Collingswood residents, photographers, and pet owners all collaborated on the 16-month calendar, proceeds from the sales of which benefit the nonprofit animal rescue in Pennsauken.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 10, 2016
Ro Stone has never officially owned a service dog, but that doesn’t mean her rescue pets haven’t saved her life.
Her beloved golden retriever, Jackson, joined her household when she was just weeks away from delivering her third child.
The loss of a prior pregnancy had left her grief-stricken and anxious as her due date approached, and a friend saw the role Jackson could play in her home.
“This dog needs to live here,” her friend said. “This dog will keep you busy.”
For nine years, Jackson was the family’s constant companion. When Stone’s husband, JB, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he comforted their three children by telling them that when he was gone, the dog would be there to protect them.
And then Jackson went first.
The family was racked by waves of emotion during an already chaotic time. A week later, JB started complaining that he missed having to step over a dog to get out of bed. The kids started asking, without Jackson, who would be there to look after them when their dad passed? For Ro stone, it was all too much, too soon.
“I never want[ed] a dog again,” she said. Three weeks later she got a phone call telling her that her puppy application was approved.
“The kids need a dog,” JB told her. “And they need a puppy. We’ll all enjoy it. It’ll bring life back into the house.”
That’s how the Stones got Roxie.
She doesn’t have Jackson’s training or bearing or AKC papers, but she does have an odd knack for digging up JB’s things from tucked-away corners of the house and bringing them to his widow on the days when she’s feeling weakest.
“It’s him letting us know he’s still watching,” Ro Stone said.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t have ever gotten out of bed if it weren’t for her bothering me to go out and throw a ball, or put her on a leash and walk.”
The Stones now foster puppies in memory of JB, and Roxie helps with that, too.
Hers is just one of the 16 success stories told in the Shelter/Rescue Pets of Collingswood calendar, a fundraising project organized by Collingswood residents Robb Sewell and Eric Wolff.
Every animal featured in the calendar lives with a Collingswood family, and was documented in its home by a Collingswood photographer. Printed locally at ACS Press in Oaklyn, the $20 calendar is being sold to benefit the Almost Home Animal Shelter in Pennsauken. A private donation has already covered printing costs, and a June presale netted 30 orders, Sewell said.
Love, reinvention, and renewal are themes central to animal adoption in general, but they also apply to the reincarnated Almost Home Animal Shelter itself, which nearly closed for good last December. When founder Nancy Welsh refined its business model so she could reopen its doors again, the story of her effort moved Sewell and Wolff to support her.
“We love Almost Home,” Sewell said. “We love Nancy Welsh. It’s such an inspirational story.”
“The main thing was just to help out,” said photographer Patrick Rodio, whose own shelter cat, Winkers, features in the calendar. “As everybody knows, there’s just so many animals out there that are going to be euthanized. I thought it was a good project to get behind.”
Rodio was Sewell’s and Wolff’s chief collaborator on the calendar, which also features the work of Kevin Monko, Tricia Burrough, Emily Lam Angehr, and Kristel Arndt.
Between the number of professional photographers in the borough and the number of rescue families who’d applied to be in the calendar, Rodio figures the group could have produced enough material for three years’ worth of stories.
“There’s just so many great photographers in Collingswood, let alone the area,” he said. “It was neat to see their shots too.”
Monko, who’s been attached to community give-back projects like the Beatles/Stones Invitational at Collingswood Music, or the Beef, Beer, Bikes and Bowie fundraiser for the borough Bike Share program, said he was thrilled to participate.
“I expect to see more and more of these types of collaborations popping up as people see that pooling their talents and strength can have a huge impact, in addition to being a lot of fun,” he said.
The value of fun has been attached to several events that Sewell and Wolff have hosted or organized in the few years they’ve lived in Collingswood. Sewell has produced dinner theater murder mysteries and trivia nights to benefit causes from education to birthday parties for underprivileged youth. Wolff, a clay artist, is the founder of Art Within Reach, which seeks to organize area artists to better sell and market their works.
“We just love this community, and are finding ways to make it better,” Wolff said. “It feels good.”
“We moved here, and the community embraced us, and we’ve embraced the community,” Sewell said. “It’s got its warts and its blemishes, but it’s got some amazing talent.”
Almost Home Animal Shelter Executive Director Nancy Welsh said the project has been an emotional one.
Her late daughter, Melinda, had always talked about printing a similar calendar to benefit the shelter.
“In my heart, it’s a little tribute to her, too,” Welsh said. “These people that have done this are absolutely wonderful to support the shelter like that.”
Although Almost Home serves a number of communities, the Pennsauken-headquartered facility has always been anchored by the support from neighbors in her Collingswood hometown, Welsh said.
“To sit down and think about it is unbelievable,” she said. “It really shows you what hometown is all about.”
Since reopening its doors along a streamlined model, Almost Home has increased patient visits to its onsite clinic weekly, Welsh said. She’s been able to care for and shelter more animals, and is looking to add more veterinarians for weekend clinic hours as well.
“Every day I thank God that we can keep going another day,” Welsh said.
Welsh thinks the calendar will be a hit not only because its photography is engaging, but because audiences will connect with the stories behind their subjects.
“People cherish their pets and want the best for them,” she said.
“Everybody’s looking for the one that they can help.”
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