*Originally published in Southwest Georgia Living Magazine 2017
On a khaki-colored building that was once Albany’s police station, a new sign reads: Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center. This is no ordinary pet adoption center, however. This is the new home of Albany, Georgia’s only no-kill animal shelter.
The outside of the building is plain, though the building itself is a unique round and square mixture. Long blinds sway slightly and slant sideways to let in light shade two large windows in the front of the building, which faces Dawson Road. The entrance is in the back of the building, close to the small parking lot. Upon entrance, there is a hallway ending in a brightly colored room with three tables, two glass doors, and two big windows. Behind each window is another brightly colored room, each flooded with light from one of the two windows seen from the outside front. One room is for smaller, young cats; the other room is for larger, older cats. On both sides of the hallway are the original walls, creating rooms that have been turned into “store front” kennels for the dogs.
A passionate chair of the building committee, Debbie Barlow, made the choices that went into creating this layout and placement of the animals. She says she walked out of a board meeting in December 2015, and when she walked back in, she was the chair of the building committee. Barlow acknowledges that none of this would be possible without several key people; people who not only dreamed that one day a no-kill shelter would inhabit Albany, but also people who became the inspiration and spark needed to set the dream off.
The dream began with Faye Webb, a past president of the Humane Society of Albany. Webb envisaged Albany having a no-kill shelter for animals connected to the Albany Humane Society on Oakridge Drive. Funding, a building, and location held her back, until an unlikely catalyst dumped money directly into Webb’s hands.
On December 3, 2010, Sally Wetherbee of Albany, Georgia, died unexpectedly, leaving the bulk of her estate, including her third of the family farm, to the Humane Society. A lifetime animal lover, it appeared her dying wish was to help save as many animals as possible. However, until the reading of her will, made 20 years earlier, shortly after her death, no one knew, not even her family members, that she was leaving the money and land to the Albany Humane Society.
“It was a surprise. She didn’t tell anybody what she was doing,” says Leigh Wetherbee Brooks, first cousin to Sally and a current Albany Humane Society and Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center board member.
Even though no one knew until her death that she was leaving the majority of her money to the Humane Society, most people knew Wetherbee loved animals, especially cats.
“Sally always had a cat. Just one,” says Brooks, “When that one would die, she would go get another one.” Wetherbee’s last cat, a white Persian, was found curled up next to Sally the day she was found. Brooks took the cat home, deciding to care for her first cousin’s passion.
When Brooks arrived home with the cat, though, it ran under the bed, which is where it stayed.
“I had a cat and a dog of my own. Sally’s cat had never been around dogs, so I decided I had to do something different,” she says.
Brooks asked around, finally announcing to her Spin class at the Y one morning that she had a cat she needed to go to a good home. Al Seely, spin class instructor and interior designer, asked where the cat had come from. Brooks explained whom the cat had belonged to and why she could not keep it. Al, remembering a time when Wetherbee was always nice to him as a child, decided to take the cat.
“When Sally worked at Mayfair, she would walk down to Phoebe Printing, which was Al’s parent’s place, to get things for Mayfair Jewelers. She would see Al in there, and a lot of people wouldn’t pay him any attention; he was just a kid, and they were all business. Sally would talk to him and really sweet to him. He had very fond memories of Sally,” Brooks says.
Al was unable to take the cat to his own house, having dogs of his own. However, his interior design business, located behind Gillespi Printers, was the perfect home for the white Persian he dubbed “Sally.”
“The cat had some kind of strange name, and we got the paperwork from the vet where Sally took the cat, but none of us could pronounce it. So, Al just named it Sally,” Brooks recalls.
Shortly after Seely took Wetherbee’s cat, her will was read, deeding her third of her family farm, Gravel Hill Plantation, and a large portion of the rest of her belongings into Faye Webb’s hands.
“The Humane Society didn’t have any need for the farm land. So, Frank and Roland, Sally’s brothers, figured out how to buy it back, and the Humane Society got the money from it,” says Brooks. “I was very surprised when that happened. Sally wasn’t the kind to have made a decision like that without having talked about it with somebody.” Brooks, though saddened by her cousin’s death, is overjoyed at the surprise for the family, however. “I’m delighted [that Sally gave the money to the Humane Society] because her name will be remember long after the rest of us. There are going to be a lot of animals that are going to owe their lives to her.”
Webb now had the funding she needed to make her dream turn into reality. She quickly bought the building on Dawson, standing empty once the police station moved. Webb asked Brooks to be on the board, knowing that the name of the new adoption center would be in Wetherbee’s honor. Before the board began making plans, however, Webb got into a car accident, ending in a tragic vegetable-like state that rendered her unable to see her dream accomplished.
The Humane Society Board came together, nominating Barlow to be building chair, and promising to see the project through to the end. Barlow took the position with both feet forward, looking at the building they already had and making plans for researching everything she could about no-kill animal shelters.
“I went to over 40 different humane societies and adoption centers just looking to educate myself. I had no idea,” says Barlow excitedly, the passion of the project still fresh in her eyes.
In New Orleans, at a seminar Barlow attended for five days, she learned all she could, including the three major components all adoption centers must be careful of when building: Noise, smell, and sanitation. All three of these were forever in the back of Barlow’s mind as she made her way back to Albany to begin drawing up plans and researching materials.
First, the board agreed that the cats needed to be in the front. “We knew in the beginning that we wanted the cats in the front because cats have a tendency to be what they call ‘cage crazy.’ They have to be entertained and interested in something. There are windows up there, and it’s taller in there than in the rest of the buildings, and cats like to go up,” says Barlow, explaining why the cats get one of the best parts of the building.
