Fudge, sweat and cheers: A shelter renovation to remember


The Petfinder Foundation’s Rescue U volunteers are back from an 11-day shelter renovation at the Humane Society of Jefferson County in Tennessee. The trip was a complete success, and one that will live on in my heart forever. We endured long, brutally hot days, but the sheer determination of our volunteers and the unwavering support of the community made this renovation extra-special. Here are a few of my favorite memories from the trip:

Heat and treats: One of the biggest questions when Rescue U is renovating a shelter is, how we are going to feed everyone? Typically, the answer is peanut butter and jelly. This was not the case in Jefferson City. By our second day there, members of the community who’d caught wind of what we were doing at the shelter started showing up with water, Gatorade, sweet tea, lunch, dinner and delicious treats for all the volunteers. It’s hard to describe how nice it feels to eat a piece of homemade fudge or a slice of cheesecake after a wonderful lunch prepared by members of the community. This really gave all the volunteers a welcome sense of home while they were all so far away from theirs.

Hot roofs and warm hearts: Our most impressive accomplishment was the construction and completion of 12’x35′ cat enclosure that we jokingly called the cathouse. This was Rescue U’s largest single project to date. Not only was it a massive undertaking, built from the ground up, but we also had to contend with temperatures of 115-plus degrees up on the roof. With sweat pouring off us, we toiled all day and into the night to finish the roof so that we’d have enough time to complete the inside.

Our volunteers gladly worked over the next few days, including Memorial Day, to finish the inside, complete with windows, doors, an air-conditioning/heating unit and some beautiful latticework to make the house look more welcoming to potential adopters. We also built an enclosed outdoor play area for the cats so they can get some sun and outdoor time.

It was all smiles when we pushed the last cat cage into the house and set it up, all of us knowing that we had just improved the lives of so many cats by providing them with an environment that was stress-free and easier to clean. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment to see the cats who had been there a while, in a virtually windowless environment, lean into the sun in their new, and hopefully temporary, home.

Doggy treats: Don’t think we forgot about the dogs. The dogs at this shelter were singular in their temperament and disposition. I can honestly say I have never seen a group of shelter dogs that were so well-behaved and happy. Now they’re going to be even happier. At the bottom of the hill we built two big exercise pens for them to run around and socialize in. At the top of the hill we built a meet-and-greet area where people can meet the dogs in a stress-free environment outside of the kennel, so that the dogs’ true personalities can to come out and win the hearts of their new families. We also added many new kennels and concrete pads so that the dogs will not be overcrowded and can live in sanitary, happy place.

Although the record-breaking heat was, at times, defeating, the resolve of our volunteers and the community that supported us never was. I’ve learned that the determination of a few can change the lives of many, and this was the case in Jefferson City, TN. This renovation will be a reminder to all involved that it’s possible to make a difference. All you have to do is something, because at the end of the day, the smallest contribution makes more of a difference than the largest indifference.

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More about this trip:

Back from Afghanistan, a veteran adopts on Memorial Day

Tennessee, an abandoned Rottweiler wins hearts

Tennessee shelter gets a much-needed makeover (and cat room!)

More from the Petfinder Foundation:

Heigl helps the Petfinder Foundation fight kennel cough

Volunteers give a broken shelter a bright tomorrow

your mom care for homeless pets if she could?