Hugh Opens Rescue Village
In 1999, Geauga Humane Society was a small, worthy, but underfunded organization working from an uninviting, substandard shelter that made good husbandry almost impossible and attracting adopters a major challenge. Within just two years, the organization raised over $2 million and opened Rescue Village, a new state-of-the-art facility where people of all ages now come together to care for and celebrate animals. This is the story of Hugh, the plain brown street dog who became the centerpiece of the campaign to build Rescue Village.
For six weeks, Hugh was a mayor without a village. But finally, on a windswept December day, this plain brown dog who had opened the hearts (and checkbooks) of so many was able to welcome the public to his domain.
We had quietly moved the cats into their super-ventilated new cat condos and cageless Cat Community Room a few days earlier to let them get acclimated before the crowds descended. The actual grand opening day belonged to Hugh and the dogs.
In the morning, staff, board members, capital campaign committee members and major donors gathered at the old shelter where we held a Blessing of the Animals – those who had made it out alive and those who had not – as well as all the people who had been their champions throughout the history of the organization. A lone bagpiper then led the dogs and their handlers onto a waiting bus to carry them to their new home.
Once we got to Rescue Village, we gathered at the front door for the formal ribbon cutting. Actually, there were two ribbons – one to be cut by major donors and a lower one to be “cut” by Hugh, who had been practicing for weeks.
The dogs were there. The staff was there. The board members and donors were there. But Hugh, who was supposed to have been on the bus with his faithful trainer, was nowhere to be seen. I waited, scissors in hand, as the dignitaries, especially the four-legged ones, became increasingly restless. I paced. I made small talk. And then, just as I was about to give up on the guest of honor, the biggest limo I’d ever seen pulled up to the front of the building. Out stepped the secret service in full regalia followed by the Mayor himself, who trotted straight past me, raised his paw, and broke the ribbon. With that, we invited the human dignitaries to do their thing and opened the doors to a 25-year dream come true.
Hugh was front and center as we blessed our new home. He led the way as the media and honored guests explored our amazing new facility with its clinic, isolation and quarantine rooms, bright kennels, exercise areas, walking trails, and education room – so very different from the dreary little shelter we had left behind and so filled with possibilities. Marino chose to watch the proceedings from his new perch in the Cat Community Room. Then it was time to get down to business – time to get those cats and dogs out of the new digs and into their permanent homes. Adoptions in our first month at Rescue Village hit an all-time high and in our first year at Rescue Village, they were up 24%.
Over the next 3 weekends, we welcomed hundreds of visitors to Rescue Village – almost all bearing gifts of food, bedding and toys for the animals. Hugh greeted them all. Whenever he felt he was being overshadowed by the cats celebrating their new-found freedom in their new room, he’d stand in the middle of the lobby and start cycling through all the behaviors he’d learned, just waiting for someone to notice and give him a treat. It always worked.
Hugh and his cartoonist friend continued to bring in the money as well – and, for the next two years, Hugh presided at every fundraising event.
Next: Hugh gets his Happy Ending