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Paws on Parade marks a quarter century with ‘Unleashed’

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Paws on Parade marks a quarter century with ‘Unleashed’ (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR - 1994 was an unforgettable year. We became smitten with Forrest Gump and were captivated by Disney’s “The Lion King.” “Friends” signaled a seismic shift in situation comedies and we said farewell to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and Kurt Cobain.

And that fall, a humble gathering of dog lovers, accompanied by their canine companions, took part in the first-ever “Paws on Parade” fundraising dog walk to benefit Bangor Humane Society.

The 2018 edition of “Paws on Parade” is subtitled “25 Years Unleashed” and is set for Saturday, September 29, beginning at the public parking lot on the Bangor Waterfront.

This year’s event will feature a few tweaks and improvements, including a central staging area, a slightly altered route and a restructuring of participating teams. The alterations will provide better visual and aural access and an opportunity for participants to decide how they would like to see their funds utilized.

“After 25 years, I think ‘Paws on Parade’ has become a tradition of celebrating our relationships with pets in the community while also raising much needed awareness about our mission,” said Stacey Coventry, director of development and public relations for Bangor Humane Society.

What started as a fun, celebratory dog walk has become the animal rescue and adoption facility’s most significant fundraiser of the year. This year’s “Canine Champion” sponsors for “Paws on Parade” are Cross Insurance Center and Darling’s Auto Group.

“When ‘Paws on Parade’ started, it raised about $10,000,” Coventry said. “Through sponsorships and fundraising by teams and individuals, we saw an opportunity for a lot of growth. I’m happy to tell you that our fundraising goal for the 25th edition of ‘Paws on Parade’ is $100,000.”

How did the event grow so fast? Executive director Suzan Prendergast credits Coventry’s dedication to the event, along with that of supporter and former board member Louise Cross, and the passionate fundraisers and teams who constantly come up with inventive ways to generate funds for the event.

“When I started here 10 years ago, the responsibility of planning ‘Paws on Parade’ was kind of an add-on to someone else’s job,” Prendergast said. “We had a very small staff then and worked with many more animals. When Stacey came aboard, she took over the planning of the event and recruited a committee specifically for ‘Paws on Parade.’”

Bangor Humane Society receives no federal or state funding and relies on fundraising and grants to continue operating. The facility spends $250,000 annually on veterinary care alone, according to Coventry.

“We receive wonderful discounts from our veterinarian community, but we still have to pay for those services,” she said.

“Paws on Parade” participants and teams who would like to designate their funds raised for medical or veterinary care are asked to join “The Second Chance Pack” at this year’s event, spearheaded by Dr. Mark Hanks of Kindred Spirits Veterinary Care in Orrington. His Kindred Spirits team has been a top fundraiser for the event a number of times over the years.

“I have met many executive directors and working groups and have never felt more proud of the work they do than the group they have there right now,” Hanks wrote about the present day Bangor Humane Society, in a message posted to the facility’s website describing “The Second Chance Pack.”

According to Bangor Humane Society executive director Suzan Prendergast, the spirit of “Paws on Parade” has remained the same over the years. The biggest difference is how the event has grown, especially over the last decade.

“A lot has happened in animal welfare in that time,” Prendergast said during an interview conducted in her office at the facility. “There has been a national shift toward ‘adopt – don’t shop’ and animal rescues in general. When I started here 10 years ago, we were just on the cusp of that.”

The emphasis on pet adoption has coincided with an increased awareness throughout the community about Bangor Humane Society’s commitment to the humane treatment and adoption of companion animals as well as the facility’s decision to spay and neuter every pet before they go home. That move was considered by some to be unworkable, both logistically and financially. When you look at the data a decade later, it is clear that Bangor Humane Society policy change has had a profound effect on the greater Bangor area’s pet overpopulation.

“When I started in 2008, 6,000 animals were coming through our doors every year. Now, we’re just shy of 3,000,” Prendergast said. “The biggest shift has been in the number of cats we see. Dogs are almost one-for-one.”

Chris Young, manager of shelter operations, says there is no comparison between the Bangor Humane Society of 2018 to the one he saw when he began working at the facility in 1989.

“It’s really like two different facilities,” Young said during an interview at the shelter. “In the late ‘80s, we were dealing with more than 10,000 animals every year. It’s incredible to think that we see fewer than 3,000 per year now.”

When Young began working at Bangor Humane Society, the shelter operated out of the small building adjacent to the current facility, which opened in 1997.

“Back then, you did as much as you could but you couldn’t save them all,” Young said. “Today we save every animal that is possible to save. When I started here, we didn’t have time to get attached to the animals. It was more like an assembly line. Today, you invest a lot of yourself into each one of them.”

That personal investment into the welfare and well-being of animals waiting to be adopted is one of the reasons why Young says his job is actually more difficult today than it was 30 years ago.

“We may not be able to save a cat that has cancer, unfortunately, but we paid for open heart surgery on a kitten, ligament repairs – you name it,” said Young. “If the animal is going to have quality of life, we will do whatever it takes to give it to them.”

According to Young, seeing an animal go out the front door with their new family is the most rewarding part of his job.

“We do our best every day for these animals,” he said. “Everything we do is with that in mind. These are lives here and it is our obligation who surrendered these animals to put them in the right situation.”

The most challenging part of Young’s job, he says, is the rare instance when an animal must be euthanized. 30 years ago, euthanasia occurred more regularly, often because the facility handled three times the number of animals in a building roughly one-third the size of the current one. One of the big turnarounds in euthanasia numbers has been due to the decision to stop euthanizing cats with upper respiratory infections.

