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Animal house
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Three-year-old Mekhi Roberts stares raptly at five fluffy kittens lined up in a cage at the Humane Society Chatham Savannah.

The kittens stare back at Mekhi, equally entranced. “I want that one!” Mekhi announces happily, as the kittens squirm closer for a better look at their new friend.

Facilities at the animal shelter at 7215 Sallie Mood Dr. have been improved to encourage visitors such as Mekhi to come out and visit with the many pets that are available. It’s hoped that new viewing rooms and better access will result in more adoptions.

The Humane Society has come a long way in recent years. The staff and board of directors recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours at the revamped headquarters.

Board President Gloria Leonard has seen many changes during her 25 years of service. “We’ve truly seen it transformed into what it is now from when I first became involved. I think back to the people who were determined to make it work and hung in even when it looked bleak,” Leonard says. “These people were determined and they would not give up.”

One of the major changes at the Humane Society was the hiring of Rob Lee as executive director six years ago. “Along with Rob came the start of our good luck,” says board member Helen Stone. “Hiring a full-time director was the first step in the right direction.”

Some major donations made Lee's hiring possible. “It became possible when (the late businessman and philanthropist) Mills Lane said he would give a gift of $50,000, but I had to match it,” Stone says. “I said, 'Right.'”

At first, Stone feared Lane's offer would come to naught, but almost immediately, the first bit of good luck kicked in. “I was standing in my kitchen a day later when the phone rang,” Stone says. “Someone called and said a relative had died and wanted to leave $50,000 to an animal rescue organization! I told Mills I had $50,000. He was surprised, but was good on his word.”

Lee was hired in 1999. “We wanted a full-time director to run the shelter on a full-time basis, someone who was here to assess what was needed and what needed to be done. to do. Rob has worked hard,” Stone says.

Lee is proud of the changes and renovations, and says the board, volunteers and staff are all to be commended. “A lot of people make this possible,” he says.

“For 20 years, they did it basically on their own without a lot of support from anyone outside the group,” Lee says. “When I first started, several times I’d have to pick up the phone and say, 'We’ve got trouble. I have bills and can’t make the payroll.'”

The determined band of volunteers was quick to help out. “They always came through,” Lee says. “You don’t know how much that means. I am proudest of the things made possible by the community.”

One board member, Kay Franklin, paid off the mortgage so the society could concentrate on raising funds for improvement. Dr. Michael Nash and his wife, Arlene, made the first donation to help start a spay/neuter clinic. “Several others came forward then and and made donations,” Lee says.

Through the efforts of the Chatham County Commission and State Rep. Anne Mueller, funding was obtained to have the parking lot paved. Mural classes from the Savannah College of Art and Design made the Humane Society the subject of class projects, resulting in colorful, eye-catching murals across the front of the building.

That has made a vast difference in a building that once looked as if it was abandoned, Lee says, adding, “We have people coming by just to look at the front of the building.”

“The board of directors and volunteers make it possible to do things the staff can’t. They’ve always been there when I've called,” he says, adding that the staff also is to be commended. “The staff are the ones who do jobs nobody else wants to do.”

While the Humane Society is bigger and better than it has ever been, the work is by no means finished. “There’s a lot to be done,” Lee says. “We need a permanent building for the spay/neuter program. We need to expand the administrative facilities so we can do more things in-house.”

While all volunteers are needed and appreciated, Lee is particularly proud of the volunteers who operate the Pick of the Litter Thrift Store.

“I don’t know how they keep the schedule they do,” he says. “Last year, they raised a third of our budget. It makes it possible for us to stay afloat.”

Arlene Nash is one of the dedicated volunteers at the Pick of the Litter. “We get great donations,” she says. “We have great prices.”

First-time visitors to the Pick of the Litter are astonished at the quality and sheer volume of items available at the thrift store, Nash says. In addition to the large retail space, there are storage rooms crammed to the rafters with items waiting to be sorted and priced.

Long hours are put into getting items ready to sell. “We need volunteers,” Nash says.

It can be hard to get volunteers to work at an animal shelter, no matter how much they may want to help.

“A lot of people say they can’t be around the animals because they want to take them all home,” Nash says. “You don’t have to be around the animals to volunteer in the thrift store.”

Nash got involved in the Humane Society about ten years ago, through her daughter, Mindy, who today is a staff member at the shelter.

“Mindy got me started when she was very young,” Nash says. “She came home one day and said she was going to do a raffle for the Humane Society.”

Because Mindy was so young, Nash was touched but a little worried. “I said that was something for grownups,” she says. “But Mindy went ahead and did it. That got me involved.”

