Volunteer makes 600 masks for animal welfare workers

Longtime Los Angeles volunteer Gilly Hurley channels her grief into helping hundreds of staff and volunteers caring for shelter pets during the COVID-19 crisis.
By Michelle Sathe

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Gilly Hurley was dealing with a crisis of her own. Her senior dog, Samantha, a beautiful petite German shepherd mix, was diagnosed with lung and bladder cancer. Samantha became a hospice patient and Gilly was her nurse.

Samantha the German shepherd mix holding a toy in her mouth

While Samantha consumed most of Gilly’s days, the longtime volunteer at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Los Angeles couldn’t ignore what else was going on in the world.

COVID-19 was ramping up and she watched the news as public buildings in Los Angeles, including Best Friends, started to temporarily close to the public. Gilly knew that essential staff members and volunteers were still inside, practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

That’s when it clicked for Gilly, who enjoys sewing. “I thought, while I’m inside, I can make some fun masks for everyone caring for the pets,” she says.

Springing into action

Gilly making masks at the sewing machineThe dog-and-cat themed fabric she had at home was perfect. Using an assembly line method for maximum efficiency, she quickly became an expert in mask-sewing, something she had never done before.

“Four yards of fabric doubled will make 60 masks,” Gilly says. “So I would cut the fabric into strips of five masks, sew along one edge before cutting into individual masks, add the elastic at each end, turn the right way in, pin three pleats and finish with a seam around the edge.”

Husband Adrian, a visual effects supervisor for the entertainment industry, became her assistant. He helped out with everything from trimming loose ends and removing pins to fixing her sewing machine when the tension wasn’t working properly.

“He was stuck here, so it was good to give him something to do,” she says. “We never thought we’d have to do this. COVID-19 is just an unbelievable situation.”

Fabric makes masks festive

Seven sewn masks arranged in a circleThe Best Friends staff was super excited when Gilly made her first delivery of 60 masks. “Her masks couldn’t have come at a more perfect time and we honestly couldn’t be more appreciative,” says Michelle Flitcraft, lifesaving manager. “She donated just in time for all the staff members and volunteers to meet the City of Los Angeles’ mandate to wear masks. We were able to continue operations without any delay.”

When Kaylee Hawkins, Pacific regional director for Best Friends, saw a post of Gilly’s generous mask donation on social media, she knew that shelters across the region were also in need of masks. Would Gilly be able to make more?

The answer was a resounding yes. Gilly ordered more fabric and kept sewing. Soon, to Kaylee’s amazement, Gilly was dropping off bags containing hundreds of masks.

“I was blown away by Gilly’s willingness to help,” says Kaylee. “She had already made dozens of masks for Best Friends, yet she still made the time to help care for animal welfare workers across five states. Her generosity knows no bounds. We’re so grateful for Gilly’s big heart and quick sewing skills.”

Working through her grief

Volunteer Gilly sitting at a sewing machine making masksGilly sees making the 600 masks as a healthy way of dealing with the grief of losing Samantha, who passed away March 30.

“It’s been very therapeutic. It’s good to keep busy. It keeps my mind off things,” Gilly says. “It’s good because I’m still helping animals by supporting people at shelters who are still going in to take care of them.”

Michelle says that thanks to Gilly’s generosity, not only are staff and volunteers staying safe, but the pet-themed masks have also lifted spirits.

“They loved how she was able to make something fun out of a not-so-great situation,” she says. “Masks can be uncomfortable, but when you can choose to have dogs or cats on your face, it makes things a lot more enjoyable. What Gilly did for us and other shelters is beyond incredible. She is the angel we never knew we needed.”

Pets need us now more than ever. Donate and save a life

Best Friends in Los Angeles works collaboratively with animal rescue groups, city shelters and passionate individuals, all dedicated to the mission of making Los Angeles a no-kill city. As part of this mission, Best Friends hosts adoption and fundraising events, manages two pet adoption centers, and leads the No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) initiative. Together, we will Save Them All.

Photos courtesy of Gilly Hurley