By Christine Harkinson
The Friends of the Burlington County Animal Shelter hosted its annual Paw Prints PetFest & 5K on Sept. 17 to raise funds for advanced medical care and other animal services and fund efforts to find homes for shelter animals.
The fundraiser also helped the nonprofit expand its reach into the community and further the goal of a no-kill Burlington County by 2025.
“It’s a really fun event and it’s a really great vibe,” said Ann Rapisarda, chair of the nonprofit. “There’s something about animal-loving people … A lot of them are just really warm and fuzzy, and when you have thousands of them in one spot and everybody’s happy with their pet, it’s just a different vibe to go into other festivals …
“You just have a lot of warm-hearted people there.”
According to the Friends’ website, the organization’s mission is to save the lives of homeless animals and promote adoption by working with the county shelter and community toward the no-kill vision. The Friends’ strategic goals include reducing the number of homeless animals within the community by sponsoring low cost spay/neuter strategies and building a community where people value animals and treat them with respect and kindness.
This year, the Friends worked on different initiatives, including the start of a shelter diversion program.
“If you call the shelter and you want to surrender your animal … we try to help,” Rapisarda explained, “whether it’s being a temporary home for your animal for some reason … or maybe your animal has a $1,000 vet bill you can’t handle, but you love your pet, so maybe we can help pay for that.
“Or help you find a rescue rather than going into the shelter that’s already overcrowded, let’s try to find rescues for you,” she added. “We’re trying to divert animals from the shelter as best we can … We started that initiative this year, so that’s been helpful.”
Paw Prints PetFest & 5K – the Friends’ largest annual fundraiser – included a pet costume parade, doggie contests, dog-training demos and activities for kids, all in an effort to spread the message about what Friends does to benefit shelter animals, something important to Rapisarda.
” … When you see all these people and they’re volunteering and everybody is all about the animals, it’s a great way to get that vibe out to people like, ‘Hey this is a great thing. You should either join us or maybe adopt or foster an animal …’
“It’s a great community event, even (for) the kids that come, teaching them the importance of animal welfare.”
Friends’ co-founder Penny Legg has been fostering a dog named Larz since summer. She encourages people to foster, not just for the dog or cat, but also to save kennel space for another shelter animal.
“Let’s say the shelter is full, and if Larz had to go back into the shelter, you have to make room for him, and making room for him means another dog goes down to make room,” Legg noted.
“That’s why we like to have dogs in foster, … not to mention it’s hard to tell a dog’s personality all the time in the shelter,” she added, “so when you get them in a home, that’s when you can really start to tell things about their personality.”
Legg echoed Rapisarda’s account of the fundraiser and sees it as a great event for community members, not only to emphasize shelter adoption over buying from a breeder but to see people come out with their animals.
“It’s a really good time, especially if you have a dog that’s really friendly around people and other dogs,” Legg observed. “It’s just amazing, all the dogs that you get to see.”
Rapisarda said it’s a good feeling to see people support the shelter by joining the 5K or just observing.
“What’s really cool is, when the race starts and you see all these people running for us, running for our mission with their dogs … They could’ve just ran around their house for free, but they chose to come and bring their dog, so that’s really a great feeling,” she said.
“We are a nonprofit volunteer organization, so to see people come out for us is humbling.”
For more information on the Friends of the Burlington County Animal Shelter, visit https://friendsofbcas.org.