PAWS Magazine


Issue 50, Fall 2001


Seattle gets Barking

by Tamara Paris

My crazy schipperke-mutt Franny and I were still a block away from Seattle’s Gasworks Park when a joyful cacophony that could only have been hundreds—no, make that thousands of happily barking dogs reached our ears. For the first time in five long and unspeakably sad days, my heart lifted. This year the second annual Bark in the Park, (a festival for dogs and the people who adore them featuring the tenth annual PAWS walk) fell just four short days after the horrific events of September 11. PAWS employees and volunteers were stunned by what unfolded in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, but just like the rest of the world—they were immediately determined to help in whatever way they could.

A girl and her dog

Without missing a beat, they re-imagined the fund-raising walkathon as a moving memorial for those lost and missing and turned the focus of the festival towards gathering desperately needed pet food and supplies for the many animals left orphaned by the disaster. I found Kim Christensen, (special events coordinator and proud parent to Sapa, a husky lab mix), and asked her how happened so quickly. “It didn’t take a process. It was automatic. And I think that’s been the response of everybody in the United States. We have to do something, we have to come together, we have to support each other.”

Kim, a serene young woman, tucked her long, dark braid behind one shoulder and took a deep breath. “It was also a great opportunity for us to increase people’s awareness about what we do. We’re very well known for our companion animal shelter but our wildlife department and advocacy department are just as important, so it’s our opportunity to educate the public about all the different facets of PAWS.”

We both paused for a moment as Sydney, the good-natured golden retriever who functioned as the Bark in the Park spokesdog, poked her head in between us. After demanding and receiving some head scratching and butt slapping, she wandered off - tail a’wagging. Kim continued, “It was great that we already had something that we’ve been working on for six months so that we could use it as a platform to help the homeless animals in New York City. But honestly, we had no idea what the turnout would be. We didn’t know how many people would bring pledges or food donations. But we thought that people really needed a break from the news for one day and to get out in the sun.”

Kim’s instincts served her well. The day was gorgeous, soaked in the brilliant, slanted fall sunshine that sends Seattle-ites scrambling outside to soak it all in before the winter rain descends with a gray thud. And there was certainly enough absurd spectacle to keep anybody entertained. A pack of greyhounds wearing crowns wandered through the crowd with royal dignity. A man wearing a “The Few, The Proud, The Marines” hat carefully lead a huffing and puffing bulldog squeezed into a ruffled teal bathing suit. Almost a hundred vendors ranging from the wonderfully named “Socially Redeeming Soap Company” to “Bone-a-Fide Dog Ranch” hawked their wares. You could find anything from tarot readings to tangle-free leashes for your canine companion. There were information and food booths, an off-leash area and also a giant chain-link enclosure behind which a veritable pack of panting pooches waited to demonstrate their skills at agility and flyball.

Weaving through the chaos I bumped into the unconventionally tressed Victoria and Jessica from Vain, the delightfully outlandish and surprisingly responsible beauty salon in downtown Seattle. Jessica pressed a flyer into my hand; “We’re hosting a dog fashion show as a benefit for PAWS. We’ve been canvassing for talent.” After forcing them to let Frances in their show, I pressed on.

Reverand Allison

Franny and I passed a booth offering blessings so I stopped for a moment to chat with Rev. Eric Allison of the Swedenborgian Church. A slender, beatific man in a gold, embroidered robe, he bent to pet Franny as we spoke. “As a rule, we don’t wear robes for our services. We’re much more casual, but we wore them for this so we look more, you know—sacred. It might give us more credibility.” I laughed out loud at his charming candor. “The Swedenborgian Church is a very inclusive Christian church. We have a Judeo-Christian blessing and then we have a goddess blessing—though only the women can do the goddess ones. We use an oil that’s been put together by people practiced in the art of aromatherapy. We put it on our hands and we hold an image of light coming out of our hands and into the animals. We also have healing blessings if there’s something wrong with the animal. We did one on the Grand Marshall dog, Samantha, who was having trouble breathing.” I smiled at this. Samantha, a gorgeous little Alaskan Eskimo, was something of a star. Adopted ten years ago at the age of three by John and Marilyn Wilfong, she has walked in every single PAWS walk since its inception and on this day proudly wore the sash of the Grand Marshall.

I asked the Reverend how he felt about the events in recent days and he thought for a moment before he answered. “You have to believe that love has an impact and that when people get together - just out of love to send out love—that it makes a difference. And I think that what people are feeling right now is all the love that people are sending.”

So, it was more than the pleasant weather and a love of dogs that brought out an estimated 6,000 people with close to 4,000 of their canine companions. There was something else deeper, something almost beyond language being shared. I could practically see it vibrating in the crisp air and sense it in the tentative smiles and murmured voices of the many gathered for the walk.

