Paws for a Cause: App raises money for shelters

Cellphones track activities of volunteers who walk dogs in Clark County

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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Two free smartphone apps are being used to raise money for local nonprofit animal shelters and rescues. The apps, Walk for a Dog and ResQWalk, are available for iPhone and Android users.

Two free smartphone apps are being used to raise money for local nonprofit animal shelters and rescues. The apps, Walk for a Dog and ResQWalk, are available for iPhone and Android users.

Nicole Parrish has been a volunteer dog walker at the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society for nearly three years.

For the past few months, Parrish’s walks have not only exercised the dogs but also raised money for the no-kill shelter in Washougal.

Two new cellphone applications are making it possible for people like Parrish to generate money for their favorite nonprofit animal rescue or shelter by simply logging in before heading out the door for a walk.

“It’s just nice that I walked anyway, and it can make us a little money,” said Parrish, who lives in Washougal.

Both apps — Walk for a Dog and ResQWalk — allow users to select an animal shelter or rescue beneficiary and use GPS to track users’ walks. Both apps are free and rely on corporate sponsors to generate a donation pool, but the distribution of those donations differs.

Walk for a Dog, which is operated by Baltimore-based WoofTrax, divides the donations among all of the shelters with walkers. The donations are weighted based on how many walkers each shelter has, not by how many miles are walked, said Doug Hexter, CEO of WoofTrax.

“A walk around the block or a 3-mile hike, it all helps,” Hexter said. “We don’t want to penalize folks who just can’t walk 3 miles anymore.”

App users can create profiles for their dogs, complete with pictures, or can opt to “Walk for Cassie” — named for Hexter’s rescued foxhound that represents shelter dogs across the country — if they don’t have a dog of their own.

WoofTrax distributes checks twice a year. In 2014, the first full year of the app, WoofTrax distributed $65,000 to 4,600 shelters, Hexter said.

“And we’re just getting started,” he said.

The West Columbia Gorge Humane Society received a check for $19 in January. The Humane Society for Southwest Washington received a check for $15.

While the donation is small, the shelters say every dollar helps. And volunteers hope word will spread about the apps and more people will sign up, bringing in more money.

“It all adds up,” said Caroline Reiswig, a volunteer at West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.

“The more money we have, the more animals we can help,” she added. “That’s the bottom line.”

The other app, ResQWalk, distributes a pot of money each week based on the number of miles walked. Nearly 1,500 rescues are signed up as beneficiaries, and the money is distributed via PayPal.

The app also offers weekly standings to show which shelter has generated the most miles. Panda Paws Rescue — a Vancouver-based nonprofit rescue specializing in major medical, special needs and hospice care — has been at the top of the leaderboard a few times.

A Facebook group of Panda Paws walkers has more than 300 members. Together, they’ve logged as much as 1,500 miles in one week.

“It’s a way for people to give back that may not be able to give financially because there’s no cost to anybody. All it costs is your time,” said Julie Miller, a Panda Paws board member and walker.

The ResQWalk app also tracks each rescue’s overall success. Since the walkers started using the app in November, they’ve walked more than 10,000 miles and raised nearly $400 for Panda Paws Rescue, Miller said.

“It may not seem like much, but it’s changing people’s lives,” she said. “People are getting out there, getting healthier and their dogs are getting walked.”

And, at the same time, they are helping local shelters.

“It really, really helps us,” Reiswig said. “I’m excited as heck about this.”