Janie Withers: Caring With Passion

By Leslie Moore

Janie Withers: Caring With Passion

“We are not a rescue,” began Janie Withers, President of Paws-Ability. “Our organization raises funds to improve animal welfare in Brunswick County.” Passionate about her work, Janie and her non-profit have changed the lives of not only animals, but many people during the ten years the organization has been active.

“My husband, Glenn, and I purchased a home on Ocean Isle in 1993, with the full intention of living where we could hear the ocean every day,” Janie began. And, after she retired from R.J. Reynolds, the couple did move to this beautiful sea island, settling in a home on the canal, a block from the ocean Janie loves so much. “My favorite thing about my new home is that we are made up of retirees who bring with them skills, experience and ideas that they are willing to put to work to improve this place we have come to love.”

When Janie first came to the area, she got involved with the Ocean Isle Beach Land Conservancy, the OIB Recreation Advisory Board and a number of other charities to get to know her new community a little better. The Brunswick County’s Meals on Wheels program worked with a group of citizens that provided pet food for the Meals on Wheels recipients, and Janie learned this part of the program was to be discontinued due to a lack of funds. “I asked them how much money they needed to keep the program going and they told me $600. I knew I could raise that much at a neighborhood Mardi Gras party at the home of Joy and Fred David on Ocean Isle Beach. We told people at the party about the program needs and raised $1,200!” Always an animal lover and pet owner, this was the beginning of Paws-Ability. “This is when I got the idea to separate the actual rescue concept from fundraising. For every 25 people I approached, 24 would say they could not go into the shelter, it was just too hard, but they were willing to write a check.” Janie believes that people who go into the shelters or foster animals should not have to do the hard part and worry about where the money is coming from to pay for it.

Paws-Ability has made many positive advances in animal welfare in Brunswick County and formed many partnerships. Janie believes that government and private sector, working together will accomplish more. She is very proud of their work with Hope Harbor Domestic Violence Shelter. When she was delivering supplies to the shelter, Janie saw a woman sleeping in her car and found out the woman would not give up her dog. Pets are not allowed in domestic violence shelters, so women have to either give up their pets or go back to their abuser. After talking with this woman, Janie volunteered to foster her dog until the woman could get on her feet – which she did and is now safe and living in her own home with her beloved dog. “When I took the dog back to her, this woman looked at me and said, ‘Please tell your supporters that you have helped me to change my life.’ This very comment stays with me every day.”

After Janie learned how hard it was for women with pets to leave an abusive situation, she knew Paws-Ability could help. Members began by fostering pets, but soon learned that more was needed. Local restaurant owner, Eric Hobson, gave his restaurant, Pogie’s, for two consecutive Marti Gras for Paws parties and enough money was raised to build an attached kennel to Hope Harbor Domestic Violence Shelter. This kennel allows women to keep their pets with them, and they are responsible for feeding, walking and caring for their pets. Paws-Ability provides for any medical needs, supplies, food and cleaning products to keep the kennel safe and clean. They also provide spay or neuter surgeries for the pet while at the domestic violence shelter. “This is a good example of how animal welfare affects humans,” said Janie. “The staff at Hope Harbor is now able to focus on changing women’s lives and the lives of their children, rather than worrying about what to do with their pets.”

Paws-Ability began working with changes at the Brunswick County Animal Shelter when management of the shelter was moved to Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram. Nearly all of animals who entered this facility were killed in a gas chamber, with less than 2% adopted. Today, this shelter is a well run facility– in two years, adoptions at the shelter jumped to nearly 70%, and over 300 volunteers regularly work to make the shelter a healthy place that will save as many homeless animals as possible. Paws-Ability worked with local rescue groups, the county and Sheriff Ingram to change this sad facility, with little community interaction, to a well run animal shelter focused on the welfare of homeless animals. Paws-Ability also pays for flea control for every dog and cat that enters the shelter, making life much more comfortable for the animals as well as the employees, volunteers, potential adopters and rescue groups who take animals from the shelter to foster homes. The walls are cheerfully painted by local artists and floors are sealed to control spread of disease. At night, soft music sooths frightened animals and reduces barking.  “Improving adoption rates actually saves the county money,” Janie told me. “It costs taxpayers $140 to euthanize one animal, so every animal placed in a loving home means taxpayer’s money can be diverted to other, needed services that improve our county.”

Reducing the number of homeless animals is a number one priority for anyone concerned with animal welfare, and funding spay/neuter programs are a big part of Paws-Ability’s mission. “Spay and neuter is expensive, but a single, unaltered cat and her offspring can easily produce over 10,000 cats in two years. There are not enough homes for 10,000 cats, so they must be destroyed. Humanity aside, the cost to destroy the unwanted cats is nearly two million dollars!” Local rescue group, Adopt an Angel, worked to build Fix a Friend, a low cost spay/neuter clinic in 2014 with Paws-Ability as a major contributor.  Paws-Ability has received over $96,000 in grant money for spay/neuter surgeries at Fix a Friend to reduce the number of unwanted animals in Brunswick County. Since opening, Fix a Friend has spayed or neutered over 15,000 animals. “We found that most pet owners wanted to do the responsible thing, but had not been able to afford it. Now they can!”

The list of Paws-Ability’s accomplishments is long and impressive.  The non-profit sponsors a pet education program that is offered to all 4th grade students in Brunswick County. We teach children why it is important to be a responsible pet owner and about compassion for animals. “Children naturally love animals. They must be taught NOT to love them – we try to reach them before they are taught anything but kindness and responsibility.”

“I am not Paws-Ability, I am a traffic director,” Janie said as we were finishing up. “We are run by a board of directors and have 550 family members and over 130 business members.” The group has also been named non-profit of the year by Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce and was honored to receive the Community Impact Award for a $45,000 grant the organization received to spay/neuter feral cats in Brunswick County. Their biggest fundraiser is the annual, family friendly, Bicycle Poker Run, held this year on Saturday, October 8th. Participants leisurely bike or ride a golf cart, walk or even run to ten locations around the island, returning to the after party at 4 pm for live music, food, prizes, a silent auction and fun. “This event has grown to 400 participants and funds raised are used for critical programs that change the lives of our people and animals.”

This dynamic woman spends very little time on leisure, preferring to devote herself to Paws-Ability – fortunately for the people and animals of Brunswick County who have benefited from her work. “I have a passion for changing animal welfare – I believe everyone needs to care about something enough to have a passion about it – I care about animal welfare. We have to do something that matters and this will matter when I’m gone.”

To learn more about Paws-Ability and their upcoming fundraisers,visit their website, www.paws-ability.org. Donations may be madeon the website or by mailing a check to PO Box 6174,Ocean Isle Beach, NC  28469.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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