Next, Barlow began looking for builders to work with her budget. After talking to several, LRA Construction reached out to her, saying they would be interested in the project. “Ben Barrow and Donny Shook were my lifelines from then on,” Barlow says. They gave her a figure on what it would take to complete the center and kept her on budget, but more than that, they each helped her find the right materials to go deal with the three major components.
“There were so many times when I didn’t know what to do or how to proceed. Ben and Donny gave me time to research,” Barlow says. For example, she, nor anyone else on the building committee, knew anything about concrete. She asked Ben and Donny, who also were unsure if the existing concrete outside was safe for the animals. They gave her the time she needed to look into the problem, finding that instead of spending money to tear it up and replace it with something else, that the concrete would be fine.
“Concrete is actually fantastic. We didn’t know that viruses live well in the soil,” says Barlow,
“We do have the challenge of making sure the dog’s feet are taken care of until the trees we planted grow in, but we installed an irrigation system” to fix that problem.
Barlow had other problems that were fixed by researching, visiting other places, and asking numerous others about products and possible fixes, including Allen Lloyd, Chad Carden, and Howard Haynes. Barlow acted as the go-between, asking questions from one then the other for varying opinions and ideas on how to proceed with the building to get the best ideas possible.
After visiting New Orleans at the pet Care Expo, she realized that the huge rooms that other centers have were not going to do for the small building she had. “Instead of tearing out the walls, I asked the board and lifelines I had about keeping the rooms so the noise can’t bounce as much,” Barlow says. This led to the current design with three rooms of kennels to one side of the hallway and another kennel to the other side of the hallway. Now, when entering the adoption center, though the dogs bark, the noise does not bounce and create loud echo’s.
Once the floor plan was set, the flooring itself became a concern. Researching led Barlow to Proxy flooring, which took care of the problem as it can be easily cleaned and rinsed off. Barlow also knew a drain was needed so water, urine and feces could easily be rinsed from the kennels and drained away from the building. This posed a problem that led Barlow in circles.
“I probably went to the Columbus adoption center twenty times,” Barlow says. The drain posed a problem of not only smell, but also holding viruses. Barlow needed it to be exposed in order to easily clean out trapped balls of hair “and such,” but wasn’t sure how this was going to be possible.
“When we got to the drain, LRA said they wanted to use concrete. I told them concrete wouldn’t work. We had to have some type of lining. I asked about using the Proxy flooring in the drain, and Ben and Donny said no,” Barrow says. The problem was solved when, after several back and forth conversations, Ben and Donny came up with a solution: a polypropylene liner that is impervious to smell.
“This was a game changer for us because we were at a standstill for a minute. I wouldn’t agree to what he wanted to do, and it was back and forth, but we was still always so patient with me,” Barlow says, giving the credit to Barrow and Shook.
However, smell was the new issue. Barlow knew there would be a smell with all of the animals in such a small building, but what she didn’t know was ways to prevent or eliminate the smell. That is until Safe Air’s Senior Comfort Consultant, Danny Bailey, suggested a product that emits hydrogen peroxide into the air through the vents, killing bacteria and eliminating odor.
“Danny said, Deb, I know of something that hospitals and daycares use,” Barlow says, “And now we use that in this facility to keep the smell down.”
The last piece of the building was to make it “happy,” as Barlow puts it. She brought in Al Seely to really make the place sparkle and shine. “He’s the one who picked out all the colors, the tile, every color you see in here is all Al,” Barlow says, claiming that without him, she would have made it look “institutional.”
May Gillespie, a board member and right-hand woman to Barlow in the building process, says that Seely wanted the place “clean and happy.” Not long after he completed the neon colors and whimsical look inside the adoption center, Gillespie picked up an animal shelter magazine about branding. The magazine claimed that happy animals and happy places adopted out more animals. “I told him he hit the mark,” Gillespie says with a grin.
Another aspect of making the place happy was kennels with “store fronts” over cages. “The building committee wanted glass doors. They wanted for people, when they walked in, to see the dogs easily and show off the beautiful animals that are available,” Barlow says. Dougherty County Glass took on the challenge, creating windows and doors that sit up an inch off of the floor for easily rinsing out the kennels.
“We don’t want people to feel sorry for the animals,” says Barlow, “We want people to see the animals as happy and see what this dog or cat can do for your life. It can improve your life. When you have a happy facility, the dogs and cats will be happier and adoptable.”
With all of the building ready to go, the Albany Humane Society on Oakridge began to trickle in socialized, spayed and neutered, and healthy animals for the grand opening July 28, 2016. “All the animals come from the Oakridge site,” says Barlow and Gillespie together.
Now, the Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center is open for business as the only no-kill shelter in Albany, with Marquell Rice as the assistant director and Andrea Strickland as the new face of the building in the role of director.
The adoption center hopes to use Albany and Dougherty County as their “parachute,” with the center running on grants, donations, and volunteers. Their hope is that through the new leaders, Strickland and Rice, the center will survive, leading many animals to their fur-ever home and as a place to bring the community together through the love of animals.
“We want everyone to be involved. It’s not all about working. It’s not all about walking a dog. It’s about talking to each other and coming together as a community while watching the animals,” says Barlow as she watches the cats through the glass chase one another and the dogs in the back bark at the sound of her laughter.
The Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center is open to the public for adoption and volunteers Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday11 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Thursday and Friday 11 am – 7 p.m. They are closed Sunday and Monday, but will open by appointment.
The FENCE THE LOVE project is also underway! Bricks are being sold with buyer’s name or sayings in order to eventually replace the wooden fence. Wooden fences will only last between 10 and 15 years. In order to keep the animals safe while outside, the fence will need to be replaced by the brick fence. These are available on the Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center website.