PAWS Magazine

 

Issue 52, Summer 2002

 

35 Years of Helping Animals

by Richard Huffman

When the Graham family walked into the PAWS Companion Animal Shelter last May, they didn’t know they would walk out an hour later a part of PAWS history. Doug and Michelle Graham, and their two children, Raymon and Zander, went to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society to find a new best friend. They knew it was important to adopt a shelter dog, and PAWS was their first choice shelter.

After walking past many expectant faces in the kennels, the kids focused their attention on a happy bundle of tail-wagging joy: Buddy, a beautiful Irish setter mix. The PAWS adoption counselors agreed that Buddy was the perfect match for the Grahams, and Buddy left PAWS with a new family and a new status. He was the 100,000th companion animal to be adopted from PAWS since the shelter opened in 1967.

The 100,000th adoption comes at a significant time for the organization; 2002 is PAWS’s 35th anniversary year. PAWS is also celebrating this year the tenth anniversary of the passage of one of the nation most progressive spay and neuter laws. And last year, PAWS celebrated the 20th anniversary of its wildlife center.

“PAWS is celebrating so much more than the 100,000 families whose lives have been enriched through the adoption of a PAWS dog or cat,” said PAWS Executive Director Annette Laico. “This summer marks our thirty-fifth year of helping animals through direct care, advocacy and education.”

Humble beginning

In 2002, the concept of spaying and neutering companion animals is widely supported, but things were much different in 1967. Back then, twenty-five million animals were killed in America’s shelters each year. There were few shelters dedicated to the welfare of animals and the over-population problem was no more apparent than at the local grocery store.

“Every time we went to the store, there would be a box of kittens or puppies saying ‘free to good home’,” says Virginia Knouse, PAWS co-founder and first volunteer President. “It was awful and we wanted to do something about it.”

Virginia and a group of her friends believed that the answer to the overpopulation problem was spaying and neutering of pets. Few others agreed. Typically veterinarians would consider spaying female companion animals, but only after she had a litter. And neutering male animals was simply not considered appropriate by the male-dominated veterinary profession. So in 1967, this dedicated and forward thinking group decided to band together and raise money to subsidize low-cost spay and neuter surgeries. The Progressive Animal Welfare Society was born.

For a group that over the years has adopted out more than 100,000 companion animals and has provided cared for 80,000 injured and orphaned wild animals, it is ironic that the founders of PAWS never intended to provide direct care. They persuaded a Lynnwood veterinarian to allow them to hold a rummage sale in his office basement. After the rummage sale was over, PAWS was left with a lot of unsold merchandise and the veterinarian agreed rent the basement to PAWS on an on-going basis. Nicknamed “the Cave,” the basement became PAWS’ first thrift shop.

Word spread quickly that an animal group was operating a Lynnwood thrift store. “Hardly a day went by when we didn’t find animals left on our doorstep in the morning,” says Virginia. PAWS was becoming a shelter by default.

Selling used clothing and trying to find homes for puppies and kittens wasn’t a good match, however, and the group needed a real shelter. Knouse and the other founders purchased an acre of land in what was then very rural Lynnwood. There was a house on the land that could serve as caretaker’s quarters and a garage that could be converted into a small shelter with eight outdoor/indoor dog kennels and about 20 cat kennels.

PAWS wouldn’t have succeeded without the efforts of some of the organization’s first volunteers. Mina Hutt and her husband H.O. did a little bit of everything. Virginia’s husband, Fred, was also a central presence around PAWS. Vi Johnson, Betty Hurtig, and Billie Paddock were instrumental in helping PAWS grow (and all three remain a part of the PAWS family to this day). Debbie Johnson was the very first PAWS employee, helping to run the shelter.

Early supporter and volunteer Ruth Kildall has very fond members of those early days. “I remember when the finance office was just some boxes of files spread around Vi Johnson’s living room table,” says Ruth. “And the administration office was the kitchen table of Fred and Virginia Knouse.”

