Chester County SPCA’s Forget-Me-Not gala brings hundreds to Unionville
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
A passion for pets pervaded the Chester County SPCA’s elegant 25th annual Forget-Me-Not Gala in Unionville on Sunday.
Held at the residence of Katie and Cuyler Walker – a horse farm featured in two films by M. Night Shyamalan – the event attracted a crowd eager to support the efforts of the Chester County SPCA, a nonprofit dependent on donations for its mission of animal-advocacy.
The Walkers not only opened their property for the fund-raiser, they also more than quadrupled their normal animal population – five dogs and nine horses. In addition, they invited more than 200 visitors to tour their stately, mid-1800s home, which will be showcased again on this year’s Chester County Day, a benefit for Chester County Hospital.
“We had no hesitation,” said Katie Walker, describing the privilege of sharing what makes the Unionville area special with a worthy cause.
For Cuyler Walker, who chairs the East Marlborough Township supervisors’ board, a commitment to animals is likely part of his DNA. The family’s five Labradors are the 19th generation of Peggy of Shipman, one of the first labs brought to the U.S. from England by his great uncle.
The Walkers’ home features a treasured collection of dog photographs, books and memorabilia. For example, in 1938, one of the family dogs’ ancestors made the cover of Life magazine for being a three-time champion.
And to complement their impressive lineage, the Walker dogs can even boast Ivy League exposure. Cuyler Walker recalled the time he came home from college on vacation to find a litter of puppies, one of which had to go back to Yale with him. Simba was a hit – both on and off the campus, he said.
The fact that he was no longer living in a dorm made the arrangement possible. He said he started taking the puppy to class, and no one ever complained. “I was discreet,” he said. “I usually sat in the back, and she would sleep.”
The gala’s activities included scheduled canine demonstrations by U.S. Customs officials and Search & Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania as well as impromptu obedience-training sessions by Cuyler Walker. The program was emceed by NBC10 anchor Dawn Timmeney, another unabashed dog enthusiast.
“No arm-twisting needed,” she said of her participation in the event. Timmeney, who owns two Golden Retrievers, said she has been
impressed with the work of the Chester County SPCA, which has been featured on her show, “Dawn’s Pet Project.”
No Forget-Me-Not would be complete without its traditional carriage parade, and Sunday’s sunny skies enhanced the photo opportunities. More than 15 carriages with occupants in period finery traveled up the Walker’s long driveway as cameras clicked. Among the passengers: Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone and her family.
“We wouldn’t miss this,” she said. “It’s a very special event.”
State Sen. Andy Dinniman also made an appearance, joined by his dog, Henry. He urged the audience to voice support for a bill he sponsored to make Pennsylvania the 20th state in the country to ban the gasing of dogs. He said he hoped the bill, which passed in the Senate, would be approved by the House in the fall.
The gala also received support from a variety of local businesses that donated culinary offerings, such as The Gables at Chadds Ford, Brandywine Prime, and Victory Brewing Company, as well as a potpourri of items for the silent auction.
Conrad E. Muhley, board president of the Chester County SPCA, extended thanks to the many people who made the gala possible, especially the Walkers and Frank Sobyak, a longtime board member and contributor.
Rich Britton, a spokesman for the Chester County SPCA, said it was great to see people reach out to the agency, which has had a challenging year. In addition to orchestrating a much-needed expansion of its West Goshen facility, the Chester County SPCA investigates an average of 450 complaints a year of animal abuse.
The most recent case involved the burning death of a 15-pound terrier in Coatesville last week. A necropsy is expected to be performed at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center today, Britton said.