Little Lulu’s health was threatened not once, but twice, by severe mouth issues. Her person, Reverend Joy Daley, working just off-and-on, couldn’t afford care for the beloved basenji/mini-schnauzer mix. But Joy also couldn’t imagine letting her companion suffer without treatment she needed. These are the type of clients the Anacortes Animal Relief Fund (AARF) loves to help.

Anacortes Animal Relief Fund Lulu-and-Rosy
Lulu, in the foreground with her sister Rosy, received care from the Anacortes Animal Hospital. Photo credit: Joy Daley

Lulu and Joy were fortunate that AARF was able to cover the dog’s care with Dr. Anderson at Anacortes Animal Hospital. The first time was three summers ago, when Lulu’s terrible breath drew Joy’s attention to the fact that the dog had an abscess. The second time was just this year when Joy and Lulu were in an accident that totaled Joy’s car and threw Lulu face first against a hard surface. “Her teeth were every which way and loose!” Joy recalls.

“AARF has been very generous with me,” Joy says. “They don’t make you feel like a charity case; they treat you like a friend.” Although she still faces lean times on occasion these days, she does have legal action pending related to the car accident. If she receives compensation, “I know right where I’m taking it,” Joy declares. Nothing would please her more than enabling AARF to help the next person with a pet in trouble.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Like many social service organizations, AARF faces challenging times due to the pandemic.

As people adjusted their days and learned to co-exist with the virus, pets became even more central to the well-being of many. But humans did not necessarily become better able to cover the cost of having pets at home. In fact, “COVID-19 caused a spike in demand for us,” comments Sue Lienesch, AARF’s treasurer and main contact person. “people don’t always think about what a financial responsibility a pet can be over time.”

The pandemic has impacted the group’s ability to bring in money too. “Revenue has fluctuated wildly,” Sue says. Events AARF relies on to raise funds have been on hold until just recently. A couple months ago, AARF’s event manager Kathryn Haapanen was finally able to host a garage sale and earn nearly $1,000 for the nonprofit.

A Triple Threat

Anacortes Animal Relief Fund Barbara-and-Foster-Kittens
Barbara Lienesch, the former “heart and soul” of AARF, with a pair of foster kittens. Photo credit: Sue Lienesch

As if those challenges weren’t enough, Sue explains that membership is a fundamental issue. AARF’s longevity—35 years of helping people and animals—means that key founding members are aging out. Barbara Lienesch, Sue’s mom and the “heart and soul” of the group, passed away about a year ago. At age 59, Sue is now the youngest volunteer by several years.

Barbara’s passing was a big blow to AARF. She worked tirelessly to connect pet owners with resources, fielding almost every incoming phone call. She fostered hundreds of cats and kittens in need, finding loving homes for all. At one point she was bottle feeding 13 kittens in her home in addition to her AARF duties! With Barbara gone, the overriding need AARF has is for more active members. They count their core volunteers on one hand these days.

Looking Ahead

For many, including clients, local vets and others, it’s difficult to imagine the future of greater Anacortes without AARF ready to help low income pet owners. But the organization has been hanging on by the canines in the face of its challenges.

The team held a meeting last year to discuss whether to disband or try to continue. Anacortes’s Community Service Officer Zabrina Nybo, who provides animal control services for the police department, “was inspirational in encouraging us to keep going,” Sue remembers.

When Barbara Lienesch fostered kittens in her Anacortes home, somehow they knew where the “goodies” were kept. Photo credit: Sue Lienesch

To Officer Nybo, the picture is simple. “I need AARF,” she says. She describes how having the organization as a resource “helps me do my job every day.” She believes most pet owners “want to do the right thing, they just need a little help sometimes.”

The team at Fidalgo Animal Medical Center relies on AARF too. “We work with them a lot,” says Katie Demme, a Fidalgo staff memeber. She refers clients who are worried about being able to cover a vet bill to Sue. The veterinary office donates as well—about $5 in honor of each animal euthanized at the practice.

Pet Place Market is also a big supporter of AARF’s work. They assist the organization with food drives and raffle items. Officer Nybo and the Anacortes Police Department help AARF with food-related needs as well, thus the nonprofit is able to donate pet food to the Salvation Army often for distribution to their clients.

AARF in Brief

AARF assists low-income residents of Anacortes, nearby islands and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in keeping pets healthy. They can often help cover part of the bill for surgery and other lifesaving treatment, spay/neuter services, immunizations, dental work, flea treatment and more. They evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis, and though there are parameters to observe they also try to stay as flexible as possible.

The members of AARF hope that local residents will consider donating time and funds so they can keep going. The best way to find out more is to visit the group’s Facebook page.

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