Nora Jones has a cat and a dog.
The cat, Marmalade, they took in as a stray. Marmalade is pretty independent and lives life on her own terms, though she’s certainly not above being petted. The dog, Deacon, is textbook yellow Lab. He loves food, friends, food, walks and food.
When he first came home with her eight years ago, though, Deacon was a bit of a maniac.
“He was not trained at all,” Jones recalls. “I was so incredibly thankful for my years volunteering with SPCA because it helped me so much to train him.” Today, she describes Deacon as an amazing companion – and she continues to support the SPCA of Wake County, where she adopted him and where she still volunteers.
The group’s abbreviation may be similar to that of the New York-headquartered ASPCA – that’s the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – but the SPCA of Wake County is a distinct nonprofit and receives no funding from the larger organization (it is also not to be confused with the Wake County Animal Center, a government-run animal shelter). The SPCA is a donation-driven animal shelter and adoption center, and April 2 sees one of its biggest annual fundraisers. This year, in fact, the K9-3K Dog Walk and Woofstock event grows even bigger, moving from downtown Raleigh’s Moore Square to Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre. Its goal: to raise $250,000.
That’ll be enough to get the SPCA through the summer, marketing manager Darci VanderSlik says with the same chipper pragmatism one encounters in animal welfare circles. That’ll be enough to keep the lights on, the water running, and the dogs and cats – and sometimes even bunnies – healthy and ready for adoption.
“Without the support of the dog walk, we won’t be able to do that,” she says. “We do take on a lot of special cases, because we do have the community support to back us up.”
The SPCA doesn’t just serve Wake County. It draws from shelters in 15 counties, including Ashe, Scotland and Johnston, VanderSlik says, listing a few off the top of her head. Dogs and cats are transported from these shelters to the SPCA adoption facility off Tryon Road in south Raleigh. This pipeline, VanderSlik explains, means an adoption in Raleigh can free up two cages: one in Raleigh and, in many cases, one several counties away.
“When you adopt a pet from the SPCA, you are not only saving the life of the pet that you take home, but of the pet that gets that empty kennel,” she explains. “You’re saving two lives, pretty much.”
It’s a good feeling, too, to come in on Monday and see empty cages; that means it’s time to bring in new animals, VanderSlik says. Sometimes these cats and dogs have been seized in hoarding cases and are in rough shape. True to its no-euthanasia stance, the SPCA gets these animals medical care and finds them homes. VanderSlik remembers Puffin, a 6-month-old kitten whose eyes were so inflamed and infected that they had to be removed. A partner veterinarian did the surgery, and soon Puffin was adopted out.
“To watch some of these animals come in that are afraid, that have obviously been neglected; to see the staff work with them and the volunteers work with them and to really see them come out of their shell – there is nothing more exciting to me to watch,” says volunteer Jones.
Unlike traditional kennels, the dogs at the SPCA have spacious bedrooms and cats live in large, sunlit rooms. Volunteers play with them, and pet behavior specialist Molly Stone works to close any socialization gaps.
K9-3K’s move to Cary
From day-to-day shelter operations to high-profile fundraisers, it’s a tightly run ship.
“It’s awesome that we get to work with people that know what they want and what they need,” says Liz McDonald, Koka Booth’s general manager. She has a cat. Between the SPCA’s 17-year and multi-location experience organizing the K9-3K and her staff’s working understanding of the venue and its capabilities, she’s excited for K9-3K’s first year in Cary.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest charity walks that we have,” she says. Other large events, such as Diwali and the July 4 celebrations, can draw 20,000 people, while Koka Booth’s concert venue holds 7,000. Simply put, K9-3K had outgrown its Moore Square home and needed a venue that could handle many thousands of attendees.
As huge as K9-3K has gotten, it remains special and personal to those involved. The shirts from previous events become collectors’ items, VanderSlik says, and she sees people wearing them around town. The Triangle is an animal-centric area, as she describes it, which helps keep the SPCA afloat.
“I wish I knew the year of my first K9-3K,” Jones says. “It’s been so long.” But she clearly remembers her orientation with SPCA, some 14 years ago: She knew immediately that she wanted to be involved. As a volunteer, the K9-3K has another aspect for her – she’s able to see her fellow volunteers (and their little dogs, too!) in a more social setting. Deacon’s friends are there, too, she points out – and there are vendors offering him treat after treat.
Jones wistfully says she used to be much more active with the SPCA. These days, she says without a hint of irony, she’s down to only one day a week.
“I volunteer every single Saturday,” Jones says.
SPCA K9-3K Dog Walk and Woofstock
The annual family-friendly event draws more than 4,000 people and 1,000 dogs each year. This year they’ll have more than 60 vendors, live music, dog pools, dog demonstrations, dog adoptions, dog contests, food and beverages and activities for kids.
When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 2
Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary
Cost: For walk, $25-40. If not registered for walk, admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids.