February 2020

Leader of the Pack: Volunteers Who Keep Tails Wagging @ Hilton Head Humane Association

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

We can’t help but admire the self-control of anybody who can go to Hilton Head Humane Association and not return with a new pet. I mean, we certainly don’t condone such an action; you should definitely pick up a new pet while you’re there. But we respect the fortitude it takes to walk out with the same number of fur babies you walked in with.

That’s one of the many reasons HHHA’s volunteers are worth celebrating. They not only go there all the time, surrounded by the cute and adorable adoptable pets, but they go there with the noble intention of finding those animals homes.

“We couldn’t do it without them, but more important, their energy their enthusiasm and how positive they are all the time; it just lifts us every day,” Franny Gerthoffer, the executive director said. “This work isn’t easy, but when you’re surrounded by people who are this enthusiastic, it makes everyone who works here that much better at their job.”

If you have that enthusiasm, that love of animals, and that willpower to not take them all home with you, HHHA will happily find a spot for you in its army of volunteers.

“There are so many opportunities. Oftentimes people think it’s just exercising animals or spending time with cats,” Gerthoffer said. “But when you meet a volunteer, you find out what their other skills are. We have groomers, maintenance people, people who help with things like computers or social media … we tap into what their skills are.”

Read on and learn the many forms giving back to these animals can take.


Margit Vaughn — the cat lady
An island resident since 1974, Margit Vaughn has been volunteering with the Hilton Head Humane Association for nearly six years. While her primary role at HHHA is to tend to the feral cat population that surrounds the north end facility, she wasn’t always what you’d call a “cat lady.”

“When I moved to a condo complex, they didn’t allow dogs, so I became a cat lover by default,” she said. “I loved cats, but I had always had dogs.” When her work in Harbour Town saw her caring for a feral cat colony, she realized she had a talent for these unique wild cats. “I try to socialize the younger cats and the shy cats, and I love the seniors,” she So, what’s her secret to handling so many cats? Being in the moment. “The moment you start thinking about your grocery list or something—the only time I get scratched, which is seldom, is because I wasn’t with them in that moment.” And like every volunteer at HHHA, she loves being a part of the organization. “All the volunteers are nice; the staff is wonderful, and the community takes wonderful care of us.”


Rick Yale— the handyman
A recent transplant to the island, Rick Yale has a long history of training and caring for dogs. During his service in the Vietnam War, he was a military dog handler, training his animals for everything that might come up in the course of conflict.

When he arrived on Hilton Head Island, he did so after retiring from owning his own security business and from 45 years spent training German Shepherds. He began volunteering at HHHA so he could continue to be around animals, while still being able to enjoy retirement. “If you’re going to have a dog, you have to be dedicated to the dog,” he said. “I’ve always been the kind to do four walks a day, so it limits your ability to travel.”

As the resident handyman, he’s been invaluable at HHHA. “I started doing the basic canine course here but moved on to general maintenance,” he said, “I’m the jack of all trades, master of none. Power washing, cleaning windows, trimming trees … it’s enjoyable to me. It gets me out of the house.”

And it keeps him in good company, canine and human. “Everyone here is a really good crew to work with, and I have no set hours, which I really like. It’s something to look forward to. I’m here every Tuesday or Thursday and do projects for them.”


Jeffrey Prekop — the stylist
If you’re impressed by the shiny coats and carefully trimmed claws of the animals in these photos, you
can thank their very own guardian angel stylist, Jeffrey Prekop. The owner of Groomingdale’s since 2008, he’s happily carrying on a tradition, started by the previous owner, serving as the official stylist and groomer of Hilton Head Humane Association.

“We do all of the grooming for free,” Prekop said. “Any time Franny calls me, I pretty much drop everything I’m doing and help out where I can.”

That has taken the form of everything from blow drying and styling pets to handling grooming-related emergencies. “I’ve come in the middle of the night to shave a dog down,” Prekop said. “It was an emergency situation.”

