You can’t help but dig these digs

The “Green-Woof” doghouse, designed for Barkitecture by Devin Johnson of Johnson Squared Architecture and built by J.R. Abbott Contruction.  - Courtesy of PAWS Bainbridge
The “Green-Woof” doghouse, designed for Barkitecture by Devin Johnson of Johnson Squared Architecture and built by J.R. Abbott Contruction.
— image credit: Courtesy of PAWS Bainbridge

It’s been awhile since Barkitecture raised its head on a moonlit evening to howl for PAWS.

“The first one was fantastic,” said PAWS Executive Director Judy Hartstone. “People still stop me on the street and ask me, ‘When are you going to do Barkitecture again?’”

Like other local nonprofits, PAWS, the Bainbridge-based animal welfare organization, derives income through ongoing donations, the annual One Call for All drive, and a variety of grants.

PAWS also periodically holds smaller-scale fundraising events such as the “Picture Your Pet” photo contest, a dog walk, and a hot dog and mustard tasting in the Town & Country parking lot.

But these, Hartstone said, typically don’t raise “double digit” amounts. Between that, a flagging economy and diminishing grants, with no corresponding decrease in demand for services, the board decided to bite the bullet by once again taking on an auction – acknowledged to provide the biggest bark for the buck.

Hence, Barkitecture 2008, a gala dinner and auction to be held Oct. 25 at Kiana Lodge. Just as in 1999, the event’s centerpiece will be a series of deluxe dog houses conceived and executed by island design professionals and builders.

Some pieces were still under construction this week, but they’ll include the “Green-Woof,” by Devin Johnson and J.R. Abbott Construction; a stick built home by Jeb Thornburg and Port Blakely Builders; and a dog cradle/dog cave by Zimmerman Architecture. There will also be two pieces of cat furniture – one a deluxe kitty commode that would do a king proud.

Between these showpieces and other live and silent auction items including quilts, artwork and trips, PAWS hopes to raise between $50,000 and $75,000 toward its $212,000 operating budget.

Auctions take time and planning, and one of the reasons for the nine-year gap between Barkitecture events is that Hartstone has had her hands full with PAWS’ extensive roster of day-to-day programming.

Under the umbrella slogan “People Helping Pets, Pets Helping People,” PAWS’ related missions are to promote responsible pet ownership and reduce pet overpopulation.

To that end, the locally grown organization – formed in 1975 by a small group of islanders, and not to be confused with Seattle’s Progressive Animal Welfare Society – has in place a spay-neuter program; a veterinary assistance program; a pet lost and found registry; feral cat control; and a cat adoption program run out of its Miller Road location.

Within its relatively modest budget, PAWS accomplishes a great deal. Here are a few “fun stats,” courtesy of the PAWS Web site: Since PAWS’ record-keeping began in 1998, 2,535 pets have been spayed or neutered; 2,949 owners have received financial assistance for their pets’ veterinary needs; and 3,104 pets received veterinary assistance, among other services.

But it’s the 38,422 phone calls in 10 years that get to the heart of how PAWS connects to the community. Hartstone has assisted people who will soon be homeless and don’t know what to do with their pets; those who need advice about pet behavior; families who suddenly find themselves with a litter of kittens and no way to raise them; and owners who adore and want to keep their pets but are having trouble paying their veterinary bills.

“We’re kind of a human services provider... that’s the part of it that gets overlooked,” she said.

Hartstone believes that many problems related to domestic animals begin with overpopulation, so one of the accomplishments she’s happiest with is PAWS’ spay-neuter program. During her tenure, she’s seen a decrease in pet overpopulation, and PAWS sees fewer litters of kittens being dumped.

Promoting responsible pet ownership is another focus. Hartstone will be the first to tout the benefits of pet ownership in terms of the big stuff – unconditional love, personal responsibility, seeing someone through crisis, and learning about life and death.

But pet ownership isn’t a casual thing, it’s a commitment. If someone who’s out of the house for 10 hours a day asks Hartstone what kind of animal she’d recommend, she’ll tell them, honestly, “a stuffed one.” And you’ll never see PAWS auctioning off a puppy so that an unwitting family can take it home on a whim.

“Acquiring an animal is a process, not an impulse. We’re very big on that,” she said.

Barkitecture will be Hartstone’s “last woof,” as she calls it. After 11 years at the helm of PAWS, she’s moving to Pittsburgh to begin a new adventure. She will dust off, inspect and possibly try on any number of old hats, which include librarian, public information officer, and student.

A new executive director, Mark Hufford, starts next week; Hartstone said his responsibilities will largely revolve around fundraising, board development, and day-to-day operations. Mary Lou Zimmerman, currently cat adoption coordinator, will act as program director.

Hartstone is proud of the stability of the organization she’s leaving behind. Nonprofit work isn’t easy, but her departure is about her own wish to move forward, not about a wish to leave PAWS behind.

“What’s kept me going is that every day, I know the story of every animal we helped,” she said. “I’m not changing the world, but I’m making Abby’s life better, or Orpheus’s life better, or whatever their name is, that very day.”

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