Going to the dogs (and cats)

Local student Bryce Velasco aids shelter animals through fundraising drive

Sarah Richardson and Bryce Velasco with adopted terrier mix Jasmine, the inspiration for a Chico event that raises funds for the medical needs of animals at the city shelter.

Sarah Richardson and Bryce Velasco with adopted terrier mix Jasmine, the inspiration for a Chico event that raises funds for the medical needs of animals at the city shelter.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Event info:

Walk Woof Wag will be held Sept. 10, 7:30-10:30 a.m., at Sycamore Field in Bidwell Park. Visit walkwoofwag.com to register, donate or get more details.

When the Velasco family visited the Chico Animal Shelter three years ago, at the tail end of a pet adoption drive, a Manchester terrier mix caught the attention of 13-year-old Bryce. Unlike the other dogs, boisterously clamoring for attention, this little girl sat quietly.

Bryce saw a strong resemblance to the dog his cousin’s family had recently adopted. He’d just spent a week with them in Fort Bragg, and his desire for a comparable canine—to join his family’s other dog, Rex, at home—led the Velascos to the shelter.

Once Bryce and the dog locked eyes, their bond began. Parents Steve and Seana felt the love, too.

“We instantly saw she could be the one for us,” Bryce recalled.

The Velasco family had a new pet, whom they named Jasmine. She’s not so quiet these days, making her presence known to anyone who steps foot on the doorstep of the Velasco residence in California Park.

That might have been the happy ending of Jasmine’s story, if not for the charity she inspired.

Bryce channeled his appreciation into a class project and founded Walk Woof Wag. Run through the North Valley Community Foundation, Walk Woof Wag holds an annual event that raises money for the city shelter’s medical fund.

The inaugural “fun walk” in 2014 drew 90 participants and raised $1,800, all donated to the fund. Last year’s drew 120 and yielded a $4,000 donation. The third event will be Sept. 10 (see information box), and already it has generated $3,000 through sponsorships. The 2016 goal: $12,000.

Tracy Mohr, Chico’s animal services manager, told the CN&R that this funding is vital because city funds do not cover medical expenses for shelter dogs and cats. Since the city took over full operations of the Fair Street facility in February 2012, donations have paid the veterinary bills for spaying, neutering and treating illness or injury.

Having a steady source “takes some of the burden off staff,” Mohr said by phone, “and it gives us the fund that we need to provide care for those animals who really, really need it when they come in. … It’s great for us to be able to do for animals what a lot of shelters can’t do, especially municipal shelters.”

Bryce, now 16, was an eighth-graderat Marsh Junior High when he envisioned Walk Woof Wag. His leadership class required a community service project; after rejecting a series of what he calls “weaker ideas,” he latched onto the concept of a charitable dog walk.

He approached his mother for help in fleshing out the details. Seana suggested contacting Sarah Richardson, who’d been working with them to train Jasmine.

Richardson owns and operates the Canine Connection in south Chico. Turns out, she’d long wanted to organize an event through her business. The Velascos’ arrival proved serendipitous, and she agreed to help shepherd the venture.

Bryce, sitting with Richardson at his house during a recent interview, said the local dog trainer did most of the detail work—“I honestly didn’t have much of a plan to go off of.”

Richardson disagreed. She said when she asked him what he had in mind, he mentioned “music, a lot of smiling faces, activities in the walk and spinning off there to the possibility of helping other dogs. We kind of went from there.”

The shelter’s need for medical funding crystallized the precise beneficiary.

Each year, Walk Woof Wag showcases a dog adopted out of the shelter by incorporating the pet into the logo. Jasmine, naturally, was No. 1. Both No. 2 (Parker, a German shepherd) and No. 3 (C.J., a boxer) received care from the medical fund before finding homes.

C.J. came into the shelter as a puppy. He was lethargic, “in pretty bad shape,” Mohr said. The vet who examined him found broken ribs and pneumonia.

“It took him a while to recover,” she continued, “but because of that fund, we didn’t have to worry if we were even going to be able to have him seen or treated. That fund made that possible.”

Walk Woof Wag proceeds comprise the bulk of that fund.

“It’s pretty darn awesome that Bryce had this idea,” Richardson said, “and had it in his heart to want to do something for the organization that brought his dog to him.”