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Difference Maker: Billie Blaine, Gadsden County Humane Society

Every creature, not just those who walk upright on two legs, needs an advocate at times – someone to sacrifice, support and show them compassion during trying times. We bipeds are comparatively lucky; we have therapists, counselors, faith leaders, schoolteachers and people of all sorts whose sole mission is to help their fellow man when he’s at his lowest and most vulnerable. But what about our fellow dog? Or cat? Or bird? Or lizard? Who’ll answer their subtle, oft-silent cries?  Especially as populations of stray, feral cats and dogs – victims of man’s impulsivity and irresponsibility – explode, our four-legged friends have too few genuinely dedicated advocates: those unafraid to traverse the scummiest alleys to rescue kittens born to filth and starvation; those who stand strong in the face of discomfort, undaunted by the smell of disease and the nightmare-provoking horrors of neglect and abuse; those whose righteous anger drives them to seek justice without relent – damn the personal costs. For animal lovers, it’s a grim, depressing reality. For animals, it’s a life of pain and suffering. But in Gadsden County, there shines a light just beyond our dark horizons; a group that aims to turn the tide via animal rights advocacy, animal rescue, innovative feral management methods and – perhaps most importantly – education. Havana’s Billie Blaine, a Gadsden Humane Society volunteer, is one of scores of locals on the front lines of this fight – nay, war – for the health and well-being of our local animal populations. Her passion and love for animals is infectious. But don’t take my word for it…

• Tell me a bit about your background; where are you from? When did you come to Havana? What’s your primary occupation? Any family?
I was born and raised in Nebraska and moved to Macon, Georgia, in 1996.  I moved to Havana in 2003. My husband and I wanted to live in Florida and Tallahassee seemed like the best place for us both to get jobs.  Havana is a great place to live and offers a great value in home prices. My husband, Kevin, is an RN at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.  We have two dogs, JJ and Nellie, and a cat, Ally. I’ve been a law librarian for almost 25 years and I’m currently the director of the Florida Supreme Court Library.  I’m also a real estate agent with Pro Players Realty USA.

• What do you do for the Gadsden County Humane Society?
I’m the treasurer and a board member. In the past, I have served as vice president, dog adoption coordinator, membership chair and secretary. I have organized fundraisers, including garage sales, pet costume contests, pictures with Santa, and dog washes. I do the PR for the group and respond to requests for help. Along with the rest of the board, I set priorities, policies and procedures.

• What motivated you to get involved with the humane society at first? What motivates you to stay/continue to volunteer, if different?
Pet overpopulation and the problems that stem from that exist all over the country, but those problems are especially bad in Gadsden County.

• What do you like most about volunteering with the humane society? What are the most challenging aspects?
I love knowing that I have made a difference in the life of a dog or cat or helped a family keep its pet, but it’s so hard to know that we can’t help all of the pets and owners who need it.

• Looking back over your time with the humane society, is there a particular experience that stands out, whether good, bad or a bit of both?
[Gadsden County Humane Society] got a call in 2007 about a pitbull who had been abandoned outside of Greensboro. She was left tied to a tree, with no food or water, and 10 nursing puppies. We were able to take the dog and her puppies into our foster program. The puppies were all adopted out, and I ended up with Nellie, the mama dog. She’s my heart and soul, and still going strong at age 14.

• Do encounters with neglected, homeless, abused animals, and/or abusive owners take an emotional toll on you? Does it motivate you to do more or does it make you question whether you should quit for the sake of your own emotional health? How do you fight and/or overcome cynicism/anger/depression as a result of the horrors you (may) witness?
Yes. It’s so hard to comprehend how some people can be so cruel, and seemingly place no value at all on the lives of cats and dogs. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that the problem is so overwhelming, and one person or one group can’t even begin to solve it.

• Contrast that with the joys of success stories – how do you maintain a balance?
The joy of taking a dog off a chain or a cat off the street and helping to find it a loving forever home is the very best reward. Knowing that through my work I have helped a family keep a pet that they might not otherwise have been able to afford is also very rewarding.

• Have you always loved animals? Are there any memories and/or specific events that have especially influenced that love?
I have always loved animals, and always had a dog, and usually a cat, while growing up.

• Second, lots of people “love” animals, but comparatively few volunteer with humane societies and the like. What was the catalyst that transformed you from “observer” to “doer?”
At some point I realized that I could do more than just feel bad about the number of homeless pets, animal cruelty, and the pet overpopulation problem.  I had to do something about it.

• What can people do to help the Gadsden County Humane Society? Perhaps more importantly, why should people help?
GCHS is an all-volunteer . 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  We get no city, county, state, or federal funding.
Volunteers can work at an information booth, donate cookies for a bake sale, help out at a dog wash or at our December craft show, transport pet food and supplies, or take pets to and from vet appointments.
Donations are needed to allow us to offer free and low-cost spay and neuter services, and to provide food, supplies, and vet-care assistance to pet owners who need a little help taking care of their pets.
Please call us at 539-0505 or like us on Facebook.

• Aside from supporting the humane society, what can people do to help animals?
Everyone needs to spay and neuter their pets!  And, if they like our page on Facebook, they can help to reunite lost pets with their owners, help to place pets in new homes, and help raise awareness and funds for all local rescue groups.

• Is there anything you’d like to tell the citizens of Gadsden County about animal welfare, the humane society, or otherwise, that may not be widely known?
Spaying and neutering is the solution to every widespread animal welfare problem.  With fewer unwanted cats and dogs, there will be fewer strays suffering, producing litters, and spreading disease. Feral cat colonies can spring up from just one un-spayed female cat wandering the neighborhood. Dog fighters used lost or abandoned dogs as bait to help train their fighting dogs. Limiting the number of dogs and cats and promoting proper care is something we should all work toward.

By Brian Dekle