Tears welled up in Florence Webber's eyes as she walked through a standing crowd of people all cheering as she walked to the stage to be honoured.
The retired Aldergrove woman, being recognized as the volunteer of the year by the Langley Animal Protection Society, was "a little overwhelming" by what she called a surreal experience.
"There's so many dedicated people in the organization, especially volunteers who do amazing things for the animals. I love animals, I always have, but I can't believe they chose to recognize me," said Webber, whom her children fondly nicknamed the crazy cat lady.
"I never, ever expected to win this award. but I'm honoured," she said, after being handed a plaque, presented with flowers, and given hugs as this year's winner of the Patti Dale Award of Excellence.
The recognition was presented during Saturday night's Furry Tail Endings. It was the fifth annual fundraising gala for LAPS, and Webber was picked to receive the honour which is named, like the animal shelter, in memory of LAPS' key founders - Patti Dale.
"The Patti Dale award was created to honour Patti's memory and to recognize special volunteers who continue to do the work that she started more than 12 year ago," shelter manager Sean Baker said in presenting the accolades.
"Not only did Patti have a vision for Langley's stray, lost, and unwanted animals, but she also had the courage to make it happen. Patti did it all - from cleaning kennels and scooping poop, to making presentations to mayor and council, she was determined that the animals of Langley were going to get the care that they deserved."
Following in Dale's footsteps is not easy, and neither was selecting a winner for her namesake award, Baker said.
"In my opinion, it would be easier to close your eyes and randomly select one winner than pick one over the other based on merit," he said, explaining that this year's nominations were narrowed down to five "incredibly worthy" candidates.
"They each have contributed significantly to our cause," he said, asking Webber, as well as Lisa Lambert, Pauline Markle, Iris Madderom, and Stacey Kosturos to each stand up and be recognized.
"Not only have they improved the lives of many animals in need, but they have provided vital support to the staff and other volunteers. Thank you for all that you do, and please keep doing it," Baker said, before inviting Webber to join him on the stage at the Coast Hotel and Convention Centre.
Listing off Webber's contributions to LAPS, he explained that she has walked, fostered, adopted, organized, cleaned, transported, scheduled, coordinated, and encouraged.
"She has tirelessly built the single greatest program to find homes for cats, in our history," he said. "And she has done this with a cheerful smile."
Giving Webber a huge hug while bestowing her with the tokens, Baker said: "She has truly done what Patti wanted all volunteers to do: get up, get going, and get it done. No excuses."
Webber retired two years ago and knew she couldn't sit idle.
The owner of two dogs and two cats said she was casting around for a volunteer opportunity that spoke to her passion. And helping care for animals at LAPS' Patti Dale Animal Shelter was an obvious fit.
While the award presentation was one of the highlights of this year's gala, Baker said there were many more - least of which is a preliminary fundraising tally of $78,000 generated at the event.
While this year's gala didn't quite sell out, he said 360 supporters came through with more money than in the gala's five year history. Money was raised through sponsorships, ticket sales, a photo booth, a balloon pop, a $5,000 vacation lottery, and - primarily - the silent and live auctions, which generated more than $22,000 and $18,000 respectively.
"It was an incredible night," Baker said.
"The atmosphere was fantastic - with all the decorations - the food was awesome. The bidding in the auctions was incredibly lively. And the camel travelling around from one table to another, depending on which had raised the most money as the evening went on, well that added a fun new element of excitement to the evening.
But honestly, it's such a blur for me. the evening went by so fast. I can say, though, it was the most fun I've had at the galas because everyone else seemed to be having a great time."
The annual gala has grown "significantly" since its inception in 2008, when LAPS' board and staff proposed the idea.
At that point, pub nights had been the biggest social fundraisers hosted by LAPS, said Baker, who recalled dreaming that a gala might entice upwards of 250 people and raise $20,000. This year's record-breaking tally of roughly $78,000 shatters everyone's expectation.
Money from this year's gala will go towards the shelter's ongoing community spay and neuter program, help fund the training program that better prepares every dog that goes through the centre for a successful adoption, and will contribute to the proposed community education centre LAPS wants to build on its 56th Avenue site.