Caricacurist Steve Hartley

Franny, on the other hand, could only smell an enormous party being thrown in her honor and was busily tearing my arm out of my socket in her efforts to meet and greet every single wiggling dog butt in the Park. I followed her lead past the registration tables where the walkers who raised more than $50 dollars in pledges were being given a T-shirt emblazoned with Sydney’s fetching likeness. The dogs weren’t left out, however. They were given a festive bandana to wear around their necks. Some were even wearing several scarves of different colors from walks in years previous. I nabbed one for the “rocket sausage” (as Franny has been affectionately nicknamed since she gained a whopping ten pounds). She looked splendid in yellow. Very slimming.

Franny wagged her tail in recognition as we drew closer to the PAWS Wildlife Booth tended by our friend and neighbor Jennifer Hillman, PAWS Advocacy Supervisor, who, like nearly every PAWS organizer, had an air of exhaustion mingled with sheer delight. “The advocacy booth got shut down by the health department for selling vegan hot dogs!” she said with a giggle. “Now we have to eat a dozen hotdogs!” “Well, I knew a certain canine vacuum who would be more than willing to assist in that department,” I responded as Franny sniffed the air with gustatory glee.

“Excuse me?” I turned to a vaguely familiar face. “I’m Tracey! I was Franny’s volunteer on the day that you adopted her!” Though it seems like a lifetime, it was only a year and a half ago that I went to write Greenlake to write about Seattle Animal Control’s Adopt-a-thon and the next thing I knew I was taking home twenty-five pounds of pure love. “Oh, her godmother! Thank you so much,” I yelped while grabbing her into a hug. “Before you came there was this couple looking at her and they wanted to keep her outside,” Tracey laughed. “This is a dog that needs a princess bed.” I laughed along with her, “Well, this fat, sassy dog does sleep on a princess bed - mine!” I guess both Franny and Tracey knew how to spot an easy mark.

Gladdened to visit Franny’s champion, I wandered towards the PAWS advocacy booth to meet the director of advocacy and outreach, Richard Huffman, a giant guy with round spectacles that seemed to magnify the gentleness in his eyes. He shook my hand enthusiastically, “Hear that?” I did indeed hear the golden tones of a bell chiming from the PAWSwalk registration booth. “If we get a big donation - like $250 dollars - it’s obviously very exciting for our volunteers, so they ring that bell to let people know it’s a whole lot of money to help a whole lot of animals.”

He reached down to pet Franny. “I have two dogs. One is Bear—who is crazy and then there’s Ruby who was adopted from PAWS and she’s really crazy. To do a favor to the 4,000 dogs here, we kept Ruby at home. It’s a maxim here that people who work at PAWS end up with the craziest, goofiest, weirdest dogs ever.” Just as Richard conjured up the vivid image of a sort of tea party of lunatic dogs, I realized that while I was hearing a nearly ear-splitting din of ecstatic barking, I didn’t hear anything that would belie real aggression. For one day this park was turned into a canine Eden. The lamb might not be lying down with the lion, but the Lhaso Apso was certainly holding her own with the lion-hunting Rhodesian Ridgeback. Not for the first time in five long days, I thought how much we still have to learn about life from the animals among us.

As Richard and I meandered together, he continued, “Initially the number one concern was blood and financial donations for the Red Cross. But as the magnitude of the event became clear, so many other needs became apparent. We thought that turning PAWSwalk into a memorial walk, and encouraging people to help the orphaned animals would be a good way complement those efforts.” Eventually a number of PAWS friendly radio broadcasters and TV personalities got the word out in time. “I think a lot of the people came out today because they heard about it as a memorial walk alone. That’s why they’re coming—to honor the victims - and that really touches us,” he concluded.

I let Richard return to his work and Franny and I headed towards the stage to hear Mayor Paul Schell and my new friend Reverend Eric Allison give the opening remarks. Unfortunately, the hullabaloo of the hounds had totally muffled their moment. I was a little disappointed to find that I had missed them but, as usual, Franny was utterly nonplussed and lead me into the throng waiting to take either a one or three-mile stroll along the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Some walkers wore a pin picturing a shelter cat saved by their pledges and most sported a red, white and blue ribbon. The most patriotic pets were decked out indeed. I spotted a seven year-old Jack Russell terrier with an American Flag actually drawn on his back. His dog-mom piped up proudly, “We’re showing our support and love for the victims of the terrorist attack.” I asked her how she’d done such a fine job. “I have a daughter who has non-toxic markers and I’ve come home from work several times to find the dog all marked up, so I thought this would be a perfect way for her to represent our country.” Spumoni, a typically spunky terrier, certainly seemed up to the task.

