Savannah Morning News Column: Savannah Morning News Column

Gratitude and Thanksgiving at the Humane Society for Greater Savannah

Savannah Morning News – November 17, 2017 Michelle Thevenin, Executive Director

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and gratitude, I want to share my thanks to the community on behalf of the Humane Society for Greater Savannah.  Every day I am thanked for the work I do – but really the people who deserve the thanks are those I’ve noted below.  I’m merely the orchestra conductor; the musicians below are the ones making the beautiful music.  And the song they play is one that improves our community overall – it’s not just about the pets whose lives we change, but also about the quality of life we all enjoy in Greater Savannah.    I am grateful to these people for all they do to make Savannah a better place for all of us.


  • The Amazing HSGS Staff: We’ve been through a lot of change over the past year – we implemented standard operating procedures to meet national sheltering standards, we restructured our physical space to better meet customer needs and we improved our medical practices.  We’ve weathered yet another hurricane.  And yet every day staff have persevered to best serve the pets and people in our community.  I could not be prouder of our staff and humbled every day by their dedication and energy.
  • Our Volunteers: Right alongside our staff, our volunteers have made it possible for us to open our doors every day.  They play with dogs who need some extra love and attention, return phone calls at Pet Fix Savannah, run the cash register at our Thrift Shop, foster kittens, serve on our board of directors and set up the dozens of tables at Doggie Carnival.  Our volunteers commit not only time to our work but the energy and enthusiasm that is vital to keeping our mission alive.
  • Our Donors: I am continually touched by the generosity of those who invest in bettering the lives of pets and people.  Individuals, community organizations, businesses and national foundations come together to help us do even more.  The community support makes the toughest days worthwhile as we work together to improve the quality of life in greater Savannah.
  • Our Clients: Whether they are bringing their young cat to be spayed at Pet Fix Savannah, attending our training classes with their rambunctious adolescent dog or entrusting us to find a new home for their beloved pet, our neighbors show up at our front doors and know we will do right by them and their pets.  That trust is precious and not something we take lightly.
  • Our Partners: The Humane Society for Greater Savannah is only one strand within a network of organizations that works to better the lives of pets and people.  Chatham County Animal Services, the Savannah Rescue Alliance, Senior Citizens Inc., our local vet partners, our corporate partners. the media and so many other partners all play an important role as we strive to fulfill our mission.


We have a lot of hard work to do over the next year.  While we’ve been focused on improving our operations, there’s still significant work to do community-wide.  We have to do better by the pets and people in our community and with the support of those noted above, I believe we can.  I can’t wait to write this note of gratitude next year as I think there will be even more to be thankful for.


Don’t miss the Ribbon Cutting at our new Thrift Shop at Savannah Crossings, 13015 Abercorn Street Suite D at 10 am on Monday, November 20th.  We are fully open just in time for the holiday shopping season!

Positive Dog Training

Savannah Morning News – November 3, 2017 Allisia Vroom, Training Coordinator

Research on dogs is continually growing and as we learn more about them, we learn that the traditional ways of doing things aren’t always the best. Even with all of the new information we have learned about dog training over the past decade, there is still a resistance to change. Here are five  common myths regarding positive reinforcement training.

  1. It’s just bribery

Positive Reinforcement is based on rewarding a dog for doing something good. Usually this reinforcement comes in the form of a treat, unless something else is more rewarding to the dog like a toy or attention. For many dogs, food is the best way to focus their attention and get them to do what you want. It’s not a permanent crutch; it’s a training tool that you wean them off of over time. Another way to look at it is to ask yourself would you go to work if you didn’t get paid? Most likely not. Then why would you expect your dog to work for free?

  1. Dogs won’t listen unless you have a treat

In most cases, if your dog does not do what you ask, she/he simply doesn’t understand what you are asking. Your dog might sit beautifully at home when you feed him and ignore you as soon you go outside. This is because dogs don’t generalize as easy as humans. Dogs need to learn how to focus in distracting environments. You must gradually build your dog up to not needing a treat every time they do a behavior. You might practice ‘sit’ in your living room, then practice ‘sit’ in your front yard. You can fade a treat out when they are confident in the house, but may need one when you go in the front yard.

  1. Positive Reinforcement means letting your dog do whatever they want

While positive reinforcement isn’t based on punishment that does not mean your dog can do whatever he likes. Part of having a well behaved dog is setting rules and boundaries. The better behaved your dog is, the more freedom they earn. Positive Reinforcement is about teaching your dog the behavior you want them to do and then rewarding for it enough that they repeat only the good behaviors.

