This Valentine’s Day, the Blount County Humane Society is participating in two events that will give patrons the opportunity to welcome a new love into their lives - either the furry kind with a wet nose or the purring kind that demands a lap for sitting.
“Have a Heart for Animals” is a special adoption event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, at All Creatures Thrift Store, 1005 E. Broadway Ave. The adoptable animals are from the Blount County Humane Society’s foster families.
For folks wanting to welcome a dog into their family, the Humane Society’s foster families also are coordinating with PetSmart for the “Second Chance at Love” event on Feb. 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the store’s Hamilton Crossing location in Alcoa.
At All Creatures, cats and kittens are the main focus, said thrift store manager Amy Wietlisbach. “The Second Chance for Love Weekend” at PetSmart will be mostly dogs, although there may be some dogs at All Creatures as well.
If you already have a four-legged creature for your Valentine, the All Creatures managers hope patrons will help less fortunate animals by shopping at the store. All Creatures Thrift Store is a fundraising arm of the Blount County Humane Society.
“The idea was to start a thrift store to raise money for the no-kill shelter,” said Wietlisbach. “The thrift store has become the face of the Blount County Humane Society. It is in a central location where people gather to find out more about us.”
Wietlisbach said money raised at the thrift store also helps pay vet bills and continue the projects the group is involved in to support stray animals in the community. One new initiative involves relocating animals to other parts of the country where they can find homes.
“We just recently started Transport for Life. The thrift store has helped pay for van rentals to take animals up north. We meet the Brockport, N.Y., rescue in Columbus, Ohio.”
Wietlisbach said she and the volunteers are proud of how well the store has done in the 10 months it has been open.
“We’ve raised $10,000 since March, so it comes out to be about $1,000 a month. Would we like it to be more? Yes, but it is our first venture into something. We are paying rent, utilities and telephone,” she said. “I think we’re doing really good. We’re proud of that accomplishment.”
The store manager said that this first year has been about raising awareness and getting on their feet, paying overhead for the first full year. Later, the intention is for money to go toward building a no-kill shelter.
“We have given money to help with Transport for Life, and we’ve helped pay vet bills through money raised at the store, but we don’t want to deplete the funds because we don’t know all the bills for the first year,” she said.
The Blount County Humane Society meets at the store at 6 p.m. every Thursday night. While the purpose of the store was to benefit animals, Wietlisbach said they didn’t originally intend to do pet adoptions there.
“It just happened. There will always be animals at the thrift store to adopt, but it will be predominantly cats and kittens, and when we have foster families who have puppies or small dogs they bring to the thrift store so they will be seen by potential new families. We babysit them during the day,” Wietlisbach said.
Another initiative that evolved at the store was the dog and cat food pantry. “It was another idea to help the public. The store is now a place for the less fortunate to come once a month and get food for their dogs or cats,” she said. “We would like to keep as many animals in their homes as possible. One way to do that is to provide food for animals. That is something easy we can do to help.”
Assistant manager Amy Maurino said people in the community often donate dog and cat food to the thrift store’s pet food pantry. “We get donations of dog and cat food, and people who have low income or no income can come to us. One father said if it was a choice between feeding his family and feeding the dog, he’ll feed his family,” Maurino said. “We try to help in any way we can.”
Wietlisbach said the store has everything from knick-knacks to clothes to kitchen items plus bedding, furniture and electronics. “We have pet items and antiques and collectibles. Everything in the store is donated,” she said.
Maurino and Wietlisbach are the only paid employees. Others who help at the store are volunteer staff. The store is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
“We have been open since March and have had an overwhelming response from the public,” Wietlisbach said. “New customers walk in the door and are surprised. This is not what they expect to see. They see the architecture of the building and how neatly everything is displayed,” she said. “We want everyone to feel at home. We love this building, and we love the old, curved ceiling and the woodwork.”
Maurino said the architecture is her favorite part of the store. “It reminds me of an old train depot with the curved ceiling,” she said. “We love walking in the front door.”
Maurino said the store is split up into sections for furniture, electrics, clothing and other items. “Downstairs is where (donation) intake happens,” she said.
“We have antiques and a high end stuff,” Maurino said. “There are a lot of nice things.”
Wietlisbach said traffic has been steady at the store, whether people are donating items downstairs or shopping upstairs. “Some days are really good and some days are slow, but overall, we’re doing well having a permanent location where people recognize our name. People can associate us with a location, and we have a home base,” she said.
Maurino said all money raised through the store supports animals in the community. “This supports our programs, and we want the community to come together for the animals,” she said.
The celebrities at All Creatures Thrift Store are the cats that roam the store. “We have people who come in daily to see the cats -- mostly Belle the cat. Folks don’t say hi to us, they want to see Belle,” Wietlisbach said. “She greets us at the door every morning.”
On special events days, the foster families bring their dogs and cats to the store and walk them around to visit with the customers.
“We’re animal friendly. If your dog is on a leash, he’s welcome,” Wietlisbach said.
Wietlisbach and her husband, David, a teacher at Heritage High School, moved to Townsend from Orlando six years ago and met Blount County Humane Society president Steve Phipps during an adoption event at Wal-Mart in Alcoa. The Wietlisbachs became fosters for stray dogs. “We do it because we have space for animals and want to make a difference in Blount County.”
Maurino said she has always wanted to be involved with helping animals. Working as assistant manager at the store is a tangible way to accomplish that goal, she said. “I can do this, and it makes me feel good. It makes me feel good when I can leave an animal behind in a good home,” she said.
Before coming to Townsend, the Wietlisbach both worked at Walt Disney World in Orlando. David was research entomologist, and Amy was make-up specialist for park talent. The experience gave her a good background in retail that she uses at the All Creatures Thrift Store. “Working at Disney, that’s all customer service wherever you go,” she said.
Amy Wietlisbach said she gets a lot of satisfaction from working at the store. “Most days it’s very gratifying. One negative part is taking all the phone calls from people who do not want their puppies,” she said.
Wietlisbach said people often are confused and think the Blount County Humane Society is associated with the recently opened Blount County Animal Care Center on Currie Avenue.
Maurino said it’s possible to create a community where animals aren’t euthanized just because they aren’t adopted. “It’s the responsible thing to at least try,” she said. She said not everyone will agree with the philosophy but the Human Society of Blount County simply wants to inform people of the option. “I think we’re planting a seed,” she said. “Every creature has the right to live, and we should try to make it happen.”