The Liberty Humane shelter was stop No. 19 for Zootoo.com founder Richard Thompson and Sukumar Shanmughanathan, head of finance and business development for the social networking Web site for pet lovers. The pair arrived at the shelter in style, with a police escort courtesy of the Hinesville Police Department and was greeted by a crowd of shelter supporters, staffers, volunteers and county and city dignitaries.
The visit was part of a series of one-hour tours of the facilities that made the top 20 semi-finalist list last Friday for a chance to win a million dollar makeover, courtesy of Zootoo.com and their sponsors.
By making the top 20 list, the shelter has already won $5,000. If they make the top 10, they’ll win $10,000 plus a chance to have America vote for them to win the million dollar prize.
An animal lover and activist, Thompson said the idea behind the competition is more than just the chance for a new building.
"The whole idea behind this is to bring communities and shelters together and to get the recognition higher so people know where the shelter is," he said as he addressed the crowd, which included the news media.
Throughout his speech, Thompson spoke to county and city officials about the importance of community visibility. He said he noticed there were no large signs off the main thoroughfares, directing visitors to the shelter.
"If people don’t know where to go to adopt an animal or rescue an animal, then they don’t," he said to the crowd, which included Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, County Assistant Manager Bob Sprinkle, City Manager Billy Edwards and a host of county commissioners.
"Most people know where to get a puppy some place," Thompson continued. "So let’s have a bigger sign than the puppy guys have and get people to the shelter because adoption should be the option first."
Thompson was given a tour of the facility by shelter president Sandra Frye. She walked him through the entire facility, detailing the problems and pointing out some of the positive changes they’ve made during the past year.
"I really do believe we deserve it," Frye told reporters. "I mean, this facility was an old home and it was donated to the county to be used as a shelter."
Frye said the drainage is poor, the electrical wiring is poor and the building needs work from the roof to the floor.
"We could do more for the animals and the community with a new facility," she said. "We have a long way to go and we just can’t do it on our own."
Volunteer Jean Lingle said the building is from 1965 and they are constantly blowing fuses and have only one dryer because that is all the place can handle. She said she has helped to put down new flooring but everything is old.
"It benefits the community greatly in the fact that if we do fall into the top 10, we at least get something," Mayor Thomas said. "And more importantly, we get something for our animals. I think all the animal lovers, everyone who loves and respects all animals, are here and that’s important. That is the critical thing."
Thomas thanked Thompson for the visit and gave him a gift from the county.
"We would like to thank you for coming down and taking a look at our facility because we surely need it," he said.
The committee headed out to catch a plane to Brooksville, Fla., to tour the final shelter on its list.
Frye will be attending the Humane Society of the United States Animal Expo in Las Vegas on April 7, where the top 10 finalist will be announced. Voting will open April 13 and the winner of the $1 million makeover will be announced April 27.