  1. A “Bad” dog is trying to show dominance and should be punished

The “Dominance” or “Alpha Theory” is the biggest myth of all. Research has proven it is not applicable to domestic dogs. Your dog is pushing out the door because they want to be outside or they jump in the bed with you because they want to be close to you. You don’t want to punish those behaviors, you want to manage them to teach them a better behavior.

  1. Positive Reinforcement isn’t appropriate for working, hunting, or show dogs

These fields tend to be dominated by traditional trainers, but any dog can be trained with positive reinforcement. The military and police are beginning to use more positive based methods when training with their dogs. In Denver, a club is teaching gun dog training using positive methods. In 2016 a Belgian Shepherd named Onez earned her IPO I title and took first place at nationals being trained with only positive methods.


If you are interested in training your dog, check out the Dog Training Program at the Humane Society for Greater Savannah. You can visit our  website for more information at or email if you have any questions.

Pup Crawl is Back

Savannah Morning News – October 20, 2017 Kerri Polanski, Development & Marketing Manager

The Humane Society for Greater Savannah is offering a way to celebrate Fall with the return of Pup Crawl! Join us on Thursday, November 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 PM for an evening of fun with (or without!) your four-legged best friend.

This annual event is one of the Humane Society for Greater Savannah’s biggest community fundraisers. We’ll have the fun color changing cups to hold your drinks as you make your way around town with other pet lovers.  It’s a fun way to support our work bettering the lives of pets and people while visiting some of your favorite bars in downtown Savannah.

Start by picking up your souvenir cup and map at The Rail Pub before meandering to each of the eight bars! The ticket price includes a free drink from eight participating downtown bars including: The Rail Pub, Congress Street Social Club, Dub’s Pub, Treylor Park, Savannah Smiles Dueling Pianos, Corleone’s Savannah, Coffee Fox and El Rocko Lounge. The complimentary drink is chosen by each bar and are a tantalizing selection of inspired cocktails, classic beers and wines.

Don’t forget to stop by the custom photo booth with fun props by Georgia Walters Portraits & Fine Art during the event to commemorate the festivities with your canine and human friends.

We’ll wrap up the evening back at The Rail for the “After Bark” party that will include pizza and raffle prizes for participants starting at 9:45 pm.

Tickets are $20 during the online pre-sale or $25 day-of at The Rail Pub. The cup and map may only be picked up on the day-of the event.

For more information, visit

A Year of Change

Savannah Morning News – October 6, 2017 Michelle Thevenin, Executive Director

If you’ve been to the shelter at the Humane Society for Greater Savannah over the past 6 months, you’ll notice some obvious changes in how pets and people flow through the building.  These changes have led to some not as obvious improvements in our overall outcomes for those we serve.

  1. Adoptable pets:  Our adoptable dogs are now in one corridor right outside of the adoptable cat room.  This allows us to more efficiently staff our adoption area and provide better customer service.  Our next project is to repaint the peeling floors and walls in those kennels.  We also upgraded the individual kennels for our cats so they would have a shelf space to escape to above their litter boxes.  These improvements get us closer to providing the standard of care recommended by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.
  2. Surrender (Intake) Space:  When someone surrenders a pet they now meet with staff in a private room at the back of the building.  Aside from the being more compassionate, this space is next to our medical exam room – medical staff can examine a pet as part of the intake process and determine if there are any medical issues that raise concerns, particularly communicable diseases like ringworm, upper respiratory viruses and mange.   Proactive disease control saves resources and lives.
  3. Technology: You might notice that we ask you to sign in when you visit via a small tablet computer.  This allows us to track foot traffic in our shelter, compare it to our adoption data and change staffing to provide better service during high volume days.  We had been closed on Mondays but when we saw how busy we were on Tuesdays we decided there was a lot of pent up demand from that one closed day and so we added additional hours on Mondays.  Sundays were the slowest day of the week so we cut back on our public hours on Sundays.  We use technology in many other ways to increase our efficiency and serve more pets.
  4. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s):  We created and implemented SOPs across the shelter and medical operations after conducting an initial audit from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.  Animal care, feeding, transfer and medical care have all been documented, improved and made consistent across the shelter.  With improved processes in place, we are more efficient and more capable of diagnosing and treating diseases such as ringworm.  And that in turn saves lives.

These improvements and changes matter because they improve our results.  Our live release rate is currently above 97% for 2017.  At this time last year, it was near 85% for 2016.  Our length-of-stay has decreased, which means our pets are less likely to get stressed and become sick.  Due to increase efficiency and effectiveness, our staff have more time to spend with the pets in our care and the 22,000 people who walk through our doors every year.  And we can work more with our partners in coastal Georgia to increase our community-wide live release rates, which is our broader focus.  Kudos to William Brown III, our director of operations, and his team for a job well done!