And the clients that come through his doors from Hilton Head Humane Association are some of the happiest and most grateful he sees. “They’re always great. They’re so thankful. You can see them thinking, ‘They’re taking time to help me, I feel clean, I feel brushed down and pampered and everyone loves on me.’”

And when they walk out, as you can see in the photos, they look fabulous.


Carolee Hutton — the multi-talented
There are plenty of opportunities to give back as a volunteer at Hilton Head Humane. Just ask Carolee Hutton, who pretty much does it all. On Tuesdays, you’ll find her working with the dogs at training classes at Southpaw Pet Resort. On Saturdays, she works with the cats, getting them socialized to one another and adopted out. In between, you’ll find her at special adoption events at PetSmart and Shelter Cove or as one of the smiling faces at The Litter Box.

“I work register, I pick things out, I straighten things up, I do all kinds of things there,” she said. And with every task she takes on, she brings the same enthusiasm for what’s at the heart of it all: the animals.

“I can’t adopt all of them, but I’d love to,” she said. “So, I bring that enthusiasm to somebody coming to see that animal. It helps to get them adopted, and it makes me feel better about not taking them all home. If I can’t give them a home, I can find them a home.

Her love for the animals is matched by a love of the organization for which she so tirelessly volunteers. “They take fabulous care of the animals. Working here, I know that even if an animal is not able to get adopted right away, they’re not going to be euthanized unless they’re sick,” she said. “They do a great job and they appreciate their volunteers, which is nice.”


Alexandra Pettry — the committee member
There are myriad ways that volunteers aid in HHHA’s mission to match pets with forever homes. Some clean out kennels, some give baths, some pour food. Alexandra Pettry’s mission is on the streets as a dedicated committee member raising funds for the organization. A long-time animal lover who had worked in a shelter in Ohio before coming down here seven years ago, she has a keen sense of what the animals need and the organization that supports them needs.

“My aunt was a board member; she introduced me to Fran and everyone here, and I’ve been volunteering ever since,” she said. The work that she and her fellow committee members have done has provided the organization the means to expand, opening up a state-of-the-art facility in Okatie and broadening HHAs reach.

But it’s all a labor of love. “I love it here. What they push for, 100 percent adoption, is great. And being a no-kill shelter, that’s amazing.”


Ellen Shore — the newbie
Ellen Shore will celebrate her first full year as an island resident in April, but already she’s ingrained herself into Hilton Head Island life as a volunteer at HHHA. Once a week, she arrives and discovers a new bundle of energy and joy waiting for her.

“I go to the training center once a week and work with the dogs for about an hour or so—just your basic sit, heel, down, come … all that,” she said. “It’s fun just to meet a different personality every week.”

This week was Jamie, a five-year-old mix with a curious habit of skipping when he’s happy. “We thought at first he was limping; turns out he’s just excited,” Shore said.

For Shore, volunteering at HHHA isn’t just a way to pay it forward; it’s a way to pay tribute. “We brought our 10-year-old rottweiler down from Pittsburgh when we moved, and he died of bone cancer,” she said. “In homage to him, I wanted to volunteer and give something back … and get my dog fix.”

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The HHHA Wall of Fame
More than a few of our island’s famous furry residents are alumni of Hilton Head Humane Association.
Among them you’ll find luminaries like:

Jake -Salty Dog
Cauley (formerly Asha) -a canine ambassador at Montage Palmetto Bluff (the first-ever shelter dog to be a Montage canine ambassador)
Captain Woody’s feline greeter
Ferris, Stella, and Maynard -the feline “employees” at Wild Birds Unlimited
K9 Justice -Bluffton Police Department’s official mascot
Cadee Grace -the mascot of Tail Wiggles
Curly -rescued his owner when his home was burning down
Olaf -was featured in a Hallmark movie this past year
Several HHHA puppies who have been in Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl
Princeton -Hilton Head Brewing Company’s first feline employee.

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