October 2011

October 2011: Chairity Corner - The Humane Touch: Hilton Head Humane Association Helps Those Who Need It More

Author: Peter Zink

It’s in the back of everyone’s mind this time of year. As waves build and storms roll through the harbor, hurricanes are never far from residents’ minds. In the right conditions, it doesn’t take much to find people glued to a television, intently watching a storm track to see if it’s going to hit. And when it gets a little too close for comfort, residents scramble to pack their most precious possessions and hit the highways before the crush of traffic forms.

For Franny Gerthoffer, director of the Hilton Head Humane Association, it’s not just people she has to worry about in an emergency. With hundreds of furry denizens to look after, evacuation is anything but a last minute maneuver. So as she crafted the Hilton Head shelter’s evacuation plan for the upcoming season, Gerthoffer heard about the flooding and tornados already wreaking havoc out in the Midwest. “We started thinking to ourselves how that could be us someday. We thought about it and decided it would be a good idea to give back to the shelters that are in need now,” she said.

So with a few trusty Google searches and a couple phone calls, Gerthoffer reached out to three shelters hardest hit by the flooding in Mississippi and the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. It didn’t take long talking to them to hear just how desperate the situation was. Hart Koller of the Madison Ark shelter in Mississippi was quickly overwhelmed by the number of animals arriving daily after the floods. “Our shelter literally doubled in size overnight. People panic, and oftentimes their pets get left behind in the rush to get away,” Koller said.

Then there was Georgia Lynn, director of the Vicksburg-Warren Humane Society, who was literally wading through water like a lifeguard trying to save as many animals as possible. “Georgia Lynn amazes me. She had some really successful stories and then some that were not so successful. But no matter what, she just kept going,” Gerthoffer said.

With stories of struggle like these, the decision to do everything possible to help became easy. The Hilton Head Humane Association decided to throw a big party at their shelter on July 6 where people could donate gift cards from PetSmart, Petco, or Wal-Mart to help with much needed supplies for disaster stricken shelters. With the help of advertisements in the Island Packet and e-mail blasts to their mailing lists, the gift cards started to pour in even before the party started. “Either people couldn’t make it to the party or were too afraid they would forget later, so we ended up getting a lot of donations before it even started,” Gerthoffer said.

Bob Bradley and Annalisa Itkor from 104.9 The Surf lend a paw by broadcasting the event with their pets Harley the bulldog & Domino the Chihuahua.

The day of the party turned into a true community event. Girl Scouts greeted guests with cookies and enthusiasm, and 104.9 The Surf broadcast live from the party with constant updates for the donation totals. Catch-22 restaurant provided fresh food, and countless other businesses provided gift cards to raffle off to donors. The energy and enthusiasm was palpable and continued to build as they got closer to their goal.

“I was constantly going out into the front yard where the party was taking place and tallying the money to announce on the radio,” Gerthoffer said. “When we were getting pretty close to the $3,000 mark, I went out and shouted how close we were. Everyone was getting into it. The DJ from 104.9 the Surf even ended up adopting a dog.”

In the end, Gerthoffer was able to announce that the shelter had reached its goal of $3,000 worth of donated gift cards for the three shelters.

And it didn’t take long to start seeing the difference the gift cards made. It was just the sort of relief Lynn of the Vicksburg-Warren shelter needed. She put her cards to immediate use at the nearest PetSmart in Jackson, Mississippi. With basic necessities like cat litter depleted, she was able to restock these essentials and keep her animals comfortable. Some items, like clippers, are easy to come by on Hilton Head Island. But according to Lynn, her shelter’s clippers desperately needed an upgrade. She threw out her barely functioning clippers and flea combs and immediately put her new gift cards to use. “I announced at the cashier while paying that the cards came from Hilton Head, South Carolina, and the long line behind me applauded.,” Lynn said. “Thank you so much for caring about us during our flood crisis.”

Jennifer & Haley Gagne with Hilton Head Humane’s director, Franny Gerthoffer.

The Madison Ark and Joplin shelters were no less appreciative of their supplies. When the flooding had cleared in Madison, Madison Ark found itself overwhelmed with 25 adult cats and 36 kittens. “The gift cards came just in time and helped tremendously. We bought cat towers for all the kittens and cats to use, and we stocked up on tons of cat litter and food,” Koller said. With a shelter that doubled in size after the disaster, critical veterinary medicine was suddenly in short supply. Thanks to Hilton Head Humane Association’s efforts, Madison Ark was able to use some of their donations to restock their veterinary medicine cabinet to fight worms and other diseases. Joplin Humane Society was having issues displaying all the animals they had available for adoption. Thanks to the donations, they purchased “cat condos” and playpens to house animals offsite where the public could see them.

Gerthoffer and her crew don’t see their efforts stopping here. “I really do believe that the thousand dollars sent to each shelter probably felt like a million dollars to them. They’re going to have a long time in recovery, so we’ll revisit these issues down the road,” she said. For now, thanks to a little Lowcountry generosity, some Midwest shelters are picking up the pieces a little bit quicker than before. As Koller said, “You guys are like our guardian angels, and we’re just so thankful.”

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