If the animals at Critters and Co. Pet Center in Clinton could speak, they’d probably have a lot to say about Debbie Wilkie.
Over the past year, Wilkie has taken in more than 500 unwanted or neglected animals from the community, giving them a second chance at life. Many animals she rescues are not healthy and require medical attention, which amounts to thousands of dollars in vet bills on a yearly basis.
To help her out, people have the opportunity to give back to her pet store and rescue operation by donating to a fundraiser during the month of November.
Deven Gates, whose son works at Critters and Co., is organizing the second annual fundraiser for the beloved hub for South Whidbey animals. Last year, the community raised nearly $14,000, which went a long way in supporting Wilkie’s work.
“The public, even though a lot of people like to come in and check out the animals, they don’t even see the volume,” Gates said. “There’s a lot of unseen work that happens.”
Wilkie has overseen the care of a variety of animals, from marsupials to birds to reptiles. Earlier this year, she took in an abandoned snapping turtle, which she fondly calls Gary.
“There’s a huge difference between what it takes to care for a fish and what it takes to care for a hamster,” Gates said. “This stuff’s not universal. Being able to pivot like that is pretty amazing.”
Cats and dogs can be some of the costliest animals, especially when factoring in vaccinations and spaying and neutering. Wilkie charges a low price point in adoption fees that doesn’t come close to covering what she paid in vet bills.
“She’s just a very humble person whose heart is totally in the right place,” Gates said.
In other places, Gates has seen firsthand what happens when pets are neglected and have nowhere to go. She credits the existence of Critters and Co. for being the reason why this isn’t seen on Whidbey Island. Unlike other animal rescue organizations on the island, which specialize in a limited number of types of animals, Wilkie takes in a wide range of exotic and hard-to-rehome critters.
“We don’t want them to go out of business, and I don’t want them to always be taking this personal financial hit, especially when I’ve lived in places where the resources aren’t adequate,” Gates said.
Over the past few years, Wilkie has witnessed an influx of people seeking to rehome their pets because they’re moving off island or moving to a new home where animals aren’t allowed. She doesn’t turn anybody away, and often works with people beforehand to arrange a drop-off. Still, there are some unexpected animals on the store’s front doorstep from time to time.
“I never know what we’re going to get in a day,” she said. “It’s always a surprise.”
One thing she wishes people would stop doing is waiting until their animal is starving to bring it in.
“It makes me so sad,” she said.
She urges pet owners to come to her before it’s too late. The store also has a pet food program that ensures no critter will go hungry.
During the recent power outage, Wilkie and her employees diligently looked after the store’s many critters. Hand warmers were given to the lizards and aquariums were kept toasty.
Wilkie is currently awaiting nonprofit status for Critters and Co. Pet Center. The animal side of the business will be named the Banjo Rescue, after the first dog she rescued when she bought the store nearly seven years ago.
Thinking about a world without Critters and Co. is a scary thought for her. Without a place to turn to, she thinks many pet owners might just let their critters loose, like she has seen in other communities.
“I think that’s one thing that’s kind of cool about the island,” she said. “Everyone really bonds together when it’s animal-related here, as opposed to other places.”