This weekend is “Adopt-oberfest” at HSGS! All adoptions during October 6-8th are free* and include a collar and personalized ID tag. This event is made possible by a grant through ASPCA/ Subaru Loves Pets Fee-Waived Adoption Program. *Puppies are excluded from promotion.

Hurricane Irma: Lessons learned and lives saved

Savannah Morning News – September 22, 2017 Michelle Thevenin, Executive Director

Like most of you, it was nice to start this week and get back into our normal schedule at the Humane Society for Greater Savannah.  Aside from one tree down and a short power loss, we suffered little to no damage on our campus.  Unlike with Hurricane Matthew, no trees fell on our new play yard fencing so we still have ample play space for our dogs as they meet their new families.

We evacuated our pets to a temporary shelter managed by the Atlanta Humane Society in an empty Home Depot in Roswell, Georgia.  We ended up taking only 26 pets with us as so many community members stepped up and did storm fostering for us for the weekend.  Having a smaller number of pets to evacuate means we had a less complicated  evacuation.  And Atlanta Humane Society hosted a large adoption event after the hurricane so we only brought 7 pets back to Savannah on Wednesday.  Fewer trips back and forth mean the pets are less stressed and less likely to get sick, which is a win for the animals and our limited resources.

You might wonder why we evacuated given the path of the storm changed and the mandatory evacuation order was lifted.  Our shelter building floods during normal rainstorms and as we were still potentially faced with significant flooding, tree fall and loss of power, we decided it was in the best interest of our pets that we evacuate to a more secure location.

We had a stellar adoption weekend once we returned to Savannah and are now working with some national organizations to help Florida shelter pets affected by Hurricane Irma.  Most often these are pets that were in shelters when the hurricane hit Florida; either their shelters were destroyed or they need to make room for abandoned and lost pets post hurricane.

We had the opportunity to test out our new transport van in our evacuation.  We were able to use the van to move our cats to Atlanta while the dogs travelled in our other older, less reliable vehicle – humane transport standards are that cats and dogs travel separately rather than in the same vehicle.   The official ribbon cutting for our new van is on Friday September 22 at 9a in our front parking lot – the public is invited!

Hurricane season is not quite over – hopefully we don’t have to practice our evacuation drill again this season but we are prepared should the need arise!

Finally – our quarterly book sale is Saturday September 23 from 9-12noon – all “parking lot” books, dvd’s and CD’s are only a quarter!  And a bag of VHS tapes will be just $1!

Reacting to Hurricane Harvey and Preparing for Hurricane Irma

Savannah Morning News – August 8, 2017 Michelle Thevenin, Executive Director

With Hurricane Harvey in our rear-view mirror and Hurricane Irma on the horizon, it seems appropriate to talk about pets and disasters.

I’ve been asked several times what the Humane Society for Greater Savannah is doing for pets impacted by Hurricane Harvey.  Our approach is two-fold:

-Adoptable Pets:  Many of the shelters in and around Houston were already full when Harvey hit.  Through our partnerships with other animal welfare organizations, we have taken in some adoptable cats in order to make space at Houston area shelters for pets whose owners needed assistance as they were evacuating.   As our kennels become available when pets are adopted, we will be able to help more pets from Hurricane Harvey.

-Staff Deployments:  Over the course of the next few months (or perhaps longer), our staff will travel to the Houston area to care for pets in the temporary shelters set up by the ASPCA to provide expert care to the thousands of animals in need.  They will be in Houston for a week or so at a time, their housing and travel paid for by the ASPCA but their salaries paid for by HSGS.  Staff learn new skills on these deployments and build meaningful relationships across the animal welfare profession that are beneficial to HSGS.  And their skills are incredibly impactful on the people and pets they serve.

All the while we are still focused on serving pets and people here in the greater Savannah community.  For instance, we have a lot of “smallies” – hamster, mice and gerbils from a closed rescue across the state line in South Carolina.  We are also currently keeping our eyes on an animal cruelty case in Polk County, Georgia involving 100+ dogs.

On the horizon, though, is Hurricane Irma.  Thee Humane Society for Greater Savannah has renewed its agreement with Screven County and will be able to evacuate animals in our care to Springfield with a dedicated group of HSGS staff.  We are in the early stages of mobilizing for our evacuation – checking on the status of the buildings we use, hotel reservations for staff and taking inventory of our supplies.  We encourage all of you to do the same for your pets so that if you need to evacuate, you are ready.  As many of us remember from Hurricane Matthew – planning and preparation will not eliminate the stress of evacuating but they will decrease it significantly.

For more information on how to prepare your pet for an emergency evacuation check out our guide at:

And be safe!