In light of the coronavirus, Okaloosa Island artist Diana MacCargar is crocheting viruses to auction off and raise money for the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society.

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FORT WALTON BEACH – Diana MacCargar has an eclectic approach to coping with the coronavirus – a charitable one, too.

The Okaloosa Island artist has spent her past few evenings crocheting 10 viruses to auction off and raise money for the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society. The coronavirus was the inspiration behind the quirky project, but it was MacCargar’s oldest son in Germany who sparked the idea.

“One morning he messaged me and said, ‘You have to put your creative mind into this virus thing and see if you can make people smile,” MacCargar said. “Take this scary, difficult situation and turn it into something positive.”

To bid on a crocheted virus, visit

MacCargar posted the crocheted viruses on her Facebook page to test if people were open to it. Lorraine Whetstone, the fundraising, events and volunteer coordinator at PAWs, saw the post and knew MacCargar, a fellow animal lover, would consider making it a fundraiser.

“I reached out to her because I thought they were extremely funny,” Whetstone said. “We need a little levity during this time. We also need a way to vent our frustration. I wanted to do something creative. Instead of flat out asking for money, I wanted people to get something to unfortunately remember this time or beat it up – whatever they want to do.”

Before moving to the beach, MacCargar had a fully operational homestead in North Carolina with goats, chickens, horses, rabbits and everything in between, she said. She misses being around animals and wants to help the local shelters.

► JAN. 27, 2020: Couple buys home so they can adopt PAWS pup

“When the virus outbreak happened, (Whetstone) told me, a lot of people – especially in the beginning when we didn’t have many facts on it yet – were dropping off their pets overnight because they were afraid they could get coronavirus from their pets,” MacCargar said. “She told me all of their fundraisers, all of their income producing activities had been cut to zero because of social distancing, so they were dealing with more animals and less financial resources to help these animals.”

PAWS’ two primary fundraisers, the animal clinic and Junkyard Dog Gift ‘n Thrift, are closed. The nonprofit needs money for many items, especially vaccines and medicine for animals – items the public can’t donate.

The shelter has received 73 owner surrenders of animals, 20 more than it did last month – and counting. Of those, 44 were dogs, 26 were cats and three were birds.

“During economic hardships, people lose their jobs, can’t pay for food to take care of their animal or they can’t pay for rent,” Whetstone said. “We help people as much as we can. We will give them food, supplies – anything we can try to do to keep the animal in their home.”

► MARCH 24, 2020: PAWS locks doors, begs for food donations

PAWS enlisted emergency fostering to clear space, because staff members anticipate more animal surrenders. Within a week, 130 animals were emergency fostered.

“The community really stepped up to help us,” Whetstone said. “They’re at home. They have time, so they wanted to help out by bringing an animal home. We’re still open for adoptions.”

MacCargar hopes people who purchase crocheted viruses to help will keep them as a keepsake and memory of a difficult time society survived.

“I’m hoping that out of this big mess we are all in at a global level, a lot of people take this time to revisit their goals, reevaluate their priorities in life and maybe we see some people go back to living happier, healthier lifestyles,” MacCargar said. “I’m hoping my little virus will sit somewhere on a shelf and remind people, this was a turning point in my life. I don’t care if someone wants to shoot it with a Lysol gun or have their dogs tear it apart.”