Dec. 3, 2005 The Humane Society of St. Thomas' perennially popular annual Valentine "Doggie Ball" dinner dance may have to move over one to make way for the society's annual meeting.
No, that's not a misprint.
Friday night the Mahogany Run Golf Club was bursting with somewhere around 175-200 smiling members gathered to cheer the evening's honoree. Society Executive Director Joe Elmore orchestrated this year's meeting around an awards ceremony, and it worked.
In an evening filled with highlights, it's hard to say what or who topped the bill. As for personalities, Joe Aubain, Society president was clearly the man of the evening as he accepted the prestigious national Daily Point of Light Award from the Point of Light Foundation for his volunteer work.
As for four-legged personalities, the honors went to Cheryl Sturges' adopted pit-bull mix, "Angel,"Animal of the Year, who accepted her award graciously, though she probably would have preferred a few doggie biscuits over an elaborate bouquet. Angel's barks had alerted Sturges to a fire starting in her house when she was outside.
After many years in the works, the Lockhart family presented the official deed for 4.75 acres of land for the new Animal Care Campus, in Estate Hoffman across the Weymouth Rhymer Highway from the entrance to Market Square East. Etienne Bertrand, Lockhart Corporation president and chief operating officer, presented the document, which Randolph Knight, chairman of the society's capital "Paws to Care"campaign, called the "most generous gift ever."
Knight, owner of Knight Quality Stations, has been the driving force behind the animal care campus, which will encompass dog and cat kennels and play areas, a bird and iguana sanctuary, space for the Humane Society's popular flea market and an education center, along with headquarters for the Police Department K-9 Corps. (See
"Knight Gives Money and Advice to Help Animals".)
Knight announced words everyone has been awaiting Friday. "We expect to break ground on the campus within 60 days." He talked about how the campus originally was thought to be an acre and a half, "but it somehow kept growing," he said. "It increased significantly." Knight praised the duo he calls "Joe squared" Joe Aubain and Joe Elmore for the evening's "finest attendance."
He said the groundwork for the campus is about 90 percent complete. "We have worked hand in hand with the Humane Society of the United States every step of the way," Knight said, "to make certain we do things right the first time, permits, the architectural survey, air flow, the cat house, everything. They told us it would take seven years, but we are ahead of that."
Henrik Lockhart, along with his wife Ellen, and Henrik's daughter Elynne, beamed as the property deed was presented. He reflected later, "This was my dream. Twenty-five years ago, I went to the [Lockhart] corporation, and asked if we could build an animal sanctuary around the pond on the land, but I was premature for them. It's something I've always wanted."
Gifts kept coming in. After board member Cara Jo Hinton, acknowledged a $10,000 scholarship from a United Way grant, Alicia Bean, First Bank marketing director, stepped up to the podium to present the society with a $10,000 check for the campus. Aubain said will be used for the iguana sanctuary.
Aubain, as he is wont to do, was modest in accepting his award. Point of Light's Evelyn Oladokun had traveled from Washington, D.C. for the occasion. She said Aubain had been selected from a field of 120 nation-wide candidates.
Gazing around the crowded and expectant audience with a broad smile, Oladokun said she had done away with her prepared speech. "I'm not going to read it because of the recipient. Everyone here knows who he is and what he has done, so instead of talking, lets present Joe Aubain with the Points of Light Award."
After the applause died down, Aubain spoke briefly. About his charges, Aubain said, "I don't think of them as homeless anymore, because once they arrive, they have a good home."
About the award, he said "I don't need an award; the people I meet are my awards…. Just imagine if everyone in this room would take one hour a week to walk a dog, serve a meal to the hungry, visit with the elderly – just think what a place St. Thomas could be after a year. Just do it," he said. "It's amazing."
Officer Annemarie Lucas, star of the award-winning television reality series Animal Precinct, was the evening's keynote speaker. Lucas is a special investigator for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Humane Law Enforcement arm.
She spoke about how the Animal Precinct show has evolved over the past five years. "At first, it was on late in evening for a half-hour. It was thought to be too violent, too graphic," she said. Now, it is a top-rated, one-hour show with a huge youth following, she said.
Describing some of her encounters in making arrests for animal cruelty, which she does in person and on the show, she said, "I've become discouraged with adults. I speak to the children. We need to make them learn how to treat animals, and not like adults do in many cases."
She said, "At first, people didn't realize how necessary what we do is. Now, with the District Attorney's Office in New York, we can't stop them."
She praised the territory's new animal cruelty laws. "Work with your police, and get them to enforce those laws now," she urged.
Lucas said she was doubly happy to be here. "My husband and I have five dogs and eight cats," she said, "so we don't get a vacation very often."
The show's new season begins Monday night at 10 p.m on the Animal Planet network.
Fighting back tears, board member Amalie Parrott presented the society's Lifetime Achievement Award to Dottie Gray for her goodness and care for the island's cat population. Parrott said, "For the past eight years, Dottie has saved 700 cats from extinction. She sets traps and gets the cats out of the Dumpsters and gets them spayed or neutered. She does all this in her own, with her own money. She feeds 150 cats on a daily basis."
Elmore announced the other awards:
Volunteer of the Year – all the flea market workers. The market, he said, brings in 17 percent of the shelter's funding.
Community Advocate of the year – VICCTRE, V.I. Community Cooperative Thoroughbred Retirement Efforts. The organization was founded by Becky Petri, Kate Johnson, Lynn Utech and Caroline Briggs a little over a year ago. The group's mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and sometimes adopt neglected, abandoned, abused or otherwise unwanted horses. (See
"Another Not-So-Small Victory for VICCTRE".)
Public Servant of the Year The 26th Legislature for passing the Animal Cruelty bill and for approving a zoning variance for the animal campus.
Elmore said the shelter had a lot to be grateful for in the past couple years. He said. "We survived five-feet flooding, losing a lot of equipment and goods, but not one single animal." And, at last, the passing of the animal bill and our zoning variance.
"And we met a challenge. With the help of the V. I. Police, we confiscated 28 pit bulls all living in one house," he said.
Elmore praised Darr Conradson, the society's education program director. "The kids worked hard this summer, cleaning kennels," he said, "whatever needed doing. They are tomorrow's army."
Elmore also praised longtime shelter stalwart Hubert
Brumant. "He got his B.A. in biology this year," Elmore said, "along with working every day and raising a family."
Emore concluded, "This is our opportunity to thank the people; we don't want them to thank us."
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