Halloween looms and the supporters of the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society are ready to do the bash – the Bow Wow Bash.
And, in its eighth year, the event has proven to be quite the smash.
“The whole community has gotten behind this event,” said Sandi Christy, president of the board of directors for the SJBHS. “It has become a giant masquerade ball.
“We have more sponsors this year than ever before. Attendance has grown every year. It’s the adult Halloween. It’s about raising money and goodwill.”
The event began of humble beginnings.
Part of a day-long celebration of pets and their owners, the Bow Wow Bash was the formal evening partner to Paws in the Park, an informal gathering of dogs, cats and the people that love them.
As Paws in the Park was phased out, the Bow Wow Bash assumed a larger profile, transforming into a Halloween ball – costumes optional but encouraged.
The first year, Christy said, they hoped to raise $20,000 toward an annual budget that eclipses $200,000.
The proceeds of the Bash, 100 percent of which go to the Humane Society each year, came in above expectations, providing fuel for the future.
“Bolstered by the success of the first year we thought we could do this every year,” Christy said. “The Humane Society would not be what it is without those 265 people who attended last year and those who attended every year.”
As the Humane Society expanded its programs in the community – bringing dogs and cats to the nursing home, the DAWGS in Prison program – the community embraced the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
“They have been such a great partner in (our community) for the quality of life programs we have here, the only way to give back is to support their big event,” said Ron Reid, director of the Bridge at St. Joe nursing home.
“And it is also another opportunity for myself and my team who go to break the stereotype of a nursing home employee, to dress up in costumes and have fun. It’s a fantastic event and we can go out and be part of the community and have a ball.”
Community is also the engine that drives the Humane Society, a largely volunteer organization, 365 days a year.
The Humane Society’s facility on 10th Street is a mecca for volunteers of all ages and backgrounds that help clean cages, do laundry, feed, walk and socialize with animals, make runs to the vet, animal transports, provide foster homes and animal adoption support.
“We are so blessed at the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society for all the wonderful volunteers,” Christy said.
One couple who live in Gulf County part-time spend much of their time here helping out with projects of all kinds around the facility.
“The volunteers they have do an amazing job,” said Andy Smith, whose family company, Hannon Insurance, has been a sponsor of the Bow Wow Bash from the outset. “The work they do makes it worthwhile to support them. The facility, which is great for anyone who hasn’t been out there, the board, they work hard and do a great job.
“The event is a real blast.”
As the blast has grown into a smash a network of locals providing essential support has expanded.
Wylie Petty and his staff from the El Governor Motel “transform” the Centennial Building each year, decorating the building and donating every bit of sweat, time and dollars.
Silent and live auctions offer an array of treats, all donated.
“The donations and people hearing about it have allowed the event to grow so much,” Christy said. “We have so much wonderful stuff. It is a challenge just setting it all up.”
As in previous years, Jill and Mike Davis are donating a Murder Mystery Dinner for 10 at their house, this year’s theme, “Murder in Oz” based on the presumption that the house falling on the Wicked Witch was no accident.
Mary Conroy, the chef behind Gourmet Now, will serve dinner for 10 with wine and liquor provided by Les and Andrea Heard.
Three- and four-night vacations to high-end resorts in Aruba, Curacao and San Juan, Puerto Rico will be on the block.
Jan Sapte has created a lighthouse-themed quilt and Bobby Pollack donated a hand-turned pear wood bowl among the many handcrafted items by local artisans, including local artists Elaine Lerch and Leslie Wentzell.
There will also be jewelry, spa days and paintings among over 200 items that will be auctioned that night.
“It is a great network that has grown,” Christy said. “We do solicit items but now I have people who call me. A lot of these people have adopted animals or been to the shelter and they have seen we have a clean, well-managed facility.
“In their own way they want to give back and help. We have a lot of work to do but we are all proud of where we’ve come to.”
In a county where there is a single animal control officer, the Humane Society houses, on average, over 50 dogs and 25-30 cats each day.
“They never stop coming,” Christy said.
The Humane Society’s budget is quickly eaten up with a mortgage, utilities and the cost of upkeep.
A food program is supported through grants and another grants subsidizes spay and neuter programs in the 32456 zip code, the facility receives donations and recoup adoption fees, but as Christy said, “The costs add up.”
And given the constrained state of government budgets, the cities of Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka and the Board of County Commissioners combine to subsidize about one-quarter of the annual budget.
“The Bow Wow Bash supplies a significant portion of our budget,” Christy said.