By Ryan Richardson
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Thanks to the generosity of Joplin Humane Society board member Alice Pantoja, I was able to attend the 11th annual Fur Ball benefit for the Joplin Humane Society at the Downstream Casino in Quapaw, Okla. This was my first event since I started writing this column, and I was a bit nervous to meet readers.
Historically, fundraisers have not been my cup of tea, but after last weekend, that might have changed. From the moment that I walked into the pavilion area of the casino, I knew that these were my people.
Even before I took my seat, there were people talking about their pets almost instantly. Phones were swapped with pictures of cats and dogs doing meme-worthy things. Tips for dog-training were traded and the ever popular "how I became a pet enthusiast" stories were shared between the attendees. I knew I was home.
Though the networking with other pet lovers in the area was great, the highlight of my evening was watching the awards presentation for people in the area who step up and support everything the society stands for. After meeting these amazingly driven people, I wanted to take the opportunity to recognize some of their efforts.
I learned about Sandi Hughey's Labrador rescue program that has saved the lives of 300 other labs over the last year. Basically, she has facilitated the transportation of dogs across the country, helping the dogs find better lives.
I sat at my table thinking of what her work meant, and I realized that she had basically found a home for a dog almost every day of the year. The coordination and logistics alone boggle my mind. I tip my hat to what she has done.
Kristina Ware was also recognized for the job she has done with pit bulls throughout the area. In addition to being a stalwart advocate of the breed, Ware has gone above and beyond in fundraising efforts for the dogs.
Ware raised more than $1,100 for a targeted program that successfully spayed and neutered 70 pit bulls. I met her after receiving her award, and I was just blown away by how dedicated she is to making sure that these animals are given a fair shake in homes. To me, that embodies what a real pet advocate is about.
Alice Waters was recognized as the Staff Member of the Year for the Joplin Humane Society for her work on-site with the shelter's cats. During her introduction speech, it was pointed out that cats are often forgotten by the general public.
This assessment is right on the nose. I can only imagine how hard it is to place a cat in a home once they are grown, but Waters is trying to change that. Alice took the initiative to change the shelter's cat room into a lush, fun jungle theme including wall paintings and jumping platforms that would make any cat feel right at home. I've seen this room, and I imagine that this is what any cat sees when they think of the perfect playground.
I am extremely happy that Alice Pantoja invited me to attend this event, and I was even more excited to find out that this year's event was the first year that the fundraiser has sold out. Now that I am more aware of the caliber of people who are recognized and where the money raised goes to, I think this will become an annual tradition for me.
Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 417-627-7363.