Animal art show to benefit Defenders of Animals

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Animal lovers aren’t going to want to miss this one.

From 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 860 West Shore Road in Warwick, the walls of a building used as a booking agency for podcasts during the work week will transform into an animal-themed community art show to benefit Defenders of Animals, a Rhode Island nonprofit that has been advocating for animal rights and helping pet owners find good homes for displaced or sheltered pets for 40 years.

“Art for Animals” will feature art from over 25 artists from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, ranging in skill and from loving sketches of cherished pets by teenagers to exquisite gallery-quality pieces from professionals.

All proceeds from the event, generated by $25 admission ticket sales and raffle tickets sold during the show, will all go to Defenders of Animals which, although it doesn’t have a physical headquarters, seeks to help animals all throughout the state and works closely with the West Warwick Animal Shelter and the Warwick Animal Hospital.

The mastermind behind the occasion is Margy Feldhuhn, who knew she wanted to do something to benefit Defenders of Animals ever since they helped her in a time of great need. After her father passed away suddenly in 2015, her mother was unable to care for his 9-year-old dog and the question became what to do next.

“I definitely was not going to take my dad’s dog to a shelter,” Feldhuhn said.

Then she found Defenders of Animals, who specializes in taking the time to directly screen and find suitable owners for pets who have behavioral issues or are likely to languish in a shelter situation, as was the situation with her father’s dog. The group eventually found a woman who Feldhuhn said was an absolutely perfect fit.

“They were such a lifesaver,” Feldhuhn said. “When you're going through a tragedy like that the last thing you want to worry about is what to do about the pet, because they're so innocent in all of it.”

Now, for the upcoming event Feldhuhn hopes to raise $3,000 through ticket sales to essentially double the nonprofit’s annual budget. To do that she needs to sell 120 tickets, and is just about halfway there. She promises the event will be something to remember, as the art varies greatly and many of the artists will be in attendance.

Raffle prizes include a professional photo shoot for your pet and $200 gift certificates to the Warwick Animal Hospital. Matthew Zarrella, a professional dog trainer who began the Rhode Island State Police’s K-9 unit, will be in attendance as well. An advanced copy of his DVD, “SEARCHDOG,” a documentary on how Zarrella molds search and rescue dogs out of so-called “unadoptable dogs,” will also be a raffle prize.

Defenders of Animals began in 1978 when Dennis Tabella tried to advocate for a Fund for Animals branch to come to Rhode Island. Instead, they wound up in Boston, so Tabella took it upon himself to start an advocacy group for animals in the state. Their primary goal is to prevent local dogs and cats from winding up at local municipal shelters, which in the past were often overcrowded and filled to the point where animals had to be regularly euthanized.

“When we started, Rhode Island had been listed by Animal Defense League as almost at the bottom of the list of 50 states,” Tabella said. “Rhode Island is now at number five as far as having good protection laws in place. A lot of progress has been made.”

A lot of that progress can be credited to advocates like Defenders of Animals lobbying the State House and its representatives to vote in favor of pro-animal bills.

Tabella listed off a few of the major advances of recent history, such as bills mandating the spaying and neutering of cats, banning the use of gas chambers for quick euthanasia by animal control officers and a bill that was just signed by Governor Gina Raimondo this session making it more difficult for people convicted of animal cruelty from owning animals. Also this year, the group advocated for a bill that was just signed mandating that homeless veterans be allowed to bring service animals into shelters.

“We always believed in the credo, the smaller the victim, the bigger the crime. We're trying to stick up for the underdog,” Tabella said. “We not only over the years have pushed for particular legislation, but we've also had to fight some bills.” He mentioned a recent attempt to lift protections on Rhode Island dwelling river otters. That attempt was ultimately defeated.

Day-to-day, however, the mission remains constant – help find homes for homeless pets, whether they are strays, unwanted or the owners simply cannot care for them due to a change in living situation. The group also helps spread the word when pets run away or otherwise go missing.

“We run into all situations,” he said. “We help the owner to find a good place and a good home. Thank god for social media like Facebook because we do a lot of advertising on Facebook and people share those postings so the word gets out quickly that a dog or cat needs a home or is lost.”

Tickets for the art show are available online at ArtForAnimalsRI.eventbrite.com. For those unable to attend, you can donate to a GoFundMe directly benefiting the cause at gofundme.com/art-for-animals-ri. Tickets will also be available at the door for those who don’t have access to the Internet.

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