Looking much less enthusiastic and lots more patiently suffering was a low-slung hound festooned with a floppy Uncle Sam hat and red white and blue ribbons around her neck. Her people, Maria and Andrea, beamed with pride. “This is Shannon. She’s a mixture of basset hound and cocker spaniel.” Maria reached down and fussed with Shannon’s accoutrements. “We got the hat for the Fourth of July. We just wanted to show our support today with all of our colors.” Andrea nodded in agreement. “I think that when you look into the face of your animal, you see the innocence we all wish we still had. They make you still see the good.” Unless you look into the face of Franny and then, of course, you see only unbridled naughtiness, I thought to myself. But I was nonetheless touched by her notion. “We didn’t have a chance to attend any of the vigils, but we felt that it’s really important to come out and be a part of the community.”

PAWS walkers

By this point, that community stretched almost as far as the eye could see. Though the mood was subdued and respectful, people seemed eager to talk about what they were feeling. And the slowpoke pace afforded plenty of opportunities to strike up conversation. David, a genial older gentleman holding a startled looking Chinese Crested, shared Andrea’s sentiments. “I think that animal owners are caring people and it’s nice for a lot of caring people to be in one place together. There’s not much we can do—we can give blood and we can sit in memorial services - but more than that we can hold onto each other by being at these kind of events.” I absentmindedly stroked his dog’s tiny head while I took in his words.

Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind. “That thing looks like a Jim Henson fraggle dog,” my friend Tim whispered into my ear. I laughed and turned around to hug him. Though Tim doesn’t have a dog himself, he’d kindly made arrangements to keep me company on the walk. “It took forever for me to find you!” he said and without further to-do hauled me off.

Tim and I ambled off with Franny to enjoy the rest of what was shaping up into our own good day. Not for the first time, I recognized someone from the dog park that Franny and I frequent. Mick, a handsome fellow as tall as a tree, hefted a huge bag of dog food onto his shoulder with ease and with his good-natured bulldog Elvis plodding behind him, set off for the food donation table. “My wife and I both love Elvis so much. We’ve got a real soft spot for dogs and for all animals. So, this is not very much to give.” He plunked the bag down on a towering wall of donated food, jostling another fellow who was leaning precariously on the slightly listing bulwark signing out a check to PAWS. Behind the pile of stuffed animals, blankets, toys, towels, bones, dog food and dog treats, volunteers scrambled to stuff the supplies into boxes so they could be shipped to New York City.

Robbin Jones, the director of development at PAWS, a pixie-ish redhead with a fondness for the color pink and a killer instinct for organizing, was thrilled to tell me more about the donation efforts. “We’re working with a smaller shelter in midtown, the Humane Society of New York. They’ve been really hit hard..” Running her fingers through her spiky hair she went on, “We were very fortunate to partner with Seattle Animal Shelter. They secured free shipping via Fed Ex for our entire load of stuff. It was just so heartwarming to see all of the big companies like Fed Ex and UPS stepping up to get disaster relief to New York City. It’s been incredible.” In the days following Bark in the Park Robbin and Seattle Animal Shelter’s Christine Titus traveled to New York to accompany the 5,000 pounds of donated food and supplies and help out at the ravaged shelter.

Donations Booth

Robbin continued, “Remember that there is more than one pet per person in the United States. So if there are 5,000 missing victims, there may very well be 5,000 orphaned animals. And since New York City already euthanizes 40,000 animals a year in their municipal shelters, we knew that this problem was going to add to an already taxed system. If this was us, we would need the obvious—food, blankets, vet supplies, toys, litter boxes—not just for the shelter to cope with the influx of animals but for the foster homes.” Her hot-pink cell phone chimed out from her hip and she thoughtfully reached down to turn it off. “But to get people to accept animals into their lives—even for a temporary time—you have to provide them with everything they need.” Looking around at the donations still pouring in, it certainly looked like the brand new foster parents of New York City were about to receive everything they could ever even imagine needing.

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, I asked Robin a question I knew that would be on the lips of many people who did not have an animal in their life. Why, when so many human lives had been devastated by this disaster, should so much effort be made to help mere animals? She didn’t even blink. “After a tragedy like this, the animals are not the first thing people think of—obviously. They want to get people out and they want to save lives. And then all of a sudden, a few days later, it dawns on people that there are all these animals that were also impacted by this event. And the thing that I kept hearing the most from those working down at ground zero is that in a city like New York you have a huge population of people that are alone. Many of those impacted may not have anybody else in the world except for that dog, or that cat or that bird and so for them, the first step towards healing and the first step towards putting their life back together is to get that animal back.” Thinking of how desperate I would feel if Franny were trapped alone without food or water in an abandoned apartment, I could only swallow back a lump and nod.

I left Robin to her crucial work and drifted with Tim and Franny towards the part of the park where the finish line beckoned to the walkers. We stood in the bright sunshine at the base of a hill and watched quietly as hundreds upon hundreds of caring souls with their canine companions ascended the gentle slope to the pinnacle where an American flag snapped crisply in the breeze. For a long time, we didn’t say a word, but it felt like a balm to our wounded hearts just to stand there peacefully, shoulder to shoulder, together. And for the first time all day, even my dear little friend Franny held still.

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