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PAWS puts surprise gift to work

Funds will be invested through the Community Endowment.

PAWS is turning a generous bequest into a true legacy for pets.

The $300,000 bequest by the late Helen Bucey last April will be invested through the Bainbridge Island Community Endowment, said Judy Hartstone, executive director of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society of Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap.

“Our goal is to maximize the investment and gift we got so that we can help as many animals as possible,” Hartstone said. “It also provides a vehicle for people who want to make additional donations to the future of PAWS.”

Longtime islander Bucey, who died in April 2002, enjoyed pet-sitting for friends since her frequent travels prevented her from having her own. She was also deeply interested in the history of Bainbridge Island, with ties to older families on the island. In her later years she was known and honored for her volunteerism and philanthropy.

Still, it was a surprise to PAWS and the Bainbridge Island Historical Society when they learned last April that the organization had been named in Bucey’s will, and that each would receive $411,779 from her estate.

The bequest was a huge boon to PAWS, which had always “operated on a shoestring budget,” Hartstone said.

PAWS’ goal is to promote responsible pet ownership and health through information and financial assistance.

By investing the money through the BICE, PAWS will see returns on the investment instead of just eating up the seed money for day to day operations, and also encourage future donors.

“We’re thrilled to have PAWS as a fund, as they are an island-wide organization,” said Steve Davis, founding board member of the two-year-old BICE. “It’s a positive thing. The community foundation should help the island pull together resources.”

Thanks to the bequest, the organization will have a paid staff member – Hartstone, who has worked on a volunteer basis for six years. She will use her time pursuing more programs and grants.

Still, Hartstone emphasizes that the bequest does not mean PAWS no longer needs donations, since even the returns on the $300,000 will not be able to cover the group’s annual budget of $147,000.

Traditionally, PAWS has raised funds through the “One Call for All” drive by the Bainbridge Foundation, grants, adoption fees, and fundraising events.

“PAWS’s successes mean there’s a tendency for people to think it’s taken care of, and that there isn’t a need to be involved,” Hartstone said.

PAWS is always looking for cat foster homes – it has no facility of its own – and volunteers for their cat adoptions, which are held at Paws and Fins pet store, but also more board members to help raise money and increase its programs.

Foster homes keep cats socialized and allow volunteers to assess each cat’s personality to maximize successful matches with potential owners.

In recent years, PAWS has seen an increased demand for financial assistance with vet bills, which Hartstone attributes to the tough economy.

“The flip side is, as the economy worsens, people’s needs for PAWS services have increased,” Hartstone said. “People may have had one too many emergencies or one too many layoffs, and unfortunately the animal is lowest on the totem pole. We are losing on both sides.”

From 1998 through 2003, the number of animals spayed and neutered by PAWS increased 91 percent to 333, other vet care assistance increased 138 percent to 503 total, and the number of callers who required help beyond the recorded information line soared 488 percent to 2,059 calls last year.

In contrast, offers to volunteer increased only 18 percent, and offers of donated goods or money only increased 43 percent.

Calls from people reporting lost pets, and finding lost cats and dogs in their neighborhood, declined.

Hartstone believe that’s because newer island residents are not aware that PAWS keeps a registry to match up lost pets.

PAWS will also place a litter of kittens, but with the requirement the mother cat be spayed, free of charge to the owners.

“Getting the bequest and putting it into a responsible investment management company gives us confidence that PAWS will be around for a long time in the community,” Hartstone said.

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