Daily World / Kathy Quigg
Val West pays a visit with some of the many cats who roam the top floor of PAWS, where she was a tireless worker for more than 42 years. West, 82, died Friday.
For anyone who has lived on the Harbor for any length of time, they know that name Val West is synonymous with kindness and a commitment to help others, especially when those “others” were animals that were helpless, abandoned or otherwise in need.
On Friday evening, longtime Harbor resident and community stalwart Valgene Rene West passed away in Grays Harbor Community Hospital surrounded by family and friends, as her granddaughter held her hand. She was 82. According to a family member, West died of an untreatable cancer.
“She was the most kind person, she was one of a kind,” said Leona Weiland, a longtime friend and co-volunteer at PAWS, of Grays Harbor.
West made her mark in the community one of the founding members of PAWS, a shelter for abandoned, abused or neglected animals, some 43 years ago. PAWS started in the basements of the founding members, who would take strays into their homes, nurse them back to health and then find foster homes for them. Eventually the group started renting buildings and then formally became a group.
West was known as a tireless volunteer of the organization, working at the shelter from opening until closing. Even at an age when most others tend to slow down, West cleaned animal cages with gusto and carried around 70-pound bags of food during feeding time. She was also adept at matching certain pets with certain people based on the personalities of both.
Machelle West-Benitez said her grandmother was tireless in her devotion and passion for PAWS and the animals they helped. It wasn’t just a place were she volunteered, “It was her job. It was her life. It was her home,” she said. “She was the heart of PAWS.”
Tracie Kulich, secretary at the shelter agreed. She would see West at the shelter at 8 a.m. and then drive by after work at night and look at the windows of the shelter. “I would look up and she would still be there.”
West grew up on the Harbor and went to high school in Montesano. Then she made a living as a switchboard operator before moving on to providing at-home health care and assistance. She lived in Central Park. West had three sons, Gordon, Mark and Michael. Michael died Oct. 30, 2010. She had two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Over the years, PAWS has been touch and go financially. West was the clear unifying and “driving force” behind the shelter. “She was a very important woman in our community. She gave her heart and soul to that place and never turned down an animal,” Kulich said. “The community is going to be lost without her.”
Will Morris, a Daily World reporter, can be reached at 537-3930, or by email: email@example.com