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Women In Business: Kona Sankey paw-sitively determined to bring Penticton pets and people together

Kona Sankey started Pet Friendly Penticton in 2022

Included in the Wednesday, May 3 print edition is our Women in Business magazine where we highlight South Okanagan women who are making a difference in the community and in the business world. Below is a profile of Kona Sankey, who is featured in the magazine.

What started as a walk down the street to help a ginger boy named Oscar lose weight has grown into a grassroots project aimed at creating a pet-friendly Penticton.

Kona Sankey is the guardian of two senior cats, both of who were in need of some exercise back in 2021. Oscar was pushing over 20 pounds while Pickle was more curious about the outdoors, either way, Sankey felt getting the two out and on leashes was what was needed.

“We would take them to the corner and then walk back to the house. Then we got backpacks because Oscar doesn’t really like cars or wheel noises, and that is when we ventured out further,” she said.

It was this adventure that would have Sankey stopping into Penticton businesses to run errands, which quickly transformed into finding out which stores were pet friendly and which ones needed answers as to why a feline was seen shopping.

“By April, I had started Pet-Friendly Penticton on Facebook and listed locations using Google maps, to help locate which places were pet friendly,” explained Sankey.

The list quickly grew and so did the followers, which spawned into another Facebook page calling for the need to answer questions about all things pet related, from amenities, to spay and neuter programs, to lost and found, to special areas pet owners could gather.

“We were getting about 100 followers each month and local charities were joining and starting to use it to post opportunities for volunteers, as well as for foster homes or donation requests.”

By that time Sankey knew she had sparked a fire under Penticton’s pet community, and animal lovers were coming together with all sorts of ideas. At first, she would hold giveaways on the Facebook page for certain initiatives which gave way to a larger idea of applying for a community grant so that Sankey could host an event for pet lovers to bond.

September rolled around and Sankey’s “pet project” was a full-blown reality with a Pets in the Park event hosting more than 14 exhibitors, 200 humans and half a dozen animals at Gyro Park. From Kelowna Disc Dogs showing off their agility and frisbee talents to booths for pet chews, food and clothing to the founders of a Kelowna indoor dog park being created, there was plenty to view.

“It was such a success we are going to do it again this September 2023,” she said.

Fall rolled over into winter, which called for the demand for a pet holiday market. Sankey once again brought together exhibitors, humans and their pets, including a goat named Bugatti, as well as Santa for holiday photos. The event, held at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre raised money for both the Pet-Friendly Penticton project as well as for the community’s most vulnerable, through Fill the Food Gap Penticton.

Sticking to her guns of community involvement, Sankey initiated a beach clean-up in February to help tidy the Okanagan Lake Park Dog Beach.

“Our pet-friendly areas, such as dog beaches, really need some care and attention.” A lot of people are complaining on social media that these parks aren’t well looked after and I want pet owners to visit these locations and not have to travel to Kelowna to take their dogs to a nice beach,” said Sankey.

She had been watching comments online about the condition of pet-friendly areas around Penticton for some time which is why during the 2022 municipal election Sankey polled the candidates about how they related to animals and what their vision was when it comes to the future of Penticton being pet friendly.

“I was surprised at how many candidates responded and were in support. I know they can’t do a lot in the way of pet-friendly housing but they could advocate the province and look to understand the issues.”

It’s the council’s and the community’s support and commitment to making Penticton pet friendly that drives Sankey to continue with the project. She now has a website and is working on forming a committee that can put together a proposal to oversee that dog parks are maintained as well as create a centralized forum for information regarding pets.

“I want to build a printed map that would benefit tourists. I would like to add a directory to the map we have online and create easy-to-find support services for pets and their people,” said Sankey.

Currently, she isn’t looking at forming a charity as it’s not really in her wheelhouse. She runs an online social media marking business Rubber Cat Media which makes running the Facebook page easy as well as her social advocacy.

“Right now I really think there is an untapped market for pet tourism in Penticton, I meet people all the time who travel with their pets, especially their cats,” she said.

So, balls keep bouncing and the strings keep unravelling as Sankey continues her passion to connect pet amenities and people so animals get the care they deserve while living in the South Okanagan.

READ MORE: Women in Business: Former leader at Penticton’s Barley Mill reflects on 13 years of memories

READ MORE: Women in Business: People are the difference makers at LSCSS


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Jen Zielinski

About the Author: Jen Zielinski

Graduated from the broadcast journalism program at BCIT. Also holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science and sociology from Thompson Rivers University.
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