This year, the Oconee Regional Humane Society (ORHS) commemorates two decades worth of rescue and adoption. They plan to celebrate in style on Sept. 28 with a “Great Catsby and Barking 20s” birthday gala at Highgate Estate and Gardens in Greensboro.
And, the group has a lot to celebrate. Over the course of the past 20 years, it has rescued more than 8,000 cats and dogs, while staying active in the community by providing services and outreach programs to help low income pet owners and promote responsible pet ownership.
For this alone, a celebration is definitely in order.
Chris Ellison, a long-time volunteer, says “making animals as happy as they can be in confinement” is the goal of ORHS and volunteers work to maintain a top-notch facility off Lake Oconee Parkway in Greensboro.
Unlike many animal housing facilities, ORHS does not keep their healthy cats in cages. The cats are separated by age, but have free range of their room and access to an outdoor “catio” furnished with hanging beds and an inflatable pool. Volunteers clean the rooms every day from 8-11 a.m., so the cats have a clean living space.
The dogs are kept in large floor pens instead of cramped cages and are frequently taken on walks outside by volunteers. The facility’s fenced-in yard with toys and play pens offer an outdoor space for the dogs to get fresh air and let out their energy.
ORHS now has many volunteers and a nice facility, but this has not always been the case. In 1999, they started with no brick and mortar location and no long list of volunteers. Jim Burton, Diane Ohme, Cathy Woods, Sylvia Green, Nell Pate, and Diane Kirby united through a love of animals and worked tirelessly to help the stray and unwanted population in Greene and Putnam Counties. At the time, there was only one facility in the area that could take in homeless animals.
This group of friends rescued and vaccinated animals before putting them up for adoption at PetSmart in Macon because they did not have a place to house them. As a result of their dedication and hard work, roughly 75 animals were placed in homes each year.
The program grew and by 2007 the Oconee Regional Humane Society was created. The original six started a separate rescue group to keep working on a smaller scale, while ORHS created a new board, grew their volunteer base, and began fundraising to reach bigger goals.
Currently Jackie Stolarski and Maggie Moran co-chair the board, overseeing a wide range of services and programs that help animals at the facility, as well as in the community. They collect food donations to give to needy pet owners and offer low to no cost spay and neuter services to those who need it.
Because ORHS is a nonprofit organization, all of their good work is made possible through fundraising, private donations, grants, and partnerships with other rescue groups.
“Everyone wants everyone to be successful,” says Stolarski about the generous people who help ORHS. “Volunteers become their own community.”
In total, there are roughly 120 volunteers involved with cleaning, fostering, fundraising, or a number of other tasks needed to maintain the work done at ORHS. Additionally, members in the community, especially children, raise money and collect supplies on their own.
What started as a small lemonade stand, organized by a group of young kids, became an annual fundraiser that brought in close to $1,200 last year. Other kids help out by collecting donations instead of birthday gifts or giving ORHS their tooth fairy money.
With a supportive community, ORHS has had no problem with participation at events, such as their annual Treasure and Bake Sale, Spaygetti Dinner, and Pets with Santa. Many people also get involved with the foster programs to provide housing and care for animals looking for their forever homes.
The endless support allows the board to work on new initiatives that involve the community and improve the lives of the animals, such as the dog walking program and virtual fostering. Once ORHS has more adult dogs, they will implement a dog walk at 9:30 a.m. for community members to walk dogs around the area for exercise and fresh air.
Virtual fostering is a new option for those who are not ready to commit to adoption. Simply choose an animal and provide them emotional support until they are adopted. You can visit them at the facility, promote them on social media, and bring in toys for them, as if they are your own.
“We always need help,” says Moran. “We always need volunteers.”
There are many ways to get involved at Oconee Regional Humane Society and their website provides even more information on how you can help. They have details about upcoming events, programs in the works, and wish lists for donations. As you look at their website, make sure to buy a ticket to The Great Catsby and Barking 20s because it is a night you will not want to miss.
For more information, visit orhspets.org.
Story and photos by Nancy Belle Hansford