I took the Camp Rawls-Cooks Bridge route back from Wagener and a leisurely conversation about rescue and spay/neuter. Passing the brand spanking new Aiken County Animal Shelter on the corner of May Royal and Wire Road, I decided to stop, say hello to my friends, and have a look around.
The adoptable cats building (C.A.T.S. – Cats at the Shelter) in its new place looked real good. It fits.
The activity on the front walk involved the new county adoption coordinator, Annette, finalizing an adoption photo-op, as I stepped into the spacious foyer with its long reception desk and gorgeous graphics.
My footsteps echoed in the new emptiness. I made my way down the hall to find the staff multi-tasking, doing their jobs and settling into the new digs. Chief Bobby Arthurs, aided by his wife, was finishing up a day’s work organizing his new office.
Our conversation moved from the miracle of the new facility to our continuing partnership in community outreach and support for responsible pet ownership. We talked of food donations and humane enclosures for low-income pet owners. We revisited our awareness of the needs in the farthest reaches of the county and the challenges of the many organizations attempting to address them. At some point the subject of Herbie Brown came up.
“FOTAS sold Herbie Brown,” Chief Arthurs said, and made a face like he was trying on shoes that were too small. I was stunned. Sold? Yes, quietly and out of state. And I was thinking how fortunate the shelter had been to have Herbie’s marvelous generator while they went a week without power after the storm. Who is Herbie Brown, you ask? Allow me to explain.
Before there was a FOTAS, there was a transfer program that saved shelter dogs by shipping them north. The transfer program was the inspiration (and perspiration) of the FOTAS president and it relied entirely on the generosity of one man and his horse transport business up and down the east coast.
As FOTAS grew so did the desire to contribute, and one very large early donation was tagged for the transfer program. The decision was made to secure a means for transporting shelter animals without having to rely solely on the kindness and schedule of the horse business.
The idea for refitting an old Air Stream RV came from a fantasy that my husband and I had shared for a means to travel with our overly large family of dogs. The Air Streams are easy to tow, register, and insure and can be pulled with almost any vehicle. The way we found the 1979 Land Yacht model that became FOTAS’ Herbie Brown began the fairy tale.
My husband and I were travelling in Europe when a friend notified me about the ’69 Air Stream in Harlem, GA for $3,500. We could have it for $3,000 if we paid cash. So to find a ’79 in better shape for $2,500 in Lexington, SC; and have it serviced and delivered by the seller, was justification enough to name the trailer after the man’s deceased uncle and original owner, Herb Brown. “My uncle liked to help people,” the seller said, feeling his uncle would be pleased with the RV’s fate.
The transformation of Herbie Brown into the signature “Rescue Waggin’” that it became symbolizes animal welfare efforts in recent years.
One volunteer assembled the team that gutted the RV and rewired it. A young man, unemployed and soon to be a new father banged out the dents, sealed the leaks, and laid the subfloor. Moore’s Discount Carpet’s provided the vinyl flooring and the best floor man to lay it. The king of handy-men designed and built Herbie’s pens in Windsor. FOTAS’ unemployed database manager did the painting from the materials donated by Sherwin Williams. The housing for the generator was done by Eric at Premier metals. The finishing touch was the artwork done by Sign Works.
Herbie was a star and the gift of a team of craftsmen stretching from Lexington to Wagener to Windsor to Aiken and into the Valley. Each contributor gave what he could and put his whole heart into the project, knowing it was Good. Herbie sported the thank you to the list of these contributors on both rear corners.
In his brief career with FOTAS, Herbie Brown made the spay/neuter transport program an event in Wagener and the Valley; he paraded with the Veterans on Memorial Day and in the Wagener Christmas parades; and, he was a star attraction at Steeplechase and Woofstock. By his very presence, Herbie Brown signified a community rallying behind a worthy cause: an adequate appropriate public shelter, at the very least.
That he will not stand beside the new facility, the creation of which he helped inspire; that he will not await the grateful participants in low-cost spay/neuter programs; that he will not proudly proclaim the signature success of a public/private partnership in the many ways we gather, is unfortunate and very sad.
Herbie Brown and what he represented will be missed no less than he was celebrated…and cherished.
Update July 2014:
Herbie Brown was recently replaced by FOTAS