By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Northborough – Sandra Gittlen is a freelance writer, specializing in technical, business and lifestyle pieces. A resident of Northborough, she is also an accomplished athlete, who competes in triathlons. But there is another area of her life that she is really most passionate about – that of a volunteer for the Baypath Humane Society of Hopkinton, Inc., a nonprofit, no-kill shelter that takes in over 1,000 cats and dogs each year. And on Monday, April 20, she will take that dedication to another level when she participates for the third time in the Boston Marathon, running to raise funds for the shelter.
Gittlen is the proud “mom” to three cats and three dogs, all of whom were adopted. Dogs Nellie and Lily and cats Kai and Fenway came from Baypath, dog Riggs came from Sterling Animal Shelter and cat Brady came from Buddy Dog in Sudbury.
Five years ago, Gittlen decided to volunteer at Baypath, where she helped with a myriad of chores such as cleaning dishes, laundry and other maintenance tasks. She also offered her talents in marketing and public relations, helping to develop the shelter’s website and social media pages.
“We now have over 8,000 friends on our Facebook page,” she noted.
“I also help out with adoptions,” she said. “Basically I have filled in wherever needed. It’s so much fun.”
Recently, she took on another responsibility when she accepted a position on the shelter’s board of directors.
Although she loves all of her animals, it is 13-year-old retriever, Nellie, that she said is “the perfect representation of why I love Baypath so much.”
Last summer Nellie arrived at Baypath after being rescued from a home where she was being offered up for sale at a yard sale.
“But she had a difficult time in the shelter environment,” Gittlen said. “So I took her home with the intent to foster but quickly realized she would not be going anywhere with her beautiful smile, endless spunk and gentle demeanor.”
“Most other shelters might not have given a dog like Nellie the opportunity to find a second chance,” she added. “Baypath does this every day for so many deserving dogs and cats.”
Four years ago Gittlen decided to start running just for fun and as a way to stay fit and counter the stress of her busy life. Before she knew it she was running longer distances and adding swimming and biking into the mix.
For the past two years, she has run in the Boston Marathon, raising more than $10,000 to support Baypath’s mission of finding loving homes for dogs and cats in need.
Unfortunately the joy of running in her first Boston event, in 2013, was cut short by the tragic bombings that occurred near the finish line. She had just made it to the top of Heartbreak Hill in Newton when she was told she had to stop.
“It was so sad but so confusing,” she said. “I was devastated by that day’s events and still am.”
Later that year she competed in the Marine Corps Marathon in Virginia, just to say, she said, “that I did it.” And then last year, she once again competed in Boston, finishing with an impressive time of 5:53:17.
“Nothing will ever compare to that,” she said. “It was amazing.”
As pleased as she was to finish with a great time, was the fact of knowing that she had earned money for the shelter.
“The fun of running is running for charities,” she said, “and knowing what I’m funding with each step is so rewarding. What drives me is knowing [the money raised] is going to a good place. Every dollar is important to the shelter and well-spent.”
“Sandy is a force of nature,” said Baypath Executive Director Elizabeth Jefferis. “There is nothing she wouldn’t do to help the animals, and her enthusiasm and tenacity are simply amazing.”
To support Gittlen in this year’s marathon, visit www.baypathhumane.org or send a check to Baypath Humane Society, Attn: “Sandy’s Marathon Run”, 5 Rafferty Road, Hopkinton, MA 01748. Donors of $100 can add their pet’s name to her shirt for the 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston.