey answered an advertisement in the newspaper. The ad was filed by an animal control officer’s relative who needed help cleaning the city pound on weekends.
At that time, the city didn’t coordinate adoptions. The woman that filed the ad would drive unclaimed animals to the animal rescue shelter in Des Moines, but simply needed help.
According to Downey, a group of about seven or eight individuals answered the ad.
“That was the beginning (of CARE),” said Downey. “At first, we cleaned on the weekends when animal control was off-duty and transported the animals to the shelter in Des Moines. That was our humble beginnings.
“And then a couple months into it,” said Downey, “we decided we needed to formalize our group, get a name and we started thinking we can do better. There were certain things, you know — we didn’t like the cat cages, we didn’t like the dog dishes, and the dogs didn’t have anything to sleep on so it just kind of snowballed.”
Downey and the group then met with the city and formally organized CARE. The organization has now been together for almost 20 years. Four of the initial members who have been involved since the early beginnings include Downey, Michelle Jones, Jessica Spencer and Annette Paxton. About eight other full-time volunteers plus several part time volunteers round out the group.
“And we’re growing, actually,” said Downey. “We’re really blessed — not many volunteer organizations stay together for 20 years. Especially with original members, and we’ve even seen progression. We’ve taken on so much more than when we started.”
CARE doesn’t own the pound building. It’s owned by the city, and CARE workers spend their time volunteering there. The city holds animals for seven days for the original owners, and then CARE steps in if the animals go unclaimed and gives them veterinary care before putting them up for adoption.
Those interested in more information may contact CARE by calling 641-782-2330, and leaving a message.
Creston’s Citizen of the Year
“I was very shocked (to find out I’d won Citizen of the Year),” said Downey. “I do what I do because I love it, and I think there’s a need for it. To be awarded for it is awesome, but I’m kind of still thinking ‘How did this happen?’ But I’m thrilled — it’s pretty awesome.”
Downey stresses the importance of the work her volunteers do. She characterizes CARE as a community effort.
“There’s a lot of behind the scenes,” said Downey. “My volunteers’ help is tremendous. It’s really a community thing, and I rely on them a lot.”
Downey isn’t paid for her work with CARE. She works full time at Precision Optical in Creston.
“It (CARE) is a huge focus in my life,” said Downey. “But I have to balance it with my job, and my family. But although CARE started out on just weekends, now it’s mornings before work, it’s lunch-breaks, it’s evenings after work, it’s Saturdays — you know, it’s probably the largest part of my life, really.
“I mean, I love it,” Downey continued. “I feel like when everybody says ‘God gives everyone a purpose,’ I feel like that this is my purpose. And I never tire of it. I just feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. And I was blessed with a brain that multitasks, thinks logically and has compassion.”
Downey thanks the community as a whole for CARE’s support. From the businesses that donate resources and their time to the citizens of Creston that do the same, Downey says she couldn’t do what she can do without their support.
“It’s easy to do what we do for the community, because they’re so good to us. So I just want to thank them for everything,” Downey said. “And my volunteers — for being so dedicated.”
Here is a sampling of what people had to say about Downey in their nomination letters:
“I feel as if the greatest share of Mycale’s efforts go unnoticed ... Creston is fortunate to have such a caring individual dedicated to helping the community.”
“Mycale guides everybody helping at CARE in kind services to pets, working with others and in leadership.”
“She is definitely one of a kind, and deserves to be recognized for all that she does not just for the animals but for our community.”