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Philanthropist offers direction and donations to animal rescue organizations
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Philanthropist offers direction and donations to animal rescue organizations

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George Morrison rode the bus five miles to bring his dog and two cats to receive care at the free neighborhood animal care clinic that the Animal Welfare Alliance of Southern Arizona (AWASA) holds twice a year in South Tucson.

Several elderly neighbors holding small dogs were already waiting in line as volunteers arrived last weekend carrying boxes of supplies and donated items into a building across the street from the Casa Maria soup kitchen.

At the center of the action, a petite blonde with a broad smile and a name tag that read “Bonnie (El Jefe)” directed volunteers and carried a few boxes herself despite fracturing her left foot a couple days earlier.

Bonnie Kay, a philanthropist who views animal welfare as a social justice issue, was not going to let the injury keep her away.

Kay is known as someone who can bring together people and resources for projects that help underserved communities, including the more than 20,000 animals that enter Tucson-area shelters each year.

“Her investments are visionary, generous and thoughtful. She’s a smart lady and she will put her money toward things that work — and we’re all really grateful,” said Karen Hollish, Pima Animal Care Center’s director of development and marketing. “She invests her dollars strategically.”

One of Kay’s earliest gifts to PACC was a $10,000 matching campaign to buy a trailer for the Best Friends Trap-Neuter-Return program to help reduce the feral and stray cat population.

Kay, who has three cats of her own, feels cats are too often overlooked in shelters and has funded improvements to the county’s feline facilities. Dogs get walked, Kay said, “cats sit in cages all day.”

“She’s the consummate ‘catvocate’ of our community,” said Hollish, noting Kay is fostering a nursing momma cat with five kittens in her home while her foot recovers.

Last year Kay gave $125,000 to the Friends of Pima Animal Care Center, which is PACC’s nonprofit partner. “She asked us what we needed and what we needed at that time more than anything were skilled people to help us with our work at the shelter,” Hollish said. The county had a hiring freeze at the time.

Kay’s donation covered the salaries of four part-timers — two cat care workers, an adoption promotion specialist, and a help-desk person to work with No Kill Pima County to recommend alternatives to people wanting to surrender an animal to PACC. For Arizona Gives Day on Tuesday, Kay matched all gifts to Friends of PACC up to $10,000.

“She’s a phenomenally generous woman,” said Brandy Burke, chief operating officer for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. Kay gave early to the nonprofit’s campaign to build a new facility. The project is 59 percent toward it’s $10 million goal, and Burke expects to break ground by year’s end.

“She totally supports the cause and she gets into the mix and works. And I think that’s unique,” said Burke, who also volunteered at last week’s clinic.

Kay, who has pledged to buy a mobile medical unit to help animals throughout Pima County, including Ajo, grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and earned a masters in social work. Kay volunteered for the American Civil Liberties Union for about a decade while she and her husband owned a large horse farm and training facility outside Philadelphia.

The couple moved to northern California in the early 1990s, where she volunteered with Sonoma county’s task force for the homeless. A stay at Canyon Ranch was her first glimpse of Tucson, and she bought a home here in 1993 after the couple divorced.

Kay initially “volunteered with loads” of good causes in the Tucson area, and then decided to focus. She surveyed as many animal organizations as she could find to learn the community’s needs.

That led her to AWASA, which is known for its spay and neuter efforts. Today she serves on the board and helps with projects such as last weekend’s free clinic to help keep animals healthy and out of local shelters. She’s also optimistic about local efforts to start a community pet food bank.

She was involved in forming the Pima Alliance for Animal Welfare; one of its initiatives is the Adopt Love, Adopt Local adoption event April 16.

In addition to animal welfare organizations, Kay contributes to the Primavera Foundation, Planned Parenthood and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

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