Hugh Takes a Wife in the Wedding of the Year
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.
As I mentioned last week, a wedding was the last thing on my mind when we started planning our first big event to get the humane society on the philanthropic map. In fact, when the florist we approached to do the flowers agreed to do so with the stipulation that we showcase their wedding business, we were stumped. This was a celebrity fashion show with dogs. How could we showcase wedding flowers? Then, of course, it hit us. Hugh would simply have to get married.
Once that decision was made, the planning moved into high gear and everyone we approached was eager to get involved. Suddenly the celebrity models and shelter dogs became the wedding party. Dick Goddard, a beloved local TV weather personality and friend to the animals, agreed to be Hugh’s Best Person. The Mayor agreed to perform the ceremony. A volunteer made Hugh a formal black coat emblazoned with sequins. The florists made plans to fill the tents with thousands of gerbera daisies and create floral necklaces for the shelter dogs and a band of flowers for Hugh’s new top hat. A lovely white poodle was chosen to be Hugh’s bride.
As we spread the word that our celebrity fashion show had become Hugh’s wedding, the reservations came pouring in. This was an event people did not want to miss.
And so, on a beautiful day in July, with a decked-out Hugh by my side, I was able to stand in front of a thrilled-to-be-there group of women in a position to make a difference and tell them about the work of Geauga Humane Society and our dream of building Rescue Village.
Dick Goddard spoke briefly in support of our work and we presented him with our very first Hugh Award, acknowledging “extraordinary service to companion animals.” From then on, Hugh and Dick were bonded. The next year, Dick even featured Hugh on the annual weather calendar that he distributes throughout northeast Ohio.
After a beautiful box lunch, the guests moved to white chairs set along the flower-bedecked runway (actually a path separating two show rings) for a fashion show worthy of Bryant Park.
The press was everywhere – and, since we were outside, all sorts of bystanders flocked to the area to try to get a peak at the proceedings. The crowd even included some of the Cleveland Indians players, unexpected but very welcome guests who had come to watch their wives on the catwalk – or in this case, the dogwalk.
As you know, every fashion show has a finale. For ours, all the models paraded the runway decked out in the presenting boutique’s best wedding garb and then formed a semi-circle at the end of the runway. The mayor stepped solemnly to the podium. Our bride, a game yellow Lab plucked from the audience at the last minute when the elegant white poodle failed to show, made her way down the aisle in her custom-made wedding attire.
Then, after a moment of silence, “Get Him to the Church on Time” blared from the loud speakers as Dick Goddard and Hugh came running across the field and down the aisle, Dick throwing dog bones as he went. The crowd went crazy.
There was a brief ceremony during which we stressed that this was one marriage that would not be consummated and the still-smiling guests milled around the magnificent show grounds until every last shelter dog had left the area.
Now here’s the thing. We cleared only about $16,000 that day and the funds didn’t even go to the new facility. They went to operations. But this event wasn’t about the money. This was about bringing new people to the table so we could raise significant funds for the new building in the coming months.
In addition to making 165 women very, very happy that day, we hit every major TV and print outlet in town. People were talking about Hugh’s wedding for months to come. Those who hadn’t been there wished they had. We were on the map and people were eager to see what we’d do next.
It wasn’t easy to top our first big effort, but we did – and everything Hugh touched brought more and more support for the animals and our campaign to build Rescue Village.
Next: Every village needs a Mayor.