Peter L. Wilson didn’t want to move to the North Bay.
But just 18 months after landing in Los Angeles, a job transfer was luring his husband north. “We were just getting settled, just making friends there,” Peter says. Still, he knew it was a good opportunity for his husband, Michael Wilson.
“I was about to say that if it’s that important to you to make this transfer, we’ll do it, and he said, ‘What if I throw in a dog?’ and I said, ‘What about two dogs?’” Peter recalls.
A lifelong animal lover, Peter is now coordinator of development for the Humane Society of the North Bay. Each day he works to find financial support for the society’s Humane Services division, which has an annual budget of $390,000.
These days he is focusing all his considerable energy on the agency’s largest annual fundraiser, Barkitecture. About 500 people will gather for the gala on April 5.
Life is hectic the week of the fundraiser. But volunteers make it all happen, Peter says.
“At event time, droves of people show up. We have a committee of three, but I’d say 50 to 75 people work on making everything happen: basket makers, promoters, everything. We have a great group of volunteers who come out to help.”
Peter, 51, was raised in Tulsa, OK, and spent time in Phoenix before making that move to Los Angeles in 1998. He and Michael arrived in Benicia in 1999 and moved to Vallejo in 2000. Peter was managing Pet Food Express stores in Benicia and Pleasant Hill when he joined the board of the local Humane Society. He joined the staff in 2003.
Did you get the dogs promised to you? Yes! Our first dog was a boxer, but he had to be returned to the rescue because he was too aggressive. We’ve had eight dogs over the years since 1999, all boxers. They have lots of personality. We have three now: King, Daisy and Prince.
Did you have pets when you were growing up? We had a beagle by the name of Pepper. I had him for 16 years. The next dog was Max and he was a boxer. He lived to be 8. He had cancer.
Now when I go places, stray animals find me. When we were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we had this trail of three dogs following us. I was visiting my sister in Oklahoma and a stray dog showed up, slept on her porch and now is one of their dogs. She said that they never have strays show up and sleep on their porch. Only when I’m there.
How did Barkitecture start? My goal when I started with the Humane Society was to bring in more people to support the organization. My first event was a parking lot sale, and Barkitecture started in 2004. So this is its 10th year.
The idea came from a committee member who had gotten something from the Tucson humane society, and we actually morphed what they did into our own event.
How did the agency come up with the “Barkitecture” name? We were sitting around a table, planning the event, and I said, “Let’s call it Barkitecture.” It’s been very successful. We raised $28,000 in the first year and it’s gone up since then. Our gross last year was $78,000 with net of $67,000. It’s 100 percent sponsored.
What kind of pet houses do people make? We get dog domiciles, cat domiciles, and bird roosts from a variety of different builders, groups and individuals. I like to have 12 to 15, but sometimes we’ve had more.
Do any past creations stand out? A gentleman created a cat domicile from an actual fiddle, a bass instrument. He was playing on the theme of the cat and the fiddle from “Hey Diddle Diddle.” We had a boat one year, also.
Where did you learn how to organize such a large event? I was a chamber ambassador in Benicia and Vallejo—that’s where I got the event experience.
Fundraising just comes naturally to me. I’ve done it since I was in the third grade. We were selling candy for the class project and I sold a lot of candy. In eighth grade, I outsold all the seniors for yearbook ads.
What’s your favorite part of your job? Seeing the animals go to a new home. Equally as rewarding is when someone comes in and is reunited with their lost pet. We do a lot of return to owners through Animal Control, multiple times during the week.
How many animals pass through the shelter each year? Between 3,000 and 3,500 animals come in each year. We have about 500 adoptions and 500 return to owners.
We have 20 kennels for dogs, 36 kennels for cats, plus space for rabbits and birds. But when the kennels and foster homes are full, animals go to the county shelter.
When I got here in 2003, we had 5 dogs in kennels. Now we have up to 40 dogs a day.
Do you euthanize animals here? We have a no-kill policy for the Humane Society. When animals become available for adoption, we keep them until they are adopted.
We don’t euthanize here. But we feel it’s our moral and ethical obligation to humanely euthanize an animal if it is too sick or injured or is a danger to others. We take them to a vet. It doesn’t happen often, and you don’t forget it when it happens.
What do you to do relax? I make jewelry—soda-can jewelry and beading. It started when I made necklaces for my sisters, then my mom and then Michael’s mom. I thought, “You know, this is fun.”
Twohandscrafting.com is going to be my website, it’s on Facebook now. I’m going to do a trunk show in October.
I make cards, too. My mother and older sister are very crafty and have that creative side, and I do as well.
I also love gardening. When we moved in, the front yard was a barren lot with just a big blue spruce and three to four fruit trees. Now we have an extravaganza of flowers. You can barely see the house in summer. We also grow vegetables and tomatoes. I can spaghetti sauce every year.
Creating stuff gets my mind off the craziness.
What do you plan to be doing in five years? It’s not something I’ve planned out. It’s just one day at a time, really, and see what comes my way.
I’d like to travel more. I’d like to go to Poland because I have great-aunts and great-uncles and second cousins over there.