The Coast News Group
Mike Kuyper with his Hurricane Harvey rescue, Maverick, who served as one of the three honorary grand marshals at Helen Woodward’s ninth annual Puppy Love 5K. Courtesy photo
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Helen Woodward’s annual Puppy Love 5K raises funds and awareness


RANCHO SANTA FE — More than 400 pet parents and their dogs gathered at the Embarcadero for Helen Woodward Animal Center’s ninth annual Puppy Love 5K on March 18. Attendees moved their paws, walking or running, for the cause and raised $72,000.

Jessica Gercke, director of communications for Helen Woodward Animal Center, said 100 percent of the proceeds go to its pets and programs.

“We have 13 unique programs all dedicated towards the mission of people helping animals and animals helping people,” she said.

This year there were three canine honorary grand marshals: Maverick, Murphy and Shadow.

The animals were the Hurricane Harvey dogs that were flown to Southern California by Southwest Airlines last September when the hurricanes hit. A total of 64 orphaned pets, including cats and dogs, were rescued and transferred to Helen Woodward. All of them have since been adopted.

“They had been orphaned pets in shelters that ended up under water, and now they have forever families, and their families brought them out to the run,” Gercke said. “They started the race. The families gave the ‘On your mark, get set and go’ countdown to everybody.”

Gercke said there is a need to bring more of these pets from Houston.

“So much of tragedy when it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind,” she said. “And once it was off the media, people feel like, ‘Oh, OK, Houston must be rebuilt.’”

Gercke said that’s far from the case. It takes a long time to repair and rebuild hurricane-affected shelters and foster homes so that they are operational again.

According to Gercke, the orphaned pet problem is getting worse due to different spay and neuter laws.

“We’ve been in touch with Operation Pets Alive, which is the organization that we worked with during with Hurricane Harvey,” she said, adding the organization has asked Helen Woodward to take these orphaned pets.

Helen Woodward stepped up to help. About a month and a half ago, Cloud 9 Rescue Flight transported 38 orphaned puppies from the Houston area to the center. On March 30, 52 more puppies headed to Southern California on a road trip.

“They were driven across the county by volunteers and the fosters with Operation Pets Alive to bring them to us,” Gercke said.

Gercke said while it was great to see Maverick, Murphy and Shadow, it also served as a really clear reflection on the work that Helen Woodward does.

“These dogs could have had a really tragic end when the shelters were unusable, and instead they’re out here now running a 5K with their families,” she said. “It’s really a beautiful, happy ending story.”

Gercke said it is great that pet parents who adopt from Helen Woodward take part in its fundraising events like the Puppy Love 5K. People receive so much affection from their animals, they are paying it forward by wanting to help other orphaned pets, she added.

Gercke said part of the money raised at the 5K will go directly toward these orphaned puppies coming from Houston. And the need to help pets continues there.

“The (animal) organizations out in Houston right now literally have no space,” she said. “They are getting as many of the puppies out as they can because they know that we have foster families here, and we have much more space to keep them while they’re getting ready to be adopted.” She said eight out of the 52 puppies have already been spoken for.

Gercke said that Helen Woodward is always in need of fosters. For more information, visit