Community Champion

Those who care, and the need to share: COMMUNITY CHAMPION COLUMN

Paula Terry-Lancaster, Special to the Examiner

Jill Pangborne is a bit of a human dynamo. To enter her charming home in a downtown Barrie neighbourhood is to be greeted by a commotion of paws and at least a couple of wagging tails. Before you’ve hung your hat, it’s clear that this is an animal-friendly place, and that’s before you’ve met either of the cats who came for a week and have stayed for years.

Jill is a veteran volunteer, one of those community champions who give much, take little, and love what they do to pieces. She adores folk music, is on the Board of the Barrie Folk Society, and drives to Nova Scotia every year for the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, an annual event that sees the population of the little fishing village of Canso swell from 600 to more than 8,000 souls.

But, even more than her beloved music, she adores animals – especially ones that have been neglected, abused or ignored. She’s been providing foster care to animals, mainly cats, from the OSPCA shelter on Patterson Road for almost 10 years, and literally hundreds of felines have passed through her tidy bright home on their way to permanent adoption.

She’s the current Chair of the shelter’s community council advisory group, which spearheads the organization’s fundraising efforts and its general advocacy within the city of Barrie. This year, the major fundraiser is the annual walkathon at Heritage Park on Sunday May 15, to which everyone’s welcome – whether accompanied by an animal or not. The shelter also has its annual Gala, The Fur Ball, in November. “Those two events provide the lifeblood that funds all our activities,” says Jill.

Jill moved to Barrie from Vancouver in 1981. She works full-time with an agency that provides support services for public libraries in Ontario, and that helps them share resources via the inter-library loan system. She loves the city, and thinks it’s a vibrant and creative place, both culturally and from the standpoint of community involvement.

“One of the great misunderstandings about animal rescue and shelter organizations is that people think we’re government funded,” says Jill. “We’re not. Our mission is completely donation-driven. The government funds training for investigations officers, but that’s it. Volunteer efforts are absolutely critical to our survival.”

Jill’s strength lies in her large network of voluntary animal ‘foster parents’. “We have a constant need for people who might not be able to have an animal permanently, for a host of reasons, but are prepared to take an animal that will later transition to final adoption,” says Jill. “Sadly, only two per cent of cats that arrive at our facility are ever reclaimed by their owners.”

“Space is a huge issue at our shelter. It’s the same facility that we had when the city’s population was 30,000 30 years ago. Now we’re closer to 130,000 and the bylaws mean we simply can’t accommodate the number of animals that come to us in our physical space without overcrowding. Having a roster of volunteers who are willing to foster animals, often at very short notice, is critical to our efforts.”

The shelter also needs volunteers on site, whether as official ‘cat cuddlers’, dog walkers or simply to help with the massive amounts of laundry an animal shelter generates. All training will be given, and the shelter doesn’t require volunteers in these roles to have had any previous experience with animals.

What makes volunteering such a passion for men and women like Jill Pangborne?

“Well, the old adage, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person,’ is absolutely true,” says Jill. “Having compulsive control issues is a pretty helpful characteristic within the volunteer sector, as well as being driven to bring about change for the better. Many people who don’t have enough money to donate may be in a position where they’re able to find an hour or two a month to volunteer their time instead, and others will have a particular skill they can bring to an organization on a voluntary basis.”

“The payback for me is what I call the ‘feel-good joy pain,’ that feeling in your heart that you get when you know you’ve made a difference. I would urge people not to wait until they retire to volunteer in an area they love. You’ll have a real focus later in life if you just make a commitment to an hour or two a month to start, and start right away.”

Jill’s friend of 40 years, Debra Scott, describes Jill as “the best friend animals here in Barrie could possibly have. She has a room in her basement which has been home to animals in transition for ten years. She comforts the lonely or mistreated, and transforms their lives. She frets terribly about their welfare.”

Similarly, comforting the lonely or mistreated, and transforming their lives, is what the David Busby Street Centre does – for the most vulnerable humans. “The David Busby Street Centre has the same motivation I do,” says Jill. “It’s all about compassion. Just as I know that I can improve a vulnerable animal’s life, give it a sense of hope and transform its outlook, so the centre helps transform the lives of its participants. It’s the same compassion, just in a different setting.”

Donna Douglas, herself the unofficial matriarch of community champions within Simcoe County, describes Jill as “a woman who quietly goes about her kindness . no bells and whistles. She’s there to support the animal shelter in its special events and its daily need. She cares deeply for animals. But she cares deeply for human beings, too. She’s just one of those critical people in a community, the underpinning of what makes it great.”

Both the OSPCA shelter and the David Busby Street Centre continue to be in need of volunteers. The animal shelter can be reached at 705-728-7311, or at www.barrie.ontariospca.ca . The David Busby Street Centre is at 705-739-6916, or at www.busbycentre.ca

Paula Terry-Lancaster is the owner of Write First Time and a former Board Director of the David Busby Street Centre.