It’s been a year of growth, a year of change, a year of firsts, and a year of losses for the Langley Animal Protection Society.
And more than 400 of the society’s closest friends (and supporters) came together Saturday night at the Coast Hotel & Convention Centre to celebrate and mourn all those ups and downs.
Speaking to the organization’s growth, the specially themed evening gala marked confirmation of an impending ground-breaking on a cat intake and isolation shelter in January. When complete later next year, it will be a facility where the team can care for sick kittens and cats that come into their custody.
“After more than two years of planning, agonizing, fundraising, and literally asking everyone we knew for help, we are able to officially announce our plans to build or desperately needed and long overdue ISOasis,” announced Jayne Nelson, the society’s new, acting executive director.
She expressed gratitude to the Township of Langley for committing to match money raised to 40 per cent of the $550,000 budget. She also acknowledged Pat and Mark Dumont for pledging $50,000, the Shewan Foundation for contributing $20,000, and 470 individual donors who raised $37,000 “to get us started on our journey,” Nelson said.
But she specifically spotlighted the innovation demonstrated in design by architects Ian McDonald and Bruce Carscadden, along with a significant contribution by Colin Lacey and Dan Greenleigh of Langley’s ENM Construction.
ENM donated its time to work with the architect and help design the building so it fit the needs while keeping within cost. Moreover, they were recognized for giving up their profit margin on the construction end of the project, to ensure it ultimately comes in within budget.
“These people truly believe, as Alice did in Through the Looking Glass (the theme of this year’s gala), that the only things worth doing are those that we do for others,” Nelson said.
A night of firsts
It was also a night of several firsts.
More than a dozen Township of Langley firefighters – in full dress blues – were on hand to unveil a new firefighters’ calendar with a twist that will profit LAPS.
Instead of pictures of scandalously clothed firefighters, these $20 calendars feature pictures of local members with their own pets or animals in care at the Patti Dale Animal Shelter.
The first 2017 calendar, which was autographed by participating firefighters, was auctioned off Saturday night.
That calendar came with the chance to feature the winning bidders’s own pet in one one of the 2018 calendar. Barbara Sharp of Aldergrove paid $1,100 for that honour, planning to have a picture of her ailing 11-year-old Belgian shepherd-cross, Hana, and her sister Cleo featured in the picture. It seemed fitting to pay tribute to these two dogs, who Sharp rescues from the SPCA when they were six months old, by purchasing this keepsake opportunity.
“It’s something that is priceless.”
A night of losses
Everyone who has been at past galas laughed when Nelson said she’d make an effort to keep speaking and crying to a minimum, but the night was full of several teary moments, including the arrival of former LAPS executive director Sean Baker.
Nelson explained a few of the significant losses the LAPS team has been struggling with this year.
On June 6, Baker “suffered a terrible personal tragedy. His wife Nicola died in her sleep. We are all beyond heartbroken for him and his four beautiful children,” Nelson said, attempting to choke back tears.
“We are a close group and care very much for each other, so we all understand Sean’s (recent) decision to step down as our ED and move into the role of our chief financial officer,” she said. “Although we are all sad to see him step down, we are very glad that we are able to keep Sean with us in some capacity.”
In the 13 years since Baker started with LAPS, he has “nurtured, shepherded, and grown” the organization from a tiny three-person operation to the “successful and highly regarded shelter” it is today with 14 staff and literally hundreds of volunteers working together to help Langley animals, Nelson acknowledged.
“I am not going to lie… he is leaving some pretty big boots to fill,” she added.
“In part, being touched personally by this tragedy, this year’s theme really resonates with me. One of the great positive messages of the movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass, is the message that time is precious… that it is a gift, every day, every hour, every second, and should never be taken for granted,” Nelson said.
“I very much believe that we must each try to live the most beautiful and extraordinary life that we can – whatever that means to you – and don’t wait until tomorrow, because sometimes we run out of tomorrows,” she added, tears flowing.
A night of recognition
It was also a night of recognition for LAPS, including crowning of Louise Selby as the volunteer of the year.
The Walnut Grove woman learned of LAPS a little more than three years ago, when she adopted a poodle-cross named Peppa from the shelter in Aldergrove. She’d been heartbroken by the loss of her own dog earlier that year, but realized she had “too much puppy love” to give and realized she needed to adopt another dog.
She was so impressed by the Patti Dale shelter and the team, that she did more than just adopt a pet from LAPS. She volunteered to help raise money for the 2014 gala. As time evolved, she not only continued volunteering with the gala, but took on the duties of volunteer driver, chauffeuring animals back and forth from the shelter to vet appointments three to four days a week.
Selby said she was shocked by Saturday’s recognition, but also moved.
“There are so many that do so much for LAPS. I think my contribution is so small compared to some,” she said. “But the more I do for LAPS, the more I want to do, because it’s such a wonderful organization and the people are so devoted. It’s such a rewarding experience for me.”
A night that increases awareness
Profile for LAPS and its efforts has increased significantly in recent years, in large part thanks to the wide-ranging reach of the Tiny Kittens Society – an off-shoot of LAPS that livestreams 24/7 the lives of local kittens in foster care to more than a million people around the globe.
In fact, it was the Tiny Kittens stream that prompted Noor Alibay, a psychologist from Paris, to travel half way around the world to attend last year’s gala, and brought her back again this year, to help at the shelter for several week as well as to assist with and attend the gala.
Nelson acknowledged how the web is also opened doors and increased awareness about the Langley shelter to other animal lovers worldwide.
“We not only have amazing local supporters, but we have this whole incredible extended family that support, cheerlead, donate, and befriend us from 45 countries around the world,” Nelson said.
“It is like having thousands of pen pals…” she added, noting she received an email from a woman named Roben in Oklahoma earlier this year, inquiring if it would be “cool” to have people donate baskets to the gala from all over the U.S.
“Specifically, Roben thought it would be a great idea if we could get all 52 states represented. I thought sure, that would be cool, thinking we might get a half dozen or so,” Nelson explained.
Much to her surprise, they were inundated with baskets from throughout the U.S. that were subsequently included in Saturday’s silent auction. “I can honestly tell you there are some incredible baskets out there filled with things that you will not be able to find unless you are prepared to travel to these places.”
It’s all about the people and the animals
Over and over again through the night, from her special raised platform at the podium, to all the people she saw while moving throughout the ballroom and hallway throughout the night, Nelson took time to thank guest after guest for their presence and contributions.
“I am always so impressed and so grateful to the people who give of themselves so selflessly to help the animals at LAPS,” she said, including all those who attended the gala.
“Some people are able to donate money, but don’t have the time to volunteer or own a pet, and still want to help. Some people can donate their time, which is perhaps one of the most precious gifts, some people donate their skills, some adopt, and others cheerlead and help with social media. Each of those pieces is necessary to the work that needs doing at LAPS. No matter how big or how small the contribution, together we are making a huge difference in the lives of those animals fortunate enough to come to LAPS.”
As Alice said: “The only way to achieve the impossible is to believe it is possible.”