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    San Francisco Loses a Gentleman Hero

    In Memoriam


    San Francisco lost one of its truly iconic figures and distinguished gentlemen, with the passing of Wilkes Bashford, 82, on January 15. His loss, felt by many, is especially poignant for those of us impacted by Wilkes’ support for the LGBT and HIV-positive communities and his life-long, fervent love for dogs and the human-animal bond.

    Wilkes, well known for his love of animals and his family of dachshund companions, was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of animal companionship for San Franciscans for with AIDS. At a time when AIDS caused deep levels of stigma and fear, Wilkes stood up in 1987 and hosted the first fundraiser – a dog fashion show – for the fledging “Pets are Wonderful Support for People with AIDS/ARC, nicknamed PAWS.

    The dog fashion show brought publicity and awareness to the greater community about the unfilled and unique needs of animal guardians living with AIDS. This event symbolized the start of a movement, which eventually grew across the country. PAWS-like groups sprung up in many major cities, especially those that were most ravaged by the HIV/ AIDS epidemic.

    Originally founded by volunteers at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Food Bank, Wilkes’ dog fundraiser helped empower PAWS volunteers into creating an independent agency in the fall of 1987. At the same time, local veterinarians were collaborating with the Shanti Project, San Francisco SPCA, and local physicians to address the public health concerns about pet ownership.

    These efforts evolved into the PAWS’ Safe Pet Guidelines and eventually into the Center for Disease Control’s Healthy Pets/Healthy People website in 2000. PAWS’ ongoing legacy, which will always be a part of Wilkes’ legacy, includes providing services to tens of thousands of San Franciscans and their animal companions, and many more throughout the nation.

    Nearly 30 years later, the human-animal bond is the subject of a large scope of research, which demonstrates its tangible impact on isolated and sick individuals. Thus, animal lovers everywhere are grateful to see the human-animal bond being much more integrated into medicine and social work. Last year, PAWS merged with the Shanti Project to sustain its programs long-term and reach out to a greater number of San Franciscans who are in need of PAWS’ services.

    Wilkes met with Shanti and PAWS’ leadership before the holidays, and shared his trademark enthusiasm for the merged agency and PAWS’ vision for the future. We are heartbroken that Wilkes cannot continue to participate in the renaissance of the PAWS vision, but his spirit of generosity and love for animals lives on forever at Pets Are Wonderful Support.

    We hope you will join us later this year when we offer a special tribute to Wilkes at PAWS’ signature event, Petchitecture–an event Wilkes and his dachshund companions always enjoyed immensely. In fact, a favorite memory for many long-time PAWS supporters was when Wilkes co-hosted the PAWS’ 20th Anniversary Gala in 2007, and brought in his best friend, Mayor Willie Brown, as well as Robin Williams, who ended up stealing the show!

    Wilkes, we love you, we miss you, and we thank you for everything!

    Ken Gorczyca, PAWS Founding Veteri-narian

    Kaushik Roy, PAWS and Shanti Project Executive Director