Kudos were raining cats and dogs last week as one of the West Coast’s most prominent companion animal advocates received a Volunteer Recognition Award from the District of Tofino.
The award was presented to Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network co-founder James Rodgers on Friday as the district polished off its National Volunteer Week festivities.
“I was certainly surprised,” Rodgers told the Westerly News after receiving the prestigious distinction. “It was a shock and it was emotional…It’s nice to get that pat on the back. It’s not why we do this kind of stuff but, when it happens, it’s really quite warming and I’m feeling very supported right now.”
Rodgers added that he feels proud to live in a town that makes such an effort to “shine a spotlight on different people in the community” and commended Tofino’s local government for driving the Volunteer Recognition Awards.
The district launched the awards in 2013 and dishes out a handful each year through a nomination process and selection committee.
“There’s so many people doing so much in our communities that they want to recognize and celebrate,” Rodgers said. “I love that it’s part of our culture here and that our local government celebrates it. It’s really a wonderful place to live and there’s a lot of amazing people here that support each other in so many different ways. I couldn’t be happier.”
Rodgers co-founded the Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network in 2012 and explained it all began because of one local dog and the compassionate people who cared about it.
“A bunch of neighbours were independently looking out for a dog that didn’t necessarily have a great day-to-day existence and those neighbours started bumping into each other and started talking about this dog that they had in common and things that they were doing and, from there, we started to organize and think what more we could do as neighbours for our neighbours, whether they have two legs or four, and that was really the beginning of it,” he said. “Without that dog, we wouldn’t have all found each other and started CARE.”
He declined to divulge the identity of the dog that launched the network, explaining CARE keeps the animals it works with anonymous.
“The reason we don’t share those details is because we are all neighbours and we are doing the best we can and we want to be respectful of each other,” he said.
He said he has watched with “awe” as the society has grown exponentially over the past decade, including the recent successful opening of the West Coast’s first animal shelter.
“In under a year, thanks to volunteer power, we’ve got phase-one up and running and we’re housing dogs now. We’ve got lots more work to do, but we have a 100 per cent solar-powered animal shelter on the Coast for the first time and that would not have been possible without thousands of hours of volunteerism and also the support of donors, small businesses, individuals, you name it. It’s just been incredible,” he said. “And, while all that was going on, the usual day-to-day helping of animals didn’t stop. It’s pretty amazing that, in addition to the 500-plus animals that we work with, those volunteers also managed to get an animal shelter established.”
He added the support CARE has received from the West Coast’s communities has been paramount to its success serving the region’s companion animals.
“That community support is everything. CARE wouldn’t be able to do what CARE does without that,” he said. “The wonderful thing about a network is we are a community. It’s not a separate group doing something for the community, it is the community doing these things for itself within the community.”
He suggested volunteerism is tied to empathy and innovation, both of which Tofino is fortunate to have in abundance.
“One of the pieces that I think to some extent sets our community aside when it comes to volunteerism is, aside from the fact that it is a celebrated part of our culture here, I think there’s a real unique innovative angle to the volunteerism here,” he said.
“Certainly for CARE, we consider what we’ve done over the years innovating animal advocacy and animal care. It’s one of those things, there was a social need and a group of people stepped up and filled that need and have been working to develop different ways to meet those needs. That’s not something that is necessarily for government to do…There are things in our society that really require, I think, volunteerism and getting up and doing something, coming up with a solution, figuring it out, keeping it going and making it sustainable.”
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Anyone interested in getting involved is encouraged to reach out to CARE through the network’s Coastal Animal Rescue Facebook page, www.carenetwork.ca or by calling 250-266-WOOF.
“I’m always amazed at what a small and growing community of people can do to change and save lives. From those early days to now, watching how many people have contributed in so many way, one of the really fun takeaways for me has been seeing that, no matter what your skills, interests or abilities are, there are ways you can help others,” Rodgers said. “Really, whatever your interest or special skill is, I’m sure we can find a way to utilize it to help animals.”
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