For the Animals: Issaquah resident raises big money for new Seattle Humane shelter

Gretchen Dowling - Daniel Nash
Gretchen Dowling
— image credit: Daniel Nash

West Lake Sammamish resident Gretchen Dowling had been a longtime donor to Seattle Humane when she decided to make the leap and volunteer. It made sense: She had invested much of her time into the Issaquah Schools Foundation and the district PTA as a parent, but her children were gradually leaving the nest behind.

Animals seemed like a good direction to move in. She had grown up around horses, chickens and sheep on her parents’ farm in Bellevue. She liked animals and she liked Seattle Humane’s no-kill philosophy, which extends to the shelter acquiring animals from kill shelters across the state.

Soon after beginning work, she was invited to take a tour of the organization’s shelter in Bellevue. What she saw shocked her: the complex was, as she put it, a “hodgepodge of buildings, portables and trailers.”

“They were doing surgeries in this room and had two tables set up for operations,” Dowling said. “Behind me, there were gym mats with animals lying next to each other in various states of recovery. I looked around and I’m struck by the smallness of the room we’re in and after a while I say ‘It feels like a closet.’ And someone turns to me and says ‘Yes, this was a janitorial closet.’ They had converted it for surgeries.

“… It’s something else. It’s a dump. An absolute dump.”

That could change in the coming years. Seattle Humane will break ground on a new facility Feb. 27. Though still in the design phase, the replacement shelter is expected to have capacity to place 10,000 pets with families per year, compared to a current annual figure of 7,000 placements.

The facility is also expected to be able to rescue 2,500 animals from high-kill shelters while providing medical care to 20,000 animals annually, including 8,000 spay/neuter surgeries. It will provide better capacity for veterinary students volunteering from Washington State University.

“You can’t even compare the two,” Dowling said.

The price tag on the new shelter is expected to come out to $30 million Seattle Humane hopes to raise at least $25 million and has raised $22 million so far.

Dowling was quick to volunteer for the capital fundraising team, recycle skills she had acquired from years of work with the Issaquah Schools Foundation.

She estimated in January that she had raised $50,000 in donations from friends and acquaintances she knew to be sympathetic to the cause of animals. She said she’s not a pusher when it comes to seeking donations, but she is a believer she’s adopted two cats via Seattle Humane and said, after volunteering, she would never buy a dog in lieu of adoption again.

She said her beliefs could best be summed up by a quote from musician and animal rights activist Paul McCartney: “You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.”

“[Seattle Humane is] a regional facility that serves such a broad area,” Dowling said. “Animals are such an important part of our families and they deserve this. If you have a soft spot for animals and you have some money, there’s no reason not to [donate].”

More information about Seattle Humane’s planned facility and fundraising campaign can be found at


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