Furry heroes shed new light on people/pet bond

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Frequently, therapy animals imbue unexpected benefits on the humans around them, although helping donors recover from “auction fatigue” isn’t always at the top of the list.

“We wanted to do something to change it up this year,” said Ona Karasa, board president of PAWS of Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap. “And we wanted it to reflect the organization's mission of strengthening the bond between people and their pets.”

Enter the PAWS Spotlight on Community Hero Pets Awards.

“We realized that every once in a while our staff and volunteers are renewed by reading a newspaper story about somebody's pet who did something amazing,” PAWS Executive Director Mark Hufford said. “So one thing led to another and we turned it into a red carpet ceremony to honor these heroic pets from anywhere in Western Washington.”

The call went out for nominees in six categories and over the last few months the entries have arrived, often sent in by someone other than the animal’s owner or handler.

“The selection committee had quite a task, and more than a few joyful tears were shed as volunteers read one touching tale after another,” Hufford said.

The Spotlight on PAWS fundraising event is Saturday at Wing Point Country Club on Bainbridge Island. Limited tickets are still available at

Among the nominees:- Kelsy, from Seahurst, is a 6-year-old lab mix who’s assisted on more than 90 searches for lost companion animals. She and owner Jim Branson are part of the Missing Pet Partnership group in Federal Way.

Their nomination referenced their successful search for a 10-pound terrier lost in frigid weather near Woodinville. The little dog was missing for more than a week, and Kelsy fell into a pond and ended up with icy fur during her seven-hour search. Though Branson was ready to give up, Kelsy persisted and eventually scent-tracked the terrier to a spot under some limbs behind a storage facility. The terrified and shivering dog was rescued and tearfully reunited with his owners.

- Bullet, from Bremerton, is trained to “sit” on command, which is unusual for a cat. Owner Doug Wood was amazed to discover Bullet’s most useful skill — the ability to detect blood sugar problems in diabetics.

Bullet nips at their left arm if blood sugar is high and nips at their right arm if blood sugar is low. He also knows how to open door handles. Everyone in his apartment building loves Bullet and relishes his therapeutic visits.

- Although just four months old, Cargo, a Newfoundland pup literally saved her owners’ lives in Auburn.

Ingrid Lyden raises Newfoundlands and was awakened at night by persistent barking. She realized it was Cargo, though all the other dogs in her kennels snoozed soundly. Walking down the hall, Lyden looked out the window to discover flames shooting from the family’s motorhome, and wind driving the fire toward her adjacent house and 40-gallon propane tank.

Cargo’s warning was early enough to extinguish the flames, although the motorhome burned to the ground.

- Magnum, from Hansville, somehow touches even people who don’t ordinarily like dogs, owner Pam Selz said.

The 135-pound Great Dane literally crawled into bed with a nauseous cancer patient who was missing her own dogs, and was hugged and hugged and hugged by a grieving student after a school shooting in Huntsville, Ala.

Clumsy or awkward patting by patients with cerebral palsy doesn’t bother Magnum, and he always gives them a little nose bump at the end to let them know he’s always a friend.

Kelsy, Bullet, Cargo, and Magnum have two things in common: “Their stories of heroism are truly heartwarming, and certainly exceeded our expectations,” Hufford said. But they were not selected as winners.

“The winners won’t be announced until our dinner/auction,” Hufford said.

Karasa added, “Not only will the six winning animals be announced, but all will be present to greet guests, pad their way up the red carpet, and receive their well-deserved accolades.”

Attendees also will vote for “People’s Choice.”


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