“Chris (Young) and I made the decision that we were going to stop euthanizing and somehow find the money for medication and then find them temporary foster homes,” Prendergast said of animals with the illness, which spreads like wildfire in an animal adoption facility. “We had dedicated staff and volunteers work with the sick animals to get them better. We realigned a lot of the processes in our building to decrease the presence and spread of disease. It worked and we can see that now.”

According to Prendergast, an animal will be euthanized only if they are so aggressive they are considered a public health risk or if a veterinarian determines that they are too sick to save.

“Other than that, we do not euthanize. We’re not alone in that. Animal shelters statewide are doing amazing work,” she said.

Prendergast says that events like “Paws on Parade” are an opportunity to remind the public that Bangor Humane Society is a place to celebrate a shared love of pets and to showcase the organization’s dedication to placing pets into loving homes.

“Every adoption success story is what we celebrate with ‘Paws on Parade,’” she said. “Lives have been changed by the connection made between a pet in need of a home and the person adopting them. That relationship is what we celebrate with ‘Paws on Parade.’”

“Paws on Parade” participants and teams who would like to designate their funds raised to Bangor Humane Society’s adoption program are asked to join “The Match Made Pack,” headed by chairman of the “Paws on Parade” committee, Russ Maynard of Blackstream Custom Cycle in Hermon.

“The money raised under our pack will be used to fund the direct care of the animals that show up at our facility,” Maynard wrote in a letter posted at www.BangorHumane.org describing the pack. “This money will take them from the front door at admission, through their stay with us, and help send them out the door on their journey to their new forever loving homes…the ‘Match Made Pack’ is really the meat and potatoes of our organization.”

Stacey Coventry says that funds from the “Match Made Pack” will help continue services and programs like “Dogs Day Out.” In the last 18 months, more than 600 people have come to the facility to sign a dog out for an afternoon adventure.

“They go off together for a fun afternoon and then bring them back to fill out a report card. Every one of those outings has been a stepping stone toward an animal getting adopted. Sometimes the adventurer who takes them out for the day bonds quickly with the dog and decides to adopt them permanently. It gets the dog out of the kennel environment so they can better show what they’re really like.”

Prendergast says she loves the fact that “Paws on Parade” has taken on a life of its own in recent years.

“It’s become one of those ‘must attend’ things in the community for many people,” she said. “It used to be considered a cute little dog walk and now, people are like ‘Hey, what day is ‘Paws’ scheduled for this year?’ That was part of our vision years ago to make ‘Paws on Parade’ something that people look forward to.”

For Chris Young, “Paws on Parade” is an opportunity to reconnect with some of Bangor Humane Society’s alum and the people who adopted them, along with former staff members.

“All of us look forward to ‘Paws on Parade,’” said Young. “We get to see a lot of the dogs that were adopted from here and the people who adopted them. A lot of our past employees come back for the day so it’s really like a reunion. It’s kind of like ‘old home week.’”

According to Stacey Coventry, more than 500 people and over 300 dogs took part in last year’s edition of the dog walk, making it the largest turnout to date.

“We realized we needed to expand the area so more people can take part and also for our vendors to be able to spread out,” she said.

An improved staging area includes a trailer donated by Al Belanger of TBA (Tires, Batteries & Accessories) and will be one of the more noticeable changes this year.

“People will be able to better see and hear everything that’s going on,” Coventry said.

The new staging will also provide better viewing access during the popular shelter dog runway show which takes place during post-walk activities, along with prizes and a pet costume contest. The runway show will profile some of the dogs currently awaiting adoption at Bangor Humane Society. Staff who work with the animals each day usher them along the runway as descriptions of their personalities and dreams of finding a forever home are shared with the audience.

The mile-and-a-half walk will have a different route this year because of construction in the downtown area, according to Coventry.

“This year, walkers with their dogs will walk down Railroad St. and then take a left onto Main St. to walk up behind Cross Insurance Center, before walking down in front of Hollywood Casino.”

The Bangor Police Dept. has agreed to monitor the event for safety.

“We hope our participants will thank the officers for their time,” Coventry said.

At the time of writing, “Paws on Parade” was just shy of $40,000 from reaching the fundraising goal of $100,000. Coventry says it isn’t too late to become involved in this Saturday’s walk.

“We welcome individuals and teams,” she said. “If you ask 10 friends, family members or coworkers to sponsor you for 10 dollars, multiply that by 10 members on a team and you’ve helped raise $1,000. Come and join us for a fun fall walk with your best friend.”

“Paws on Parade – 25 Years Unleashed” will begin Saturday, September 29, with registration and check-in at 8:00 a.m. next to the public parking lot at the Bangor Waterfront. The walk will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will be followed at 11:00 a.m. by the Shelter Dog Runway Show, contests, prizes and the announcement of the final tally of funds raised for the event.

Local improv comedy group The Focus Group will stage their annual performance to benefit “Paws on Parade” the night before the event. This marks the fifth year that the group has done a benefit show the night before the event. This year’s performance will take place on Friday, September 28 at 8:00 p.m. at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer.

(Note: The Maine Edge’s editor Allen Adams is a founding member of The Focus Group and is very much looking forward to taking to the stage to raise money for such a wonderful cause.)

“Just $10 for a night of improvised comedy for a good cause,” reads a post on The Focus Group’s Facebook page. “Think about it - you get to be entertained AND feel like a good person because of it. If there's a better deal out there, we'd love to hear about it.

“On a more serious note, we in the Focus Group hold this cause very near and dear to our hearts. So many of us have had our lives changed by rescue pets - we embrace the chance to give a little back and are grateful for the opportunity to do so.”

Every little bit helps. If you have a few hours and/or dollars to spare, why not send a little of both to “Paws on Parade” and the Bangor Humane Society? There’s no doubt that it will be time/money well spent.

(For more information about “Paws on Parade,” visit www.BangorHumane.org.)

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