Bequest helps task force

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Gail Sheffield helps out at a Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force event.

The Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force got a generous financial boost recently when one of its faithful volunteers died unexpectedly and left the nonprofit group a home valued at upwards of $300,000.

Gail Sheffield, 72, died Oct. 4, 2012, after a brief illness. She had volunteered with the Task Force for about eight years and had a passion for helping feral cats, said Mimi Beadles, director of the Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force.

Sheffield volunteered her time to trap feral cats and also helped with scheduling appointments and working in the cat recovery room at the spay and neuter clinic.

“We loved her,” Beadles said. “She was one of the most unassuming people, and this gift is just one of many of Gail’s legacies.”

The Task Force will sell the home and use the money to cover spay and neuter expenses for people who can’t afford the procedure for their cats, Beadles said. The bequest also will cover expenses incurred for spaying and neutering feral cats.

Of the 1,833 cats that were spayed and neutered last year, about a quarter of the surgeries were on feral cats.

The clinic typically absorbs the costs for about 25 percent of all cats that are fixed, Beadles said, largely through a program that offers free operations for kittens if the owner pays to have the mother cat spayed. She expects the money from the sale of the home to help offset the costs of processing cats for several years.

Sheffield’s bequest is the largest donation to date for the nonprofit group that has spayed and neutered some 27,000 dogs and cats since it organized in 1999. Several years ago a Bigfork woman left the Task Force $125,000.

“We still have about $100,000 of that. We’re very good stewards with our money,” Beadles said.

Julia Sims, whose husband, Joe, is the executor of Sheffield’s estate, said Sheffield also left a large cash bequest for the Feral Cat Consortium in Madisonville, La., a group in which she was very active before moving to the Kalispell area.

“Gail loved feral cats,” Julia Sims said, noting how much time her longtime friend devoted to helping cats. “People have come out of the woodwork and have said how she touched their lives in so many ways.”

Julia and Joe Sims and Gail and her husband, Charles Sheffield (who died two years ago) were close friends since college days at Louisiana State University.

Gail earned a law degree from LSU and worked for several years as an assistant district attorney in Louisiana. She later got a Ph.D. in anthropology from Tulane University. She also was a published author and accomplished artist.

“She was probably the most brilliant person I’ve ever met,” Julia Sims said. “Yet she was the most unassuming, down to earth, funny, wonderful, gracious person.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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