WAIF volunteer has heart for more than animals

Photo by Mary Jo Adams
                                Judy Dewing holds one of the many cats she’s helped nurture over the years as a volunteer at the WAIF Cat Cottage in Freeland.

Photo by Mary Jo Adams Judy Dewing holds one of the many cats she’s helped nurture over the years as a volunteer at the WAIF Cat Cottage in Freeland.

You’re coming out of the market, groceries in your arms. You notice a person in tattered clothes sitting hunched over on a curb, holding something wrapped in a blanket. What do you do?

South Whidbey resident John Brooks says, “I can tell you what one person did. I was people-watching a few days ago, while waiting for my wife. I noticed the person on the curb, and I did nothing, just as I observed other people coming and going and paying no mind to the person. I wasn’t sure if it was a he or she, with the hood covering their head. I watched as a gray-haired woman walked over to this person; after a few minutes the gray-haired woman was sitting next to the tattered person. Next thing the person in tattered clothes is crying in the gray-haired woman’s arms.

“By this time my wife was back in our car watching also, and my wife said to me, ‘That is just like Judy Dewing from the WAIF cat cottage’.”

When asking Dewing about the person at the grocery store, Dewing says she was surprised someone noticed.

“When I saw this person, I knew I had to make sure the person was OK,” she says. “When I went up to ask, I realized it was a woman, cradling a small dog. The woman tearfully told me that her boyfriend had broken up with her. I ended up being able to help by driving her north to a friend of hers house.”

Dewing’s husband, Rob is seated nearby and remarks, “I hadn’t heard that story before, but Judy does acts like that all the time.” He gets up to get a bracelet to show, “Judy got this from a homeless woman, after she gave our new REI sleeping bag we had just bought to the woman.”

Dewing says, “I told her I cannot keep this bracelet, it must mean something to you… The woman said, ‘It never did before, but it does now.’”

“It sure is a good day if we can help a fellow human or an animal,” Dewing adds.

The Dewings began volunteering in 2005 for Whidbey Animals Improvement Foundation, or WAIF, remarks Shari Bibich, WAIF manager.

“Judy and her husband Rob were cat room cleaners in the mornings, and dog walkers in the afternoon,” Bibich says. “Judy also did transports, coin cans, parades and fostering animals. Her love, devotion and enthusiastic personality make her fun to be around. She was a natural choice when we had an opening for the Freeland Cat Cottage. There is not a cat that goes out the door that she doesn’t shed a tear for when saying goodbye. The Cat Cottage has become a destination for many to come spend time with cats and good conversation with Judy, who has touched so many hearts, both two-legged and four-legged.”

Dewing says WAIF is a dream job. It’s never work for her.

Judy is “Love in Action,” writes Aileen Greer, WAIF volunteer.

“When she is around animals, she has a way of being with them, which is inspiring. She has this same patience and gentleness with humans. Judy helps to make this island we all love a better place. I will forever be thankful to her for the rest of my life for all she has done for me and my kitties.”

Dewing and Rob became involved with helping animals 40 years ago when they lived in California, Dewing remarks.

“Rescuing takes time and there is a risk of revealing something about yourself — your vulnerability,” she says. “You do it without knowing how any of it will turn out, or how much it will cost you, or if the story will take on a happy or tragic ending. It is heart breaking to try to save an abused animal that ends up dying. But we need to have the courage and accountability to embrace our own emotional connection. Accepting your vulnerability gives belonging, gives you courage, to feel your own worthiness.”

The Dewings share their home with three dogs, Tessa, Gordy and Zoo. Two are from WAIF, and one is from Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Wyoming. This sanctuary takes in former laboratory animals and finds them forever homes. Rob drove to pick up Zoo three years ago at the Ranch.

Rob remembers, “Zoo was so frightened, and shaking, on the long trip home, I felt so bad for him. We could not even get near him for weeks. Most lab animals have never seen sunlight or touched the grass outside.”

That was three years ago, and Zoo has come along way. He still is afraid of writing pens or anything that might look like a lab instrument, but his fears have greatly diminished, the Dewings happily report.

Their cat, “Jerry,” passed away from old age a week earlier. They both get emotional talking about Jerry. The ledger of every two-hour feedings, around the clock for the last two years, is still on the refrigerator.

They also foster underage kittens and prepare a room with cat trees, cardboard boxes, toys and litter boxes.

“Rob is always there right with me helping,” Judy says. “He has never once said I’ve gone too far.”

Judy says smiling as she looks at Rob, “We are total opposite personalities, like Felix and Oscar. Rob is the neat freak, and organized.”

