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New director joins the PAWS cause

Mark Hufford, new PAWS executive director, with program manager Marylou Zimmerman.  -
Mark Hufford, new PAWS executive director, with program manager Marylou Zimmerman.
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Mark Hufford wants pet program to reach out to others.

Last month PAWS of Bainbridge received an email from a central Kitsap family with a growing problem on its hands.

The couple was in foreclosure on its home, the wife had been forced to quit her job following a stroke and the husband’s job had been outsourced to Mexico.

What could the Progressive Animal Welfare Society do to help in their dilemma? It could help find homes for the herd of more than 30 cats, which had begun with just one pair of stray cats.

The email, PAWS Program Manger Marylou Zimmerman said, told an extreme version of an increasingly common story. Like many service-providing nonprofit organizations, PAWS has seen a spike in demand in this tough economic year with foreclosures increasing, budgets stretched thin and animals caught in the middle.

“A lot of people call saying, ‘I know I’m out of your area, but I’ve tried everywhere and no one can help me,’” Zimmerman said.

Despite the uncertain financial times, the organization is gearing up for expansion, under the guidance of new Executive Director Mark Hufford.

Hufford replaced longtime director Judy Hartstone in October, while Zimmerman stepped up from cat adoption manager recently to become program manager.

PAWS has offered cat and pet adoption services, spaying and neutering, and pet owner assistance to Bainbridge and North Kitsap communities for 33 years. Hufford said that to build off its strong base on the island he wants to focus more of the organization’s attention on North Kitsap, both to expand the impact of its services and to find fresh support.

“At a challenging economic time like this, we have to reach out to other areas for supporters,” he said.

Hufford, who for 10 years served as the founding director of a wildlife shelter in North Carolina and gave thousands of presentations at schools with unreleasable wild animals, said he wants to expand PAWS’ repertoire of programs to include education.

“Anything we can do that relates to responsible pet ownership and includes as many people as possible, we want to make it as inclusive an organization as we can” Hufford said. “Young people are naturally drawn to animals, so it’s a logical place to start.”

PAWS already has PALS, a program that brings animals to visit senior citizens in their homes, and Hufford would like to recruit high school students to help with the program.

Hufford also plans to throw the group’s weight behind state legislation that would fund spay-and-neuter programs and other animal-related issues.

The political arena is familiar to Hufford, who once worked as a Democratic Party organizer in North Carolina.

Collaboration is one way PAWS is meeting growing demand. On Bainbridge it has worked with Helpline House to distribute pet food and raise awareness about its pet owner assistance programs. It joins with other animal support groups in the county to find homes for animals, and has teamed with the Kitsap Humane Society and Rescue Every Dog to tackle the central Kitsap family’s cat problem described in the email.

Just how the economy will impact PAWS’ donations this year remains to be seen. It benefitted from its Barkitecture event in October, but usually relies on a wave of end-of-year donations to round out its roughly $250,000 annual budget.

“It’s too early yet to tell,” Hufford said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

To find out more about PAWS of Bainbridge see www.pawsbainbridge.org.

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