Rebecca Stevens, executive director for the Humane Society for Hamilton County, always likes to plan a big surprise for the Tinsel & Tails Holiday Petacular, the annual fundraiser at Ritz Charles. Usually the reveal leads to tears of happiness in the crowd.
This year, Stevens herself received a big surprise. And she couldn’t hold back her emotion.
“I’m a ugly cryer,” she laughed, moments after being told that $1.2 million will be donated to the countywide animal shelter in the form on an anonymous donation in someone’s will. Nick and Ronda Weybright, who already organized a toga party in 2016 that raised $40,000 for HSHC, helped secure this gift that will one day help construct a new facility.
“This will go a long way, but our work’s not done,” Stevens said. “We desperately need more space to do the work our county deserves. In this county, we can do better.”
Stevens reminded the crowd why a new building is an absolute must in her mind. HSHC is a no-kill shelter than doesn’t turn away animals, and so space is limited. There is no area to properly segregate sick pets from healthy ones. Cat cages are stacked on cat cages in storage closets, hallways and in the entrance lobby. A kennel area filled with dogs is so loud with barking that it deters some would-be adopters.
But progress was made toward the $10 million goal at the Nov. 17 fundraiser. A group of donors agreed to match up to $50,000 in donations, and a live-ask led to more than $55,000 contributed by the crowd. That doesn’t include thousands raised from the silent auction and from the hundreds that paid for their tickets to the event.
There were heartwarming stories of pets who were saved from dire situations and matched with loving homes.
Krista Ward and Brian Lewis adopted Miri, a 3-month-old pit bull found outdoors in -4 degree temperatures. The dog was dumped outside of the Hamilton County shelter in January 2016.
“People said we’re heroes for adopting her,” Ward said. “The real heroes are the people at Hamilton County who brought her in and gave her a second chance.”
For each story, the owner and the pet walked down a runway to cheers from the crowd. The biggest applause came at the end, when Wesley Bolin, a veteran who spent 8 years in the Marine Corps with several tours in Afghanistan, finally received his new dog.
Bolin suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and learned about the shelter’s Pets Healing Vets program. He was paired with Taz, a rescue dog, but had not him received until that night. Bolin greeted his dog with a big hug.
“It’s like coming home from a deployment,” he said. “It’s that same good feeling.”