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WAIF pooch inspires ‘Running Free’ memoir

Barb Bland sits with her cat Mazie and her dog Belle at her home in Oak Harbor. - Sara Hansen/Whidbey News-Times
Barb Bland sits with her cat Mazie and her dog Belle at her home in Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Sara Hansen/Whidbey News-Times

While walking along a beach in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1979, Barb Bland came upon an injured seagull.

Instead of walking past, she decided to stop and help the crippled bird.

“I realized then that there are things out there that needed to be fixed,” Bland said.

She began volunteering with wildlife rescue groups. She and her husband, Curt, moved to Whidbey Island in 1980 after sailing down from Alaska with friends.

After some time on the island, she started volunteering at Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, or WAIF, when it was started in 1990.

That experience is where she found the inspiration to write a book. She recently self-published a memoir about adopting Pikachu — a Labrador retriever-border collie mix — who she calls Piki.

Bland also belongs to the Whidbey Writers Group, which is made up of about a dozen people. They read their work and receive feedback from members. Bland would read short stories which mostly involved her pets.

Over time, she read a lot of stories starring Piki to the writers.

“Piki had so many different stories and someone told me it was enough to fill up a book,” Bland said.

After compiling her work and turning it into a memoir, Bland self-published “Running Free.” Bland plans to donate all the profits to WAIF.

WAIF is a minimal kill shelter, which is an asset to the community, Bland said.

In 2012, 320 dogs and 173 cats came through the shelter near Coupeville. Approximately 141 dogs were adopted, 132 were returned to their owners, four were transferred to other shelters and 14 were put to sleep. For cats, 123 were adopted and 14 were put to sleep while the others remain in WAIF custody, according to the foundation.

And WAIF is an example nationally, Bland said.

Approximately 5 million to 7 million pets enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and 3 million to 4 million are euthanized — about 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats — according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Even though Bland started volunteering at the shelter in 1990, the book begins with a litter of eight puppies being dropped off at WAIF in April 2000. The man who dropped them off threatened to shoot them if they didn’t take them.

That situation may sound cold and shocking to someone who hasn’t experienced that before, Bland said.

“It’s not uncommon and animal shelter people have to deal with that regularly.”

They decided to name the puppies after Pokemon characters. Four were adopted right away, except for two females — Starmie and Jigglypuff — and two males — Bulbasaur and Pikachu.

Out of the litter, they were the four odd puppies, Bland said.

“No one ever understood why they were the way they were,” Bland said.

Instead of being outgoing and playful like the others, they were more timid and fearful of people.

As a volunteer, Bland primarily worked with Starmie and Jigglypuff during their time at the shelter to get them ready for adoption.

Eventually Piki, was adopted on Aug. 4, 2000. But that didn’t last long.

Piki ran away on Aug. 5 and wasn’t caught until January 2001. He was only eight months old when he took off.

Bland said when she’d let her dog Blue out in the middle of the night, she’d think about Piki during that time.

“Where is Piki on a cold night like tonight?” Bland would ask herself.

Even though Bland had mainly worked with Piki’s sisters, she was familiar with his behavior.

During those months he was missing, she would search for him.

“I was retired, I had the time and I knew what I was getting myself into and I was able to persist,” Bland said.

She went door to door asking if anyone had seen him. One woman came to the door in her bathrobe and told Bland she’d found Piki snuggled up with her Rottweiler one night.

“He adored other dogs,” Bland said. “He could be approached through dogs.”

After they finally caught Piki, Bland ended up adopting him.

“Of our rescue dogs, all of them were mellow compared to Piki,” Bland said. “He was just wired.”

The 12-year-old Piki had to be put to sleep not very long ago, but led a full happy life. Bland has a picture she painted of him hanging up in her living room.

Even if people know how the story starts and how it ends, they will still enjoy the book, Bland said.

“It’s about how you get from the beginning to the end,” Bland said.

Book signings

3-5 p.m. Dec. 15 at Whidbey Golf Club, 2430 S.W. Fairway Lane, Oak Harbor. Open to the public.

4 p.m. Dec. 20 at Wind & Tide Bookshop, 790 S.E. Pioneer Way, Oak Harbor.

 

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