The Pick of the Litter Thrift Store began with a yard sale. The store originally was housed in a cinder block building.

Today, it is located upstairs, over the Humane Society, with a separate entrance. “When they renovated this building, they found the space,” Nash says.

The store is open six days a week, Monday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Last year, we raised more than $151,000,” Nash says. “We’re closing in on $180,000 this year.”

It takes a lot of effort to raise that kind of money. “It’s very hours-intensive,” Nash says. “We would love to have more volunteers. It’s very interesting and lots of fun. And it helps the animals.”

All items in the thrift store have been donated. “We don’t buy anything,” Nash says.

Donations of virtually everything are brought to the store, includingantiques. “Antiques dealers help us with appraisals so we know what to charge,” Nash says.

During a recent visit, the thrift store was filled with clothing, shoes, accessories, tools, furniture, small appliances, games, toys, books -- the list goes on and one. Yet Nash says there actually are fewer items out than usual.

“It is relatively empty now,” she says. “We just had a yard sale.”

Nash opens a door to one of the overstuffed rooms, revealing boxes and boxes of summer clothing designed for warmer weather. “These are boxes of things that are waiting to be put out,” she says. “Sometimes they’re stacked from the floor to the ceiling.”

Nash is hopeful that at some point, the administrative offices can be moved upstairs. “We would love to have the downstairs for the thrift shop,” she says.

In addition to retail sales in the store, the Pick of the Litter also holds giant yard sales. A recent one brought in $4,600 on one Saturday.

“We used to do two yard sales a year, now we do six,” Nash says. “We brought in $4,600 one Saturday.”

People wishing to donate items to the thrift store can drop them off at the little “donation house” outside the Humane society. “They can call to have larger items picked up, or bring items to the gift shop when it is open,” Nash says.

Nash herself is a pet owner. “We have seven animals -- three dogs and four cats,” she says. “All of them are from the Humane Society.

“They came to me,” Nash says. “Most of the cats and dogs I’ve gotten when they were left here at night. God brought them to me.”

The Nash pets include a 15-year-old cat and a 12-year-old dog. “I’ve always liked animals,” Nash says. “I had dogs when I was growing up and cats after I was married. I just keep getting more and more.

“How we treat our animals shows how we really are as people, “ Nash says. “It reveals our whole attitude. We’re all God’s creations.”

After growing up in a household like that, it's no wonder that Mindy Nash became a Humane Society volunteer so early in life. “This place was a lot different when I was young,” Mindy says.

“When I was 12, they allowed me to become a volunteer,” she says. “I just started coming and playing with the puppies and kittens and giving them some love.”

Mindy was so intent on helping that she started a club for concerned

students such as herself. She called it C-SAW -- Concerned Students for Animal Welfare ˆ and it is still in existence.

“We now have six schools,” Mindy says. “My goal is to have one club in

every school. We need to educate children about animal welfare, about the importance of spaying and neutering,” she says. “Children don’t have to see a litter of puppies or kittens being born to learn lessons about life.”

After high school, Mindy left home for the University of Miami. “I got married and had a little girl, which brought me back to Savannah,” she says.

A position was created for Mindy at the Humane Society. “I organize the major fund raisers, the Mutt Strut, the Doggie Carnival,” she says. “We have a new event, ‘Putting on the Dog.’ We really want to make it grow.”

The society's events have become very popular. “We get people from all over who come to our events each year,” Mindy says.

Mindy vividly remembers that raffle she organized at age 13. “That was one of the things that encouraged me to do fund raising,” she says. “Everyone I asked said yes. I raised $1,200 to $1,300.”

A pet owner herself, Mindy has two dogs and two cats. “We want more people to come and adopt animals,” she says.

Even people searching for a specific breed should consider the Humane

Society first, Mindy says. If you’re looking for a certain breed, you can get put on a list the society keeps and get first dibs if that breed comes in.

Of course, there are many other wonderful pets to be found at the Humane Society Chatham Savannah, including ferrets and rabbits and other surprises in addition to the dogs, cats, kittens and puppies.

The shelter is a wonderful place, but Lee says there is more to do.

“Hopefully the community recognizes this and is willing to support it,” he says.

The renovations allow the staff to take better care of the animals, thanks to the generosity of others.

“People can continue to come here to adopt,” Lee says. “The public helps support us. One day, I hope this place is almost empty.”

The Humane Society of Chatham County is at 7215 Sallie Mood Dr. off of Eisenhower Dr. To comment on this story, e-mail us at