Scavenger hunt supports Gulf Shore Animal League's mission to control over-population of cats

BRADENTON -- Former deputy Bradenton Police Chief Walter C. Watkins loved cats and would go out of his way to help and rescue strays.

He also admired and respected the mission of Bradenton's Gulf Shore Animal League and its efforts to expand the trap-neuter-return programs in Manatee County, with the goal of becoming a no-kill community.

Watkins, along with his wife, Lori, and many others were the founding participants of the League's annual scavenger hunt, which was renamed in Watkins' honor after he died of a brain tumor at age 47.

On Saturday, seven teams with colorful names spent most of the morning collecting "fun and funky" items in different locations, ending at Palma Sola Park Pavilion in West Bradenton.

"Walter loved seeing the joy of the hunt and he really enjoyed being a part of it,' said Lori Watkins, who volunteers with the league.

The teams scavenged in cars and on foot for items with different point values, from a shirt with a bird logo on it and a Susan B. Anthony dollar, to more-extravagant collections, such as a video of a team member doing laps in a pool and a photo of team members wearing pink swimmies.

The teams also had to visit five different locations that cater to animals and pets.

"The hunt was really hard this year, but we believe in strong organizations like this that really go out and do things," said Lissa Smith, team captain for the Fairy Godmothers, who were dressed in ballerina tutus and wings. "We really are fairy godmothers because each of us fosters pets and we volunteer for animal rescues."

Dressed in pirate outfits, the Jolly Rogers team, divided into male and female groups, does charity work throughout the year for different organizations, and chose the league Scavenger Hunt for their "pet" project of the month.

"We had a blast. This is the first time we've done this and we had a lot of fun. I liked traveling to different parts of Bradenton," said team leader Coby Hobar.

In addition to prizes for the team hunt, which paid $90 as a group to participate, individuals who chose to raise pledges were also awarded prizes for raising the most funds.

A silent auction was brought back to help raise more money for the non-profit organization, and food for the participants and volunteers who came to support them, was provided by the Sandbar Restaurant on Ana Maria Island.

League president Cheryl Wade, who also volunteers, said the no-kill program has helped to reduce the number of cats at the Manatee County Shelter.

"All the strays and shelter cats go through the TNR program, which includes rabies vaccinations and having their ear tipped for identification. Then, they're released back to where they are found. Our small kittens go into our adoption program," said Wright, who added that "kitten season" is fast approaching and the League is expecting about 40 kittens coming from foster care for adoption.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the league, becoming a foster-care provider, or adopting a cat, can visit gsalinc.org or call 941-747-2284.

Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.