When Paws Pet Boutique owner Michelle Kownacki adopted a Jack Russell Terrier named Ben, she knew he needed a lot of work.
"When he first came to us he had yellow stained fur, and he was so, so shy," Kownacki said. "He was withdrawn and scared. He wasn't used to human contact."
Ben was one of 320 dogs rescued from hoarders Barbara and Robert Woodley, of Sanford, NC, by a nonprofit organization called the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in 2005. It took almost three years to convict the Woodleys and rescue the dogs from what was described as squalid conditions, according to the ALDF website.
"Just seeing what they do is so inspiring; it made me want get involved," Kownacki said.
So she started an annual fundraiser for the ALDF in Ben's name. This year it's known as Ben’s Waterfront Benefit Bash, and it's happening from 6-9 p.m. Sept. 8. The price of admission is a minimum $60 per person donation to the ALDF.
For their donation, dogs and their owners are invited to dine on a range of hors d'oeuvres, dance to live music by Dave Tieff and the two-legged guests will enjoy wine from Wine Cellars of Annapolis.
There will be door prizes, a silent auction and a raffle prizes, which include a beach cruiser bike donated by Dick Smothers of The Smothers Brothers and two VIP tickets to a live performance show of Dancing with the Stars.
Raffle tickets cost $20 each or six for $100, with all proceeds donated to ALDF. Kownacki is selling raffle tickets to anyone who stops by the Paws Pet Boutique.
She's also selling T-shirts with Ben on them for $25 in her State Circle store with all proceeds going to the ALDF. To buy one of Ben's T-shirts, click here.
Last year's Ben's Cruise fundraiser generated a $20,000 donation to the ALDF with half the amount coming from Nancy Squires and the Squires Group, an Annapolis-based IT consulting firm.
ALDF is almost entirely supported by individual donors across the country so any donation is important, said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells.
"But $20,000, is a very large donation for us and has a significant impact on what we can accomplish," Wells said. "For example, that amount would pay for three law students to work as clerks for ALDF full-time during the summer."
Wells said he's "extremely grateful" to Kownacki, Paws Pet Boutique, Squires and the people in Annapolis who support this annual event.
"Our work would not possible without this kind of support," Wells said. "It demonstrates how deeply people care about the well-being of all animals."
For Kownacki watching Ben come out of his shell and become the friendly boutique mascot he is today was reason enough to get involved.
"He's an example of one animal out of how many that they are able to help each year," Kownacki said. "I look at him every day, and I’m so grateful."