PALS Makes a Pal out of Local Singer

Above: From the left are PALs volunteers Judy Dean and Adam McInnis, North Shore Bank’s Mariellen Hayward, and
​PALS volunteers ​Carol Fournier and Lorrie Kmiec /©tfiphoto/barry kaplan
By Shelley A. Sackett

salem@salemwickedlocal.com

Salem resident Julie Dougherty has been singing since the mid-sixties, performing all over the country and playing many styles of music, including folk, Irish, country-rock and jazz and blues combinations. She also has a soft spot for cats, starting with her own two older indoor cats, and extending to any cat in need. Over the years, she has taken in many a stray cat that has wandered to her back door.

Recently, she was looking out her window and noticed an unfamiliar straggly cat in her yard. “It was so skinny and timid, I thought it was a young cat,” she said. “I left out food, but noticed he wasn’t touching it.”

She knew the cat needed medical attention, but the first two places she called were no help. Then she remembered she had heard that the PetSmart store at 10 Traders Way had a stray cat program. “When I went in, they were so helpful. They sent a PALS Animal Life Saver volunteer out the very next day,” Dougherty recalled.

PALS is the only all-volunteer organization on the North Shore that rescues and rehomes local homeless, abandoned and surrendered cats and kittens. Since 2007, it has been a PetSmart Charities adoption partner, with ten adoption cages in the Salem PetSmart location.

The rescue took quite a while. The cat was an elderly cat that had been abandoned quite a while ago “because we see a fair number of cats running through the neighborhood and I had never seen him before,” said Dougherty. The volunteer worked for two to three hours to get him out from under the shed where it seemed he had gone to die. “He no teeth and I don’t know if he was mistreated, but he certainly was abandoned,” Doughtery added sadly.

The PALS volunteer, who prefers to remain anonymous, rushed the cat to the Northeast Hospital in Peabody Venter, PALS’ volunteer vet, but the cat did die. “At least his final moments were in a very nice, loving environment,” Dougherty said.

Julie Dougherty

Julie Dougherty

She was so moved by the PALS volunteer’s dedication, that Dougherty went to the PALS office and made a donation the very next day. “I also told the staff that if they ever did a fundraiser and they wanted to put some musicians together, they should give me a call,” she said.

Carol Fournier, long-time PALS volunteer and its funding coordinator, did just that and on November 4, the PALS Animal Life Savers fundraiser, “Banding Together,” will be held at Finz Seafood & Grill on Pickering Wharf from 7 to 9 p.m. Julie Dougherty will headline a concert by her friends and local favorite musicians, Woody Woodward, the Errin Brown Band, the Guy Ford Band and Dave Balin & The Bailouts. Finz will offer a limited menu and there will be a cash bar, raffle items and… dancing!

“There are only 80 seats available, so people should pre-order on line,” Fournier said, noting that they wanted to make sure there would be enough room on the dance floor for everyone. Tickets are $25 and availailble at palscats.org or by calling Fournier at 978-745-7705. If there are still tickets left, walk-in may purchase them at the door.

“This is a bonus,” said KrisTina Wheeler, who started as an FCS (feed, clean and socialize) volunteer in 2006 and is now the PALS President, Managing Director and Treasurer. “The challenge with fundraisers is that we have such a small staff that we don’t have a marketing or advertising budget, so putting these events on really takes the time of a select few people,” she said. Other than the space and cat food donated by PetSmart Charities, PALS relies on donations and adoption fees to fund its work.

According to Wheeler, PALS rescues about 280 cats a year. Of those, between 200 and 230 are adopted. Some of the rest are strays that are returned to their rightful owners and some, like the cat who wandered into Dougherty’s yard, don’t make it.

PALS started in 1995 in Peabody by the animal control officer and a local firefighter. Originally, PALS operated out of Borash Animal Clinic in Peabody and assisted both cats and dogs.

In 2003, PALS was accepted as an adoption partner at PetSmart’s then-new store in Salem. By the next year, PALS left its Peabody location and focused solely on cats in PetSmart’s Traders Way store.

“It’s a great location and good exposure for our cats,” said Fournier, who started volunteering at PALS in 2003 after retiring from the corporate world. “I always loved animals – I had them my whole life – so I was drawn to PALS,” she said.

Once a cat is rescued, it goes to the veterinarian (“91% of all of our expenses is vet care,” said Wheeler). A network of foster homes cares for cats waiting for one of the ten cages to become available in the PALS Adoption Center located in the Salem PetSmart.

Approximately 40 active volunteers work each day to clean cages, do the laundry, feed the cats and socialize with the animals. They also do community outreach, with tables at the Salem Farmers’ Market and a couple of the blessing of the Animals local events. They participate as an exhibitor, trying to build more community awareness of their program.

Volunteers include college students, professionals, mothers, retirees and local animal lovers.

“I’ve been volunteering because I grew up with cats my entire life. I really wish this was all I needed to do, that I could be a full-time volunteer, because it is extremely rewarding,” said Wheeler, noting every one of their cats ends up being adopted. [Wheeler is also Assistant to the General Manager at the Hawthorne Hotel].

PALS has grown from $45,000 in expenses in 2011 to $75,000 in expenses in 2014, with $62,000 of that going to veterinary care. Half of PALS’s income comes from adoption fees and one-fourth is from private donations. The rest comes from fundraising and grants. Wheeler said the organization is looking to set a record in 2015, with over 235 adoptions and close to 300 cats helped.

With part-time volunteers who all have other jobs and responsibilities, Wheeler said that PALS’s biggest challenge is having the manpower to do what needs to get done. “Somehow, we get through it and end up saving 280 cats a year, which is pretty good for 40 people,” she said.

For more information, visit palscats.org.

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