The Beginnings of NOAH, Northwest Organization for Animals

Anne wrote this around 2000 and modified it last year in 2021 as one of her blogs.

Anne Belovich with one of her sled dogs

Nancy Gebhardt came to see my rose garden yesterday and as we walked up and down the grass paths admiring the many-colored blooms and inhaling their fragrance our conversation wandered back about 15 years to NOAH’s beginnings.  This was quite natural because, although many people contributed to NOAH over the years, Nancy was such a central figure because of her creativity and organizational ability that, even after all this time, I cannot see her without instantly thinking of NOAH’s creation. 

In fact, it was to Nancy that I first turned for help when I first learned what was happening to homeless pets in the Stanwood/Camano area where we had recently come to live.  I had gone to the Island County Annex on a cold rainy morning on some minor business and passed by a roofless wire pen next to the sheriff’s office where a big puppy with a sodden wet coat sat, nose to the fence, shivering and crying in heartbreaking tones.  A man had just put water in the pen. I asked what was going to happen to the puppy.  It seemed that he would be sent to Coupeville on Whidbey Island the next day where there was a pound.  This was the procedure for all stray dogs on the Island.  There were no provisions for other animals.  I inquired further about the prospects for dogs taken so far away.  No, he didn’t think that people went to get them very often.  Another concern came to my mind.  “What if he had been injured?”  He lowered his voice, “The sheriff would have helped him out of his misery.”  “Shot!” I thought, but better judgment told me not to make an issue of it here and now.  I looked at the puppy again and wondered if he had a death sentence on his head.  I thought for a moment about taking him home but a whole sled team of Alaskan Malamutes already lived there.  I just couldn’t.

Max and Anne out running the dogs

I drove off quickly to get away from the pathetic wailing, but it still haunted me all the way home.  Then I remembered an article in the paper about a small animal aid group on the island called Citizens for Animals (CFA).  There was a phone number.  I called and a woman named Nancy answered.  Could they help the puppy?  No, it was too late, but I could work with them to save the others.  There were so many in need and so few to help.  I agreed without being quite sure of what I was agreeing to.  About 5 minutes later Nancy Gebhardt drove down my driveway determined to waste no time in securing someone who was so completely set up as a ready volunteer.  She had a little handmade membership card decorated with some of her own charming artwork and instructions for my first job.  I was securely hooked and after all these years I still am.

We talked for awhile about CFA, who they were and what they were attempting to do.  They had no facilities whatsoever, no shelter, no office, not even a shed.  They owned a telephone with a remote equipped answering machine which was installed on its own number (the hot line) at the Camano Senior Center.  There was almost no support from the community, so the board members pitched in each month to pay the phone bill.  They had put up Nancy’s little handmade signs around town giving the phone number so people could call in if they found a stray dog or cat or if they lost a pet.  Board members would take turns, a month at a stretch, retrieving the messages from their home phones and answering them as best they could.  Mainly they tried to match lost animals to found ones by their descriptions.  It was to be my turn right off the bat.  Nancy told me not to give my name when I returned calls.  The board had decided to operate anonymously so people wouldn’t dump unwanted animals over their fences.  I thought I understood why they weren’t getting much community support.  Who would want to give money to such a mysterious group?

A month of answering people’s often desperate calls was a month of frustration.  We seldom could match animals and we were very limited in what else we could do.  We sold low-cost pet ID tags, advised on training and behavior problems, gave referrals for emergency vet service and low cost spay and neuter service but we couldn’t rescue a stray animal.  I started to ignore the rule about keeping my identity unknown and then talked to Nancy about taking a more open approach with the community.  She agreed and we began to participate in some community events.  John Dean, managing editor of the Stanwood/Camano News, was a wonderful help to us in arranging to have a series of articles about our group in the newspaper.  We started getting more donations.  We were able to advertise some animals as needing homes while people fostered them temporarily.  We took some animals to the shelter in Arlington and paid to have them kept longer. 

One day I read an article in a pet magazine about shelterless humane societies.  It pointed out all the good things such an organization could do, especially in education.  I thought it would give us a better image in the community and could lead to us acquiring a shelter.  Besides IRS would like it better.  I was taken by a great surge of enthusiasm which I managed to pass on to a few of the others, including Nancy.  Fran Osawa of Camano Island had joined us as secretary and newsletter editor.  With Fran’s help and some advice from Paws we became incorporated on Nov. 14, 1986, as Northwest Organization For Animal Help (NOAH).  Nancy, Fran and I signed it as the first three directors. 

NOAH in 1987 Stanwood Parade
Early membership form, information on back

The creation of NOAH was only a beginning with almost everything yet to be accomplished but it was a beginning and it led to other events that would be very important in the lives of animals in our community.  However, the three of us were not destined to take the next formative steps.  We all had major changes in our lives that disrupted our work with NOAH.  Nancy went back to school in Seattle to study theater design, Fran developed a serious health problem, and Max and I began to build our present large house with our own four hands.  NOAH acquired a shelter in February, 1988 under the leadership of other people.  We’ll save that story for another time.

From the Camano News, December 3, 1986
From the Camano News, December 3, 1986
NOAH Newsletter, Fall of 1987 (page 1)
NOAH Newsletter, Fall 1987, Page 2
NOAH Original Articles of Incorporation Page 1
NOAH Original Articles of Incorporation Page 2

NOTES:

Jackie LeCuger wrote A New Leash on Life in the Klipsun Magazine, 2006, Volume 36, Issue 06. The article is about her NOAH visit in 2006. https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1237&context=klipsun_magazine

One thought on “The Beginnings of NOAH, Northwest Organization for Animals

  1. It is amazing to learn that Anne and Max also had a malamute sled team! Is there nothing adventurous that Anne did not do?
    I was also interested to see the photos of the dogs in the house as we had a malamute-shepherd mix. That dog really needed a job and being a sled dog would have suited her. She also shed like mad, and we regretted having the couch reupholstered in a beautiful navy fabric-perfect to show off dog hair!

    Liked by 1 person

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