Animal lovers came out in full support of the Dawson County Humane Society, putting their paws together and clapping as they celebrated a decade’s worth of milestones at the shelter’s 10th anniversary celebration June 10.
It was a sunny afternoon with a nice breeze when society supporters gathered on the front lawn of the shelter, eating tasty frozen treats provided by Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers and taking tours of the recently renovated facility.
An expanded cat living space, additional runs and kennels, expansions to the dog intake area and a metal roof over the puppy house’s outside play area were just a few of the shelter’s updates from the past couple years.
Board President Carolyn Bowen welcomed everybody to the celebration, and there was much to celebrate as just a few weeks ago the humane society purchased the tract of land where the shelter sits from Etowah Water and Sewer Authority. The Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust and the Nancy F. Noblin Foundation funded the purchase of the land via grant monies.
In 2004, the humane society entered into an agreement with Etowah and the county commission to lease the land for $1 per year for 50 years, though it would be another four years before the shelter became a reality.
“It took a lot of hard work to get the shelter built…and it’s taken a lot of hard work to keep it going,” said Bowen. “All volunteer hours. It’s amazing the way that people have given their time and energy all for the love of animals.”
Last year at the Dawson County Humane Society Resale Shop, volunteers put in 7,892 hours and so far this year volunteers have put in 3,563 hours.
It’s not just the volunteers at the Resale Shop that helps keep the shelter successful. Cofounder Dr. Brandon Mills recounted all the volunteers who came together in the 10 years prior to the shelter’s opening. From County Commission Chairman Don Roberts to Cofounder Warren Pennington to architect Peter Hill who designed the shelter for free, and to Petsmart, the Humane League of Lake Lanier and generous funders like George David and Nancy Noblin, a home for the homeless animals in Dawson County would not have been possible, he said.
“You hear me referred to as ‘Founder.’ I beg to differ,” said Mills as he addressed the audience. “I don’t believe that a founder can be pinned down. I prefer to believe that the real founders had four legs.”
In Mills’ veterinary clinic, he reserves a place he calls the “Founder’s Club” that holds the photographs of the first stray dogs he treated at his clinic.
And very early on in his career, Mills provided veterinary services for animal control and was reimbursed by the county for two things: boarding and euthanasia.
“I’ve held too many pets for the last time that didn’t deserve to die,” said Mills. “All these animals are the real founders because they inspired me to do this project.”
It was the homeless dogs and cats in Dawson County that inspired Mills to proceed on his endeavor to help animals by creating the Dawson County Humane Society with Warren Pennington.
“These dogs…they spoke to me in a sense, imploring me to do something,” said Mills. “Everyone that worked on this project had similar life experiences with animals that led them to have the same passion to help animals. Those animals that inspired these people are the founders. These inspired people came from different walks of life and had different abilities but we all shared the same motivation.”
It has been a labor of love for the volunteers who worked tirelessly to provide a safe haven for Dawson County animals, and as of June 10, the shelter has placed 6,035 pets in homes.
Shelter Director Jason Hutcherson, who moved to Dawson County from central Georgia to take the director position three and a half years ago, said there is no better feeling than watching his shelter pets find their forever homes.
Prior to working at the shelter, Hutcherson spent 13 years working at an animal park and couldn’t imagine a greater feeling than seeing little kids see exotic animals for the first time. That is, until he came to Dawson.
“I never thought that anything could top working at the animal park and seeing little kids’ faces when they saw a giraffe, but working with these animals day in and day out the emotion behind seeing them adopted is amazing,” said Hutcherson. “There is no better feeling than that. That’s the end goal for us. That’s the end goal for them is to find them a forever home. The blood, sweat and tears that you pour into it – that’s the reward at the end.”
Board Director Terri Tragesser and Board Secretary Mickey Schroeter acknowledged that the shelter would not have hit the 10 year milestone without the sustaining philanthropy of the Nancy F. Noblin Foundation, the Smock Charitable Trust and the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust who have each contributed over $100,000. Tragesser and Schroeter unveiled a plaque commemorating the three foundations that will be placed at the front of the shelter.
“A history can be boring. It can be a burden with skeletons in the closet. Ours is a love story that begins with ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ With all the personal tragedies that I’ve called inspirational to the people that helped do this but it continues into countless happy endings as pets are reunited with the love of humans,” said Mills.
As for the next 10 years, the humane society already has a goal in mind.“The next 10 years we’re going to shoot for 8,000 (adoptions) so we’ll see what happens,” said Hutcherson.