With Francisco “Paco” Vargas, owner of Galveston restaurant standard bearer Rudy and Paco’s, as the honoree of the 18th annual PAWS Gala on Sept. 22 benefiting the Galveston Island Humane Society, the gala committee went straight to the source for menu ideas.

“I just called Paco for inspiration,” Phil Bouza, executive chef at the San Luis Hotel and Convention Center, said. “The menu has a nod to Paco’s birthplace, Nicaragua, and some variations on the food that everyone loves to order at his restaurant.”

Gala co-chairs Michelle Beckwith and Cynthia McEldowney made sure that everyone will be reminded of the guest of honor throughout dinner.

“Every table will have plantain chips and Paco Pico, and we’ll be serving beef tenderloin with chimichurri sauce and tequila grilled shrimp,” Beckwith explained. “Dessert is cinnamon churros. We call it Paco-ribbean food.”

Beckwith and McEldowney tied the menu to the evening’s overall theme of “Cruisin’ Pawribbean Style” with colorful tropical drinks as well.

“When you go on a Carnival cruise, one of the signature drinks is the Yellow Bird, and it’s especially appropriate, since from time to time birds do end up at the Human Society for adoption.”

Galveston Island Human Society executive director Caroline Pate noted that the cruising theme was also a way to thank the cruise industry.

“Cruise workers volunteer at the shelter, because they miss their dogs at home,” she said.

The cruise industry’s support also includes a major donation to the evening’s raffle; first prize in the raffle is a $1,200 gift certificate from Galvestoncruises.com that can be used on any cruise ship anywhere in the world.

Pate also acknowledged Vargas’ contributions to the community.

“Paco has always been very supportive of the Human Society,” she said. “He’s always the first one to say, “I’ve got you,” and that’s not just for us, that’s for so many charities in Galveston.”

The PAWS Gala is known for friendly competition among pet owners who vie for the chance to have their pet be crowned king or queen of the Human Society’s Mardi Gras krewe, the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux.

“We’re doing it a little differently this year,” McEldowney explained. “We’ll have one large nautical vignette, with nine pet owners and their pets all together.”

Proceeds from the evening benefit all of the Human Society’s programs, including adoption initiatives, spay/neuter assistance, city-wide education programs, disaster response, “home safe” programs to help pet owners keep their pets, and upcoming behavior training classes.

While the Galveston Island Humane Society is focused on finding homes for pets, their gala committee wants to make sure all participants find their way home safely, too.

“We offer a full bar throughout the evening, so we’re also offering Overboard service, providing car service rides home,” McEldowney said. “If you go overboard at the bar, we’ll throw you a life line.

“People can come, enjoy the whole evening, and leave knowing their car will be safe in the parking garage,” Beckwith said. “We hope offering rides home is the wave of the future. We want everyone to have a great time that ends well.”

The PAWS Gala benefiting the Galveston Island Human Society takes place at the Galveston Island Convention Center. The evening features dinner, dancing to Houston band Password, live and silent auctions and a raffle. Reservation deadline is Saturday, and tickets can be purchased at (409) 740-1919 or at galvestonhumane.org.

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