Even when she leaves work as president of the Humane Society of Forsyth County, Vicki Rennick’s work with animals in need keeps going.
At her home, Rennick is greeted by nearly 20 cats, both her own animals and nine foster kittens, which she referred to as “joyful chaos all the time.” Of the cats, she said she only had planned to pick out two — Max and Mia — but fate had other plans.
“The other six are all rescue cats that I actually fostered from time to time,” she said. “For various reasons, they were not adoptable, whether they had behavioral issues, health issues, you name it … So, they chose me.”
Once those foster kittens are adopted, new cats will take their place; it’s part of Rennick’s philosophy for the group’s shelter and her own home.
“Our shelter philosophy is if you go in the back and there’s an empty cage, that’s a problem,” she said. “Anytime there’s an empty cage, that means an animal that is dying out there that we could help, so it’s a very tightly run machine.”
In June, Rennick became the new president of the local Humane Society after former president Mark Schullstrom Jr. stepped down from the post. She had served about seven years on the group’s board of directors, including a stint as vice president, before stepping into her current role.
In addition to adopting out animals, the Humane Society also takes part in special programs, such as Humane Hearts, a therapy program that takes certified animals to nursing homes, schools and libraries for about 1,000 visits each year.
“They go in and they interact with the elders, or in the case of the schools the children,” Rennick said. “With the elder care, you see people who won’t respond to humans respond to animals. It’s very well-known that animals are therapeutic, and we see that.”
Rennick said the program made more than 1,000 visits in 2017 and had its fair share of “tear-jerking moments.”
“At the library, the kids will read books to them,” she said. “Part of it is opening up to the children a different avenue for them to express themselves or express their knowledge.”
She said reaching out to students is important because it builds the “next set of rescuers and animal advocates.”
In many of the county’s middle schools, faculty have set up a club for homeless pets.
“In the homeless pets club, they’re really wonderful, is where a teacher who has taken the interest and is willing to take the commitment, to put together this club,” Rennick said. “They meet on a regular basis, and we have people come and talk to them. A topic might be the training of a police dog. I went in and talked to them about the growth of kittens.”
Those kids, Rennick said, will, in turn, make doggy treats, sometimes to sell in bake sales, or toys for the critters.
In the first six months of 2018, the Humane Society took in 824 animals and had found homes for more than 700 of them.
“Eighty percent of our animals come out of high-kill shelters,” Rennick said. “We are a no-kill shelter and we are out there pulling animals out of harm’s way. The animals you see with us, they truly are high-risk, and we love it.”
The Humane Society offers several programs to pet owners who may be facing tough circumstances, such as a pet food pantry.
“The food pantry was born many years ago with the last financial crisis that we had when people were losing their homes and shelters were filling up with beloved family pets because people couldn’t afford to feed them,” Rennick said. “We thought, this is something we can do to help.”
Rennick said owners of more than 500 local animals pick up food from the shelter once a week.
In April, the group’s shelter opened a new spay and neuter facility. Low-cost spay and neuters through SNAP, Spay/Neuter Assistance Program, have been in place since 2009.
All adopted animals must be fixed, and Rennick and other shelter volunteers have gone a long way to make sure that happens, including one case where an animal was adopted to a family in Chattanooga.
“Their people and I met halfway, we got the kittens and they came to my house, spent the weekend with me, then go get their spay/neuter during the week,” Rennick said. “Then we re-met because we wanted them to be close by unless there was any kind of a reaction or complication.”
The Humane Society’s shelter on 4440 Keith Bridge Road can seem like a wild place since the facility can hold about 30 dogs and 45 cats.
But the shelter makes up only a fraction of the animals in the Humane Society’s care. Some 150 to 200 animals are fostered by volunteers.
“That village of foster volunteers — who volunteer their home, their time, their love, their attention — is what makes us be able to do what we can do today,” Rennick said. “We could never do this without fosters.”
In order of need, Rennick said, the facility is looking for adopters, fosters, volunteers and donors.
“If you want to get involved in your community, adopt,” she said. “If you can’t adopt, foster. When you foster, we supply the food, we supply the supplies, you’re just supplying a little space in your life and home. If you can’t foster, volunteer in another way. We constantly need people at the events we’re doing. We need folks at the shelter socializing animals. A lot of times, we need administrative help.
“If you can’t volunteer, donate.”
Before taking animals home, potential owners need to go through an assessment either online or at the shelter.
The donations are especially important, as Rennick said the facility is 100 percent funded through private donations, including fundraisers and a thrift store.
“We receive no state, no federal, no local funding,” she said. “Everything we get we get from private donations and our fundraising efforts.”