Editor’s note: We’re introducing a new column today. “Speaking for the Animals” by Shela Boynton will appear in the fourth issue of each month. She will focus on pets, but won’t be limited to just these animals.

The request: Write a monthly column about animals.

The challenge: Write something that people will want to read, without pontificating, preaching to the choir, or resorting to over-the-top cuteness and cliché.

The format: A presentation of facts related to a variety of animal welfare issues, questions and answers from readers, and collaborative interviews.

A good place to start is always at the beginning. Here’s my history of animal welfare in Idyllwild and surrounding communities.

Well-respected Hill resident of 37 years, Janice Fast knows as much about this subject as anyone still on the Hill. Animal rescue for us began when she and her partner, Gail Olsen, moved here from Los Angeles in 1976.

Jan built the Ponderosa before there was a pharmacy, a doctor or a vet, so she and Gail were the only game in town for any services related to animals, including first aid.

By 1978, the phone was constantly ringing with pleas for help with lost and found animals. Gail decided to advertise the shop’s phone number in the Town Crier as a resource and to keep a notebook of the calls. Before long, there was a small cadre of volunteers who were offering to help find or foster animals.

To meet the increasing need for services, Gail formed a relationship with Ramona Animal Haven, so money could be raised for the little group operating out of the Ponderosa. And that’s how the St. Francis Fund was formed. Donations were used for vaccines and to spay or neuter, procedures which were not yet available at Ramona.

More volunteers came forward to foster; at one time, Jan and Gail had 13 rescues!

In 1980, Dr. Cal Ashby came to town, and Idyllwild’s first vet moved into what is now Bill Whitman’s office at Four Corners. The St. Francis Fund rescuers began posting information about missing and available animals on the Post Office bulletin board which was then located at the current Nature’s Wisdom.

Sadly, Gail passed away in 1987, and Janice left the hill for a year, temporarily ending any organized rescue efforts. She was back in time, however, to work with Emily Jo Beard as plans and philosophical ideas were conceived for Living Free Animal Sanctuary in Mountain Center.

In 1994, Idyllwild again had its own rescue when Jane Stonehill founded ARF. But, that’s another story for another column.