The 10th annual Doggie Paddle Plunge drew about 100 people on Saturday, who jumped into the ocean at New Castle Common to raise money for the care of shelter animals.
All the stories of why people take part in the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ fundraising event are heartwarming, but on Saturday, one story stood out.
“Happy birthday, Jesse,” said a small, tight-knit group, some fighting back tears as they came to cheer on two plungers.
Methuen, Massachusetts, resident Jennifer Jankowski and her mother-in-law Pat Jankowski took the plunge for the first time to honor the memory of Jennifer’s husband Jesse and Pat’s son, who died in last June of cancer, sarcoma, at age 44.
“Today is his birthday,” said Jennifer, who wore her husband’s Superman jersey. “He loved animals so much. He was very passionate about them. This just seemed like the perfect way to honor him.”
Actually, it was like it was meant to be. Jennifer said her parents live in Newmarket and she was here visiting them when she drove by the SPCA in Stratham.
“I saw the marquee announcing the event,” Jennifer said. “When I saw it was on March 7, I knew. He is smiling down at us right now.”
While she was unsure if she’d take the plunge when the time came, Pat went into the water.
“I did it for my son,” she said. “He loved animals so much. He used to go into the cages with them at the shelters. I came and said I’d try. I wanted to and I am glad I did it.”
Julie Halama, SPCA special events and sponsorship manager, said she doesn’t always hear the stories of why people come. She knows it involves a strong love of animals.
“We had about 80 people registered in advance,” Halama said. “More will register today. Our fundraising goal is $30,000 and we are already very close to that. We keep the fundraising page (nhspca.org/doggie-paddle-plunge/) open for about a week and more donations can come in.”
Halama said the money raised goes toward the care of the animals in the shelter and to help fund programs.
“We do humane education programs in our classrooms and offsite,” Halama said. “Our field services team investigates reported cases of cruelty and there were 650 reported last year. We operate an Alzheimer’s Cafe on site.”
A newer program, Safe Pets, serves to temporarily shelter pets in cases of domestic violence and homelessness.
“Often, the reason a person involved in domestic violence will not leave a dangerous situation is because of their pets,” Halama said. “The same goes for a homeless person. They will not go to a shelter, even in the winter, because they can’t take their pet. We will house them, usually for two to four weeks while they get into a better place.”
Jake Belmont and Louise Daigle of Strafford are dog trainers. Jake was dressed as a red “pointy” dog.
“I told my clients that if I raised enough money, I would jump in, dressed as my dog,” Belmont said. “Our business is called Red Pointy Dog Training. Louise will be videotaping this for our clients. Besides, it’s a great cause.”
Wearing Esther the Pig hats, Daphne Thurston of Epping and Monica Torrisi of Seabrook were continuing a four-year tradition.
“We have dogs and cats, and some came from the shelter,” Thurston said. “We do it to help the animals, and because this is fun and we want to be a part of it.”