In December, the Pemberton Animal Well-Being Society (PAWS) flooded, forcing the volunteer-run shelter to close for a month. Luckily for the animals in its care, Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) was able to step in and save the day.
“WAG was there for us,” explained PAWS shelter manager and executive director Anna Scott. “They were able to take our animals.”
That kind of assistance is nothing new, Scott said. As an animal rescue and rehabilitation organization with more space and a small team of paid staff members, WAG often takes on dogs from PAWS’ care that may have certain behavioural quirks requiring special attention and consistent care.
“WAG are our No. 1 supporters,” Scott said. “I call them [with] anything—silly questions, stressful situations… honestly, I don’t know what I personally would do without having the girls at WAG to call.”
Now, PAWS volunteers are standing by, ready to return those favours and help their Whistler counterparts however they can.
On Saturday, Jan. 23, WAG took to Facebook to inform the community that its doors were closing until further notice, after its team was affected by COVID-19.
That means WAG—voted Whistler’s favourite non-profit for five years running—is currently unable to offer important services like municipal pet licence sales, accepting stray or at-large animals into its care, welcoming surrendered animals, or facilitating pet adoptions.
It also means the shelter is pausing volunteer shifts and donation drop-offs. “We are hopeful that we will get through this isolation period and be ready to open back up in early February,” the post read.
Staff directed anyone with animal rescue-related concerns to contact PAWS or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Squamish, and invited those who find or lose a pet to submit photos and important information electronically to WAG and the Sea To Sky Neighborhood Animals Needing Assistance Facebook page.
WAG’s closure is the latest plot twist for the tiny Pemberton shelter since the pandemic began. While PAWS remains open and available to care for animals in need, the facility is limited in both space and capacity.
PAWS is “definitely set up well for cats,” but can usually only accommodate two dogs at a time, Scott said.
Those limits were tested when an “insane volume of animals” came into the shelter’s care this past summer, Scott explained. “We had the busiest summer I think we’ve ever had,” she said. “We adopted over 50 kittens this summer alone. And that’s not even including adult cats.”
Alongside the higher-than-usual volume of animals came a massive uptick in people applying to adopt them, Scott added. That’s in line with a wider trend that’s seen far more people looking to bring home a new furry family member amid COVID-19 restrictions.
To that end, PAWS experienced “a lot of really frustrated people as well, that were really wanting to adopt but having a hard time finding animals available,” Scott said.
In response to that frustration, Scott reminds the community that PAWS is entirely volunteer-run and donation-based.
“Just keep in mind that, yeah, we are all working our best,” she said. “We’re all volunteers and we have lives and jobs outside of the work we do at the shelter.”
Despite temporary funding from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the Village of Pemberton, as well as funds raised from a haunted Halloween sunflower maze organized by Laughing Crow Organics, PAWS’ donations dropped this year due to a lack of in-person fundraisers.
“At the start of [the pandemic], I was thinking, ‘Oh, you know it will just be one year, and we can recover from that.’ But if this is a continuing thing and we’re not able to do any in-person fundraisers this year, then it’s definitely going be super challenging, I think, financially for us,” Scott said.