If Whidbey Island’s cats and dogs could talk, they would probably say this longtime animal advocate and caretaker has had a paws-itive impact on their lives.
Shari Bibich, manager of the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation shelter in Coupeville, is retiring after a career nearly as long as the nonprofit is old. Her last day will be Aug. 18, and Donna Dunn will fill in as interim shelter manager.
Bibich started working for WAIF in 1995 after serving there as a volunteer. As one of the nonprofit’s first employees, she came into the management position relatively early in her career. The job was both demanding and rewarding, Bibich said, and her love for animals motivated her through it all.
“It’s just nice to have a job that you’re passionate about,” she said.
The role has been multifaceted. As manager, Bibich served as a liaison between shelter staff and local veterinarians, cared for animals, administered public outreach programs and worked with island police officers and animal control, to name just a few of the many hats she wore. During her 27 years with WAIF, she estimated she has helped thousands of animals in need.
Former Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes said Bibich was an unwavering advocate and a voice for the animals under her care. Barnes worked closely with Bibich for many years and said Bibich worked night and day, often coming in early or staying late at the shelter when there was an animal in need.
“She’s been loyal to WAIF and dedicated to the wellbeing of the animals,” Barnes said.
Animals weren’t the only ones blessed by the shelter and Bibich’s long tenure there. Bibich remembered one recent incident in which a man had to surrender his recently rescued German shepherd, Gus, to the shelter after being diagnosed with stage four cancer. The man was devastated but could not care for the dog while undergoing treatment.
Meanwhile, another family had unexpectedly lost their own beloved German shepherd. Though grieving, the daughter in the family felt inexplicably drawn to WAIF and saw a photo of Gus online. He looked just like the girl’s family dog who had just passed away. The family decided to visit Gus at the shelter and instantly fell in love with him.
Gus’s previous owner continued to call regularly to ask after his dog. When the family decided to adopt Gus, Bibich helped them get in contact with the man who had surrendered him. It turns out the man and the mother of Gus’s new family were old friends, and Gus helped them reunite.
“That’s one that I think is going to sit with me for a while,” Bibich said of the story.
A lot has changed over the nearly three decades since Bibich started working for WAIF. Seven years ago, the shelter moved into its current facility. Its previous location was substandard, to say the least, according to Bibich. The new facility, funded by donations, has larger cages and free roam rooms with outdoor access for cats, larger kennels with heated floors for dogs, outdoor walking trails and much more space, making conditions significantly better for animals living at the shelter.
Sheltering itself has also changed over the years, Bibich said. Social media has made it easier for families to reconnect with lost pets and the shelter to find and assist strays. Shelter medicine has evolved, and greater emphasis has been placed on rescue and humane, stress-free treatment of animals.
In retirement, Bibich plans to spend more time with her two grandchildren, the elderly couple she cares for and her pets at home. She currently has two dogs, two cats and one feral cat that she cares for.
“Those are really low numbers for me,” she said with a laugh, adding that throughout her career she has opened her home to many foster animals.
Bibich said she will also continue to volunteer at the shelter and spend time with the people and animals she has come to love.
“It’s a hard job to walk away from, because it’s your passion, and everybody here is my family,” she said. “But I feel like I’m not walking away, I’m just going to be supporting it in a different capacity.”