The PAWS shelter grew quickly, or more accurately, the need for the shelter grew quickly, and soon, the original tiny building wasn’t big enough. By the mid-1970s, it was clear that a larger, more modern shelter was needed. With the negotiating skills of long-time PAWS Board Member Muriel Van Housen, PAWS purchased six additional acres on the Lynnwood site and construction on the current PAWS shelter began. The shelter, which took a few months to build, had about 40 modern dog kennel runs and 40 cat kennels. It was then, in the 1970s that PAWS became the official shelter for the city of Lynnwood and other municipalities.

PAWS was the first shelter in the state, and one of the first shelters in the country, to require the spaying and neutering of shelter animals. By the mid-1990s every shelter from the Canadian border to the state capitol altered their animals, except, ironically, the two shelters closest to PAWS. The shelter provider for Edmonds and the Snohomish County shelter in Everett both continue to release unaltered animals into the community. PAWS is leading efforts to require both of these shelters to begin altering their animals.

Starting the Wildlife Center

While PAWS was helping thousands of cats and dogs every year, there were thousands of other animals with no organization to help them. As Washington’s human population increased, more people began encroaching on the habitat of deer, squirrels, eagles, and other wild animals. Wildlife rehabilitation centers were few and far between. So, not knowing where else to turn, people began bringing injured and orphaned wild animals to the PAWS companion animal shelter. It became clear that PAWS needed a center dedicated specifically to caring for wildlife. Help Our WildLife (HOWL) came into existence on April 1, 1981, and was housed in the old PAWS shelter building. (HOWL has since been renamed the PAWS Wildlife Center.)

In the 1970s, wildlife rehabilitation was performed almost exclusively by individuals in their backyards, garages, and bathrooms. Some animals were helped, but others suffered from inappropriate care. From the outset, PAWS chose to follow the best standards known; in many cases, PAWS developed the standards now in place at rehabilitation centers across the country.

Just as the shelter had outgrown the confines of the original garage, the PAWS Wildlife Center also outgrew its original building. In 1988, PAWS opened the doors of the new PAWS Wildlife Hospital, located across the parking lot from the PAWS companion animal shelter.

The new facility opened up a whole new world for the animals, staff and volunteers of the PAWS Wildlife Center. New caging allowed the center to rehabilitate its first bear in 1988. A new flight pen provided a way for eagles and other raptors to exercise their wings. A fully functioning surgical unit allowed the staff to repair broken bones and wings and return more animals to the wild. By the mid-1990s, the PAWS Wildlife Center was rehabilitating more than half of all the wild animals receiving care in Washington state.

Advocating for Animals

PAWS has never been just about the physical care of animals. What makes PAWS different from many other direct care organizations is PAWS’s 35-year history as a voice for animals in the community. PAWS was founded as an advocacy organization for spay and neuter issues, and has a proud history of advocating for animals.

PAWS speaks for those who don’t have a voice; the animals. In the 1970s, PAWS helped to organize some of the first demonstrations against the capture of Orca Whales in Puget Sound. PAWS also worked to end King County pound seizure laws, which required shelters to surrender stray animals for laboratory testing. PAWS successfully sued the US Navy to prevent its plans to protect the Bangor base by training dolphins as “suicide bombers” and attaching explosives to their noses. PAWS successfully sued the University of Washington on three different occasions to ensure the right of citizens to have access to public records. PAWS has also worked to end the Omak Suicide Race, which the organization says is the deadliest horse race in North America. In the early 1990’s PAWS Advocate Mitchell Fox and PAWS volunteers helped lead the successful fight to pass the Washington State “Pasado law,” which strengthened the state’s animal cruelty laws.