They both chuckle as Rob says, “Judy will risk her life to help a human or animal, but she won’t fly in a plane: What kind of sense does that make?” More laughing. Dewing says, “Okay, okay, it’s true, I didn’t fly for 25 years; Rob took the kids to Disneyland without me, and other family vacations that required a plane.”

Rob found a “fear of flying” intensive course. At the end of the course the entire class and instructors were to fly from San Francisco to Portland and back.

Rob remembers that graduation day at the airport.

“All of the family members and friends were there in the terminal to cheer them on. Once they all were on the loading ramp and out of our sight, all of a sudden we all hear a woman screaming. Every male there thought it was their wife. When the doors flew open and a woman came running out screaming, ‘I can’t do it!’ all but one of us males were relieved.”

Judy says it was a great course and she did fly that day.

“But I still don’t like flying,” she says.

Rob shakes his head in bewilderment; they both laugh. If you spend time with these two, you will laugh until your stomach hurts.

Judy says, “We have to have a sense of humor in life. It has pulled us through some traumatic times.”

One of those dire times, Judy says, was when she had to tell her mother that her 41-year-old policeman son, Ralph, died in the line of duty.

“I will never forget that knock on the door and two highway patrol officers somberly stood there,” she recalls. “They first gently told me, so I could break it to my mother. Ralph was so respected and loved that there is a permanent memorial for him. The following year our mother died to the minute and day that Ralph passed away. Life can be such a mystery.”

There is a pensive silence …then Zoo breaks the quiet by getting up and barking.

“Zoo can get timorous at any moment, all we can do is try to sooth him,” Judy explains.

The two WAIF senior adopted dogs are accustomed to Zoo’s commotion and also try to comfort him.

Judy talks about what a wonderful and effective foundation WAIF is.

“The people there are all heroes,” she says. “And Shari Bibich, the WAIF shelter manager, puts in more hours than anyone could imagine. She will get up in the middle of the night for a call to go out to try to help any animal in distress. She is as good as it gets. Shari is an outstanding fearless warrior.”

Dewing says, “Everyone at WAIF is a role model of how to keep going, despite sorrow and loss. There are happy times too, when someone gets adopted, we all say goodbye, more tears, but happy ones.”

One of the WAIF volunteers, Rachel Donald, says Judy is the type of person that feels like family.

“She doesn’t understand just how much she has done for the individuals of this community— cats, dogs and people,” she says. “The ripple effect of her contributions to this world is vast. She can make me laugh even on a bad day. I had an exhausting year— and by talking with Judy she made all the difference to help me feel happy again. When people come into the Cat Cottage they know there is someone that will eagerly listen to their stories, with genuine enthusiasm.”

Dewing says, with all sincerity, “Life isn’t really about us, it’s about the good we can do in this world. It’s not about our comfort or our happiness, but how we can ease some of the suffering in this world. For when we leave this earth, we can take nothing we received, only what we have given — a full heart, enriched by honest service, love sacrifice and courage.”

Side quotes from Judy:

What is it to have class? “You will know a person’s character by how they treat someone they don’t need.”

Regrets? “I should have chosen a career that involved my passion… helping animals, rather than working in the corporate world.”

What advice do you think people would be better off living by? “Hate is too important an emotion to waste on someone you don’t’ like.”

Who inspires you? “Brendon and Glynis, our adult children, they are both ‘old souls’. When I grow up I want to be just like them.”

One of the nicest things anyone ever said to you? “When Rob said, he wished he had had a mother like me.”

If you could ask God one question? “Why don’t children and animals have a voice when cruelty is laid upon them.”

Poem you cherish? “‘The House Dogs Grave,’ by Robinson Jeffers.

If you were given a thousand fresh roses? “I would put them in vases in dozens on the highway, with a sign that says, “free for your happiness.”

Turning point in your life? “Becoming a parent. My life completely changed. They gave me a reason to live, a reason not to live so carelessly…in a way, they saved my life.”

Local heroes of yours? “Every one of the WAIF volunteers and employees, and all those that work with animals are heroes.” For instance, WAIF long-time volunteer, “Linda Fauth. Decades ago Linda saw an urgent need to assist the animals, that were housed at the county animal control facility. She immediately went into action…which is a testament to how she sees a need and steps up to plate, She first became a vet tech…which culminated in her assisting local veterinarians in the WAIF spay/neuter clinic. Linda was instrumental in the formation of the Freeland Cat Cottage. Her volunteering, love and willingness to tackle any job is boundless.”

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