Hope is Eternal
Celebrating 40 Years of Rescue
By Eric Johnson, Animal Care Director
The year was 1977. I was just nine years old. Jimmy Carter was the President of the United States, Apple had just come out with its first computer, the number one song was “Hotel California” by the Eagles and people were flocking to theaters to see Star Wars Episode IV, “A New Hope.” It was also the year that new hope was given to homeless pets in the Hamilton area. This “new hope” was the Animal Adoption Foundation.
I started volunteering in 1999 with the Animal Adoption Foundation as a dog-walker and I wanted to share my knowledge about the history of the organization and let everyone know just how far we have come over the last forty years. Over time, I have gotten to know many AAF volunteers as well as staff, both past and present, and the common denominator I have found is a deep love and compassion for animals. I have been a long-time advocate for homeless pets and on my very first day of volunteering with the AAF, I had a sense of “new hope” and this is my story.
Originally known as the Animal Adoption Center, the Animal Adoption Foundation (AAF) was founded by a small group of Hamiltonians in 1977 who were concerned about the growing number of stray cats in their neighborhood. Based out of a small house on Third Street in Hamilton, the AAF was born. One very important distinction about the AAF was its unwavering “no-kill” philosophy which we still hold near and dear in our hearts today. In 1977, there were very few no-kill animal rescue organizations in the country let alone in Ohio, and that small group of volunteers and AAF were certainly pioneers for the Tri-State area in regards to the no-kill philosophy.
During its infancy, AAF was a foster-based organization. Volunteers offered their homes to homeless cats and dogs, spending their own money on medical care and housing. As word spread about this fledgling organization and the great work it was doing, the demand for more volunteers and foster homes increased as did the need for donations. In the early eighties, the AAF opened a thrift store in Hamilton with all of the proceeds going to the care of the homeless pets. This store remained open for almost twenty years and was run by AAF volunteers.
By 1985, the AAF had established a great deal of respect and appreciation in the community due to the tireless dedication of its small but passionate group of volunteers and was in desperate need of more space as the demand for placing homeless pets exceeded the number of foster homes available. It was in that year that a donation was made that gave the AAF the ability to buy a small building on Chapel Road in Okeana, OH. The AAF was transformed from a foster-based organization to an animal shelter. While the building itself was not in ideal condition and the location was far off the beaten path, it did offer the pets in need more space and gave the AAF the opportunity to help more homeless pets than ever before. The AAF would call Chapel Road home for the next twenty years.
When I started volunteering at the AAF in 1999, there was just a handful of volunteers who would come to the shelter on a regular basis to socialize with the cats and dogs and that was primarily just on weekends. Besides walking dogs and playing with cats, we spent a lot of time cleaning and raising funds to support our efforts. Because of the location of the shelter, and with the internet in its early stages of existence, it was difficult to get the word out about the need for volunteers and funding. We relied on word of mouth and local newspapers. By the year 2000, parts of the shelter were in disrepair and many volunteers were still spending their own money on making sure things were in working order. We were not discouraged because we knew we were making a difference in the lives of each and every one of those homeless cats and dogs as we thought of them as our own. I know that many of us had dreams of a bigger and better facility and many prayers were sent in hopes for that opportunity. After all, the animals deserved it.
In 2002, our hopes, dreams and prayers were answered. A very generous donation in the amount of $1,000,000 was given to the AAF by James and Anne Bever. To say that we are eternally grateful to the Bever family is an understatement, and we could hardly contain our excitement and enthusiasm knowing that this donation would allow the AAF to move into its next chapter in history. The planning for a new facility started immediately and the AAF would eventually purchase a plot of land on State Route 27 just north of Ross, OH. Thousands of cars travel that stretch of Highway 27 each and every day so we knew that we would attain the visibility that our cats and dogs needed to increase their chances of adoption. Construction of our new facility began in the summer of 2004 and we opened the doors to what we now call home on March 26th of 2005. Once more, there was a sense of “new hope” for all of our cats and dogs yearning for forever homes.
Our new home was much larger than the building we left behind on Chapel Road. We spared no expense when it came to the comfort of all of our four-legged residents. Each individual dog kennel has access to the outside through a “doggie door.” We even have our own dog park so that our canine friends can get plenty of exercise. Every cat room is very spacious and has access to an outdoor screened porch. We doubled our capacity to help homeless pets, at any given time caring for over eighty cats and dogs.
Since moving into our new shelter, we have seen many positive changes within the organization. With our new location and advances in our online visibility both through our website and social media, volunteerism is at an all-time high and the number of adoptions have increased from an average of about 55 per year to well over 450. We implemented several dog training and enrichment programs. Many volunteer committees were formed including Dog Care, Cat Care and Fundraising. We have held many successful fundraising events including our annual and ever-growing charity auction. An onsite spay/neuter clinic was opened in 2013. This clinic is open to the public and to date we have performed over 1500 spay/ neuter surgeries on community cats, preventing thousands of homeless kittens and cats. The AAF has partnered with several local county humane societies, helping reduce the number of pets euthanized by accepting them into our program. We have also partnered with Miami University including the Oxford campus as well as the Hamilton and Middletown branches in recruiting student volunteers who have been and continue to be so vital to the success of the AAF. We have a foster care network that continues to grow, allowing the AAF to help even more homeless pets. We have a very caring and dedicated kennel staff that ensures that all of the dog and cat areas are cleaned each and every day. With the growth of the AAF, we have created key positions such as Executive Director and Animal Care Director, both of which work with our Board of Directors to move the AAF forward, always striving to take the Animal Adoption Foundation to the next level and all the while never forgetting our goal . . . saving lives, one pet at a time.
I’m not sure that I could have imagined on that very first day of volunteering back in 1999 that the AAF could come so far, but I’m sure that those that preceded me felt the same way in 1985, and in 1977. What we had was hope. Hope for a better life for those pets that have been left behind and that hope continues today. Thank you to all past and present that have been part of the last 40 years. Your work, your generosity, and your passion does not go unnoticed. Here’s to the next 40 years--may it be as great as the last. Cheers!