In 1992, PAWS made national headlines when it worked with then King County Council member Ron Sims to pass the historic King County Spay and Neuter ordinance. King County was the first major community in America to address companion animal overpopulation in such a progressive way. The ordinance strengthened licensing laws, introduced a higher license fee for unaltered animals, and required that all animals in King County shelters be altered prior to adoption. The passing of the ordinance has resulted in a dramatic drop in the euthanasia rate of companion animals. PAWS estimates that more than 30,000 animals have been saved in the decade since it helped to pass the ordinance.

PAWS made national headlines again in 1994 when it helped Ivan, a western lowland gorilla, who had spent 30 years living alone in a small concrete cage at a discount Tacoma department store, find a new home among other gorillas at the Atlanta Zoo. Ivan now spends his days among a family of gorillas and in 1999, Ivan became a father for the first time.

A Busy Past Few Years

The last few years have been among the busiest for PAWS. The Wildlife Center treated and released almost three dozen bears and more than 200 other species of wildlife back into the wild. Many of the animals will spend months at PAWS being treated for and recovering from their injuries. On any day given day, the staff may see an injured bear, a flock of birds, an eagle with a broken wing, a fawn orphaned when its mother was killed on the freeway. The skills and compassion of the PAWS vets, staff and volunteers is remarkable. Last year, PAWS found homes for more companion animals than any other year in its history. And each year thousands of schoolchildren participate in PAWS’ Humane Education program.

In 1992 PAWS held it first ever PAWSWalk, a walkathon to benefit the animals of PAWS. In 2000, PAWS held the first annual Bark in the Park doggie festival, which incorporated PAWSwalk. Bark in the Park has quickly become a Seattle festival tradition.

About five years ago PAWS closed the PAWS thrift shop in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, marking another milestone for PAWS, which had operated thrift shops continuously since the “Cave” back in 1967. Converting the space to a satellite cat adoption facility - PAWS Cat City was born. Cats live in colonies in this uniquely happy setting; PAWS currently adopts out almost 900 cats a year from Cat City.

In 1995 PAWS made a historic decision to stop the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals. By 1997 PAWS was able to achieve its goal. No longer would PAWS euthanize companion animals for space, and by 2001, PAWS was adopting out more animals than any other year in its history. Current Shelter Director Kay Joubert came to PAWS right after the 1995 decision. “I am continually amazed by the energy and creativity committed to making our goal happen,” says Kay.

Volunteers: the backbone of PAWS

A big part of the success has been the PAWS volunteers. “We have over 200 volunteers dedicating 2000 hours month,” says Kay. “We have a professionally run, fully organized volunteer program, run by Hilary Anne Hager. Our volunteers are our direct connection to the community.” Shelter volunteers walk dogs, clean kennels, help as adoption assistants, foster hundreds of orphaned animals, and perform countless other important jobs.

Volunteers have played a similarly crucial role for the wildlife center. “Our volunteer program is among the best in the entire world for wildlife rehabilitation,” says Kip Parker, PAWS Wildlife Director. “They serve as a foundation allowing us to provide the very best care.” Wildlife volunteers serve at wildlife care assistants, bird nursery caretakers, and other valuable roles.

Volunteering plays a crucial role with efforts in Animal Advocacy, Outreach, and Development as well. From the hundreds of volunteers responsible for putting on a giant event like PAWS Bark in the Park, to the specialty volunteers like photographers, computer programmers, and others, PAWS Advocacy, Outreach, and Development Volunteer Denise Cabral is constantly on her toes trying to recruit a highly diverse group of volunteers.

Mo Galbreath, who along with her husband Joe has been volunteer for many years with the Development Department, loves her role at PAWS. "We come here because of the mission, and the dedication of the people," say Mo.

Looking Back

“People attitudes towards animals has taken a 100% turn around [since 1967],” says Virginia Knouse. "It was the dark ages back then."

But the organization that Virginia and her friends helped create has changed the landscape. Though we still have a long way to go, people clearly have an increased compassion towards animals. And for the Greater Seattle community, PAWS has been at the center of this seismic shift in attitude. "It makes me feel good to see how far PAWS and the community has come," say Virginia.

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