It's been 10 years since Debra L. Sipple, an avid animal lover, passed away and her friends and family gathered to carry on her passion through Debbie's Fund. The group continues to raise funds for local animals shelters, and will hold its 8th annual Par for Pets golf tournament on June 13 at Jonathan's Golf Course in Magnolia.

Jim Woodland first met Debbie Sipple at a party in the late 1990s, when cell phones had just started to become popular.

Someone at the party received a call about a couple of lost hunting dogs, Sipple immediately turned her attention to finding them.

Woodland said he just wanted to spend time with the blonde, curly-haired, 4-foot-10 woman, so he offered to take her for a ride in his pick-up truck to find the dogs.

“It was like I’d known her all my life,” Woodland said. “She was like that, very likeable.”

After driving and talking for a while, Debbie spotted the dirty dogs in a field to Woodland’s disbelief. They ran right up to her, he said. The pair threw the dogs in the bed of the truck and headed back to the party.

“She was a piece of work,” Woodland said. “Debbie was an interesting person. There was never a dull moment.”

But in 2004, at the age of 45, Sipple died of a brain aneurism. Woodland, who had been dating Debbie for about eight years, said it was an overwhelming shock to everyone who knew her.

Thousands came to her funeral, he said, and a handful of people, including him, her mother and a couple close friends, decided they wanted to do something to carry on her passion for animals.

So they formed Debra L. Sipple Memorial, Inc., better known as Debbie’s Fund, a nonprofit based in Milford that raises funds for local animal shelters. That small, grassroots movement with about four founding members has continued through the years, holding small and large events throughout the year to raise funds for other nonprofits that are doing what Debbie loved so much: helping animals.

“It’s small. It’s a little hometown, backwater thing,” Woodland said. “People just do it because they want to.”

Debbie’s Fund now works with an annual budget of about $25,000 a year, assisting a handful of organizations, including the Kent County SPCA, Sussex County Animal Association, Purrfect Haven Cat Rescue and others. Through the past decade, shelters that receive funding from Debbie’s Fund have probably helped tens of thousands of cats, dogs and some horses, Woodland said.

In addition to bingo, poker and small fundraising events throughout the year, Debbie’s Fund relies on  larger events like the annual Par for Pets Golf Tournament, which is scheduled for this Friday at Jonathan’s Landing Golf Course in Magnolia and Wheels and Wine in Harrington, which is scheduled for Aug. 17.

Sussex County Animal Association, also known as Whimsical Animal Rescue, started shortly before Debbie’s Fund was formed, and has benefited from their fundraising efforts since the beginning.

SCAA Vice President Amy Royal said the efforts of the close-knit fundraising group have helped the animals at SCAA and been instrumental in forming friendships within the animal shelter community.

“They have been very generous to us, very supportive,” she said. “And they’ve actually become very good friends as well. Everybody’s all on the same page about saving the animals. They were all very good friends with Debbie and to take the thing she loved the most – animals – and to give it a lasting gift in her memory is wonderful. Everybody should hope their friends would do something like that to honor their memory.”

While the organization is held together by a handful of passionate animal lovers and friends carrying on Debbie’s memory, Woodland said their efforts wouldn’t be possible without donations from local community members, businesses and organizations.

“Without the funds, without the support from the businesses, community and from local folks, we wouldn’t have done anything,” Woodland said. “The heroes of the story are the folks that write the checks. There’s a lot of people with good hearts out there.”