Opinion

Pets’ friend is leaving PAWS

For 11 years, Judy Hartstone has been the driving force behind PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society), the nonprofit organization that is a savior for Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap cats and dogs in need. Unfortunately, she’ll be leaving her job as executive director and the island later this year for a destination yet to be determined. She’s calling it a sabbatical.

She also admits to being burned out by her job’s most important task, which is raising money to keep PAWS moving forward. It’s a good cause, of course, and Hartstone is always respectful and sensitive to potential donors. But asking people for donations and competing with other worthy endeavors for a finite amount of money can take a toll on a person’s spirit. As Hartstone puts it, “Always begging for money... chipped away at my soul.”

Admittedly, she loves the island and is a sucker for good causes. She’s also involved with One Call For All, which means that during the fall months she’s got her altruistic hands out for multiple causes. But PAWS is her baby.

The annual budget was $20,000 when Hartstone arrived in 1997 as a volunteer; it’s $220,000 now because there’s no stopping PAWS when a pet-related need pops up. And there’s always a need. Pet programs now include: spay and neuter; adoptions; welfare for pets of low-income owners; rescue and rehabilitation; emergency medical care; lost-and-found responsibilities; and the Catery, which provides an indoor, open-space environment (a barn on private property) for about 20 cats being prepped for adoption.

The money comes from many sources, most of which involve people with a soft spot for dogs and/or cats. Large sums occasionally come to PAWS through a will, and One Call For All is a steady source of funding once a year. Hartstone is also particularly inventive in creating fun events such as her version of Barkitecture, a dinner and fundraiser that auctions off designer dog houses, fine feline furniture and many other animal-related objects.

Still, it’s a scramble every year to come up with enough money to pay for the services rendered. She’s overwhelmed when she thinks about the number of nonprofits on the island and how they’re all trying to reach into the pockets of several thousands of generous people. There are 84 organizations listed this year as potential sources for the One Call For All donations.

So sometimes she gets quietly “snarky” when told by people that they give only to kid-related programs. People have been “pulling back” lately as the economy has turned sour, so there’s a chance some of the services may suffer. But whenever she gets frustrated, she realizes she’s got to keep going because all those cats and dogs depend on her.

It will also be her responsibility to find a replacement. The programs are in good shape, she said, but the new executive director will need to have strong developmental skills, primarily fundraising. Hartstone admits she didn’t know what she was doing when she took the job, but she had a good mentor and is devoted to the cause.

When she does leave town, she won’t be going alone. Her companion is Sadie, a 14-year-old miniature poodle that she rescued six years ago from the streets of Corvallis, Oregon. Hartstone will be leaving with a heavy heart.

“I moved here in 1990 without knowing anyone and I’ve done OK,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends and I’ve done some good. Bainbridge Island is a wonderful place and I’ll miss it. But I need to move on. It’s time.”

She’ll be missed, too.

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