Story By B. Jason Frye
Photography By Suzy King

When Janie and Glenn Withers retired to Ocean Isle Beach in 2004 they did what many recent retirees do: spent six months golfing, then woke up to find there was something missing in their lives. For Janie it was her passion for animals.

Back in Winston-Salem, where she worked as an event coordinator for RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Janie devoted much of her free time to rescuing, rehabilitating and adopting out pets. Living at the beach, with a smaller yard and a house on stilts not suited for dogs rehabilitating from surgery, she missed it. She missed the barks and yips and belly scratches that filled her evenings and weekends, the satisfaction she got from finding loving homes for otherwise loveless pets.

At their Christmas party in 2006, Janie and Glenn decided to do something nice for animals. In lieu of hostess gifts, they asked that everyone bring dog or cat food for the animals housed at Southport Oak Island Animal Rescue (SOAR) and Paws Place.

Janie and three of her friends who are also animal-rescue advocates — Carolyn Jenks, Joy David and Ellen Rothenberg — began to brainstorm ideas for helping Brunswick County animal rescue groups even more. The idea of Paws-Ability was born, and in February 2007, their first event, a Mardi Gras party, was held.

“We weren’t even a nonprofit yet,” Janie says. “Honestly, we hadn’t thought that far ahead and had no idea it would grow into what it is today.”

At the Mardi Gras party, everyone was encouraged to donate money to support BARK, a nonprofit that provides cat and dog food to supplement the Meals on Wheels 4 Pets program in Brunswick County. They raised $1,200 at that first event, and that’s when Janie saw this as a viable nonprofit organization.

Paws-Ability was officially established as a 501(c)(3) on October 29, 2007, and from there it’s been off to the races raising money for Brunswick County’s animal welfare groups. Each year they’ve doubled the money raised and distributed throughout the county. In 2008 they gave out more than $11,000. In 2009 it was in excess of $21,000. In 2010 more than $50,000 went to local animal groups. In 2011 they’ve distributed nearly $40,000 and are on track to exceed 2010’s high.

“I wanted to make a difference,” says Janie. “I wanted to be part of the solution. I think so many retirees are like Glenn and me and want to be part of something. Well, [Paws-Ability] gives them a place to put their talents to use and we have plenty of people doing just that.”

With more than $120,000 donated to rescue groups, spay/neuter programs and domestic violence pet protection programs over the last four years, the organization has made its mark as a valuable addition to the nonprofit community in Brunswick County.

Paws-Ability’s fund-raising efforts have centered around two events — a golf tournament at Cape Fear National in the spring and the Wag Shag, a social event for pets and owners held in Ocean Isle Beach in the fall. But this year they’re doing something a little different.

“This year we’re leaving the Wag Shag on the shelf and trying out some new ideas,” Janie says.

The new ideas involve breaking up the one large event into several smaller events, allowing more visibility for business sponsors and more opportunity for members and the public to participate.

The first event was the Swim for the Roses play date and swim with canine friends, an event held in memory of two dogs — Chancey Rose and Queenie Roaslee — who loved to swim. Held September 28, the event carried no fee, but donations were accepted. The second event, coming up on October 29, is the Paws-Ability First Annual Bicycle Poker Run (see sidebar for details).

Paws-Ability uses the funds it raises to support qualifying animal rescue organizations in Brunswick County, including a pet protection program for victims of domestic violence.

“Last year some legislation passed that said when a woman goes back into [her] home after a domestic incident, she can gather her belongings, valuables and, now, pets,” says Janie. “Well, the sheriff’s department didn’t know what to do with the animals they’d acquired, and we’ve been helping fund their stay in shelters and giving them homes for up to two weeks with our members who act as foster pet parents.”

So far only a handful of pets have come through as part of this program, but Janie says that each mother and child who have had a pet taken into a safe home have been grateful beyond words.

One of the new programs supported by Paws-Ability is a wellness program serving the needs of Adopt an Angel. Dr. Art Daun, a retired veterinarian living in St. James, offers examinations of the rescued animals of Adopt an Angel on Mondays. He directs their care and needs to local veterinarians with a goal to get each pet healthy and happily adopted as quickly as possible.

The wellness program came together with the help of many members who painted, put down flooring, built an exam table, donated computer-designed software to manage the many animals involved, and donated equipment and supplies. With this program, Adopt an Angel will adopt out 800 or more animals this year alone.

Janie believes in what they’re doing with Paws-Ability. She believes that membership in the group is important to build a sense of community and togetherness and that pets are a common link between all of us. And she believes that while many want to help pets in need, it’s sometimes hard to go to shelters and see them first hand; it’s much easier to help a group like hers.

Paws-Ability’s board includes Janie as president, Ellen Rothenberg as vice president, Suzanne Gurski as secretary and Cindy Tarantino as treasurer. Currently, the group has 262 individual members and 35 business members, and the board values each one of them.

“Without such great support from area businesses, and without the attention from and participation of residents, we couldn’t do a quarter of what we do,” says Janie. “It’s because of them we can help so many pets in need find homes and, as a foster parent to hundreds of pets in my life, I am truly grateful.”

Paws-Ability First Annual Bicycle Poker Run

When:  Saturday, October 29 at 1 pm

Where:  Ocean Isle Inn, 37 W. First Street, Ocean Isle Beach

Cost:  $25

What:  Participants will mount bicycles or even golf carts to cruise Ocean Isle, stopping along the way to draw cards for their poker hand and sample food and drink supplied by sponsors. The ride will end back at the Ocean Isle Inn for the reveal of the poker hands, a poolside meal, prizes and a silent auction.