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Humane Society Bark Park finishing in June
Shelter roars past fundraising goal thanks to families
Big Bird, a rescue at the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, and volunteer handler Shelly Cohen look out from the entrance of the organization's nearly completed outdoor play area on Tuesday. The new "Bark Park" will be ready in June and includes four play areas for dogs at the shelter.

After a hugely successful fundraising campaign, the rescue dogs of Northeast Georgia are getting a little more room to stretch their legs.

The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia is putting the finishing touches on its four-pen play area for dogs, officially named the Howard Oliver Armstrong Bark Park for the three families that gave large donations to build the park.

Fresh concrete, chain link and mulch will replace the narrow, tired runs that had become a hazard for volunteers, staff and animals near the entrance of the West Ridge Road shelter.

“The way our runs were built before, they were long and skinny. Dogs tear their ACLs when they turn those corners so quickly, so that was one of the biggest things we wanted — open play yards as opposed to a run,” said Sam Threadgill, development director of the humane society.

The new play areas will include shade for volunteers and dogs, custom-made agility equipment and toys and room for a new activity at the shelter: play groups.

Shelter dogs have never had room to play together outdoors because of space, said Executive Director Julie Edwards. Now, the society can group two to three well-suited dogs for some outside play time with volunteers.

Allowing the dogs to play together in the four pens — two large pens at 1,500 square feet each and two smaller pens at 600 square feet, each built by Greg Hutson’s All Outdoor Landscaping — will keep the dogs happier in the shelter and better socialize them with other animals for their future owners.

The work started on May 8, but the effort to replace the old runs began more than two years ago. It took off when Kit Howard, followed by Cheryl and Bill Early, approached the shelter with donations of $5,000 and $5,500 respectively — Howard in memory of his wife, Rebecca Howard, and the Earlys in memory of Cheryl’s mother, Mary Lou Oliver.

“We just think they have a great staff. It’s a great mission and we think they put their money to good use,” said Cheryl Early, who began volunteering at the shelter in November and has regularly donated to the organization.

Rebecca Howard’s love of dogs began with Rex, a K-9 cop from her childhood.

“Her father was a police officer and had a canine, and that canine retired from the police force and went to live at her house, and they were inseparable,” Kit Howard said on Tuesday.

Her love of animals led her to veterinary school at the University of Georgia. While a career as a vet wasn’t in the cards, it did give her the opportunity to meet a chemistry tutor named Kit, then a med student at UGA.

The couple had numerous dogs throughout their 36 years of marriage, Howard said, including a golden retriever named DJ.

“My wife had breast cancer, so our golden retriever was affectionately referred to as ‘rehab dog,’” he said. “When she’d come home from chemo, the dog wouldn’t leave her side. He was just a very affectionate, loving animal.”

The donations from Howard, a resident of Gainesville on Lake Lanier, and the Earlys were paired with an online fundraising campaign this year. After the campaign began, the humane society was approached by Susan Mack, widow of architect Andy Armstrong. Mack pledged a $10,000 matching grant to the park.

“He was always stressing to me that he wanted to do things locally,” Mack said of her late husband. “... A $10,000 donation would get lost in Atlanta, but there it really makes a huge difference.”

Mack and her husband had two or three dogs at any one time, she said on Tuesday, and later in life turned to rescue dogs — a cause they, as lifelong dog lovers, had adopted during their marriage.

“My husband always said I married the dog and he came along with the deal,” Mack said, laughing.

The family never had a particular breed, but tended to adopt big dogs — until they found Prissy, a little hound picked up from the street that left a deep mark on Mack.

“Our last rescue was a 20-pound beagle. She was 25 (pounds) when she was healthy, but when she came to us she was 12 pounds and had been beaten and starved and probably was close to death,” Mack said. “I made her a deal — we figured she was about 5 years old — I said, ‘If you will live, I’ll give you two good days for every one day you’ve had so far.’ And she lived until she was 19 years old.”

The memories of Rex, DJ, Prissy and innumerable other dogs who spent their lives in Northeast Georgia led to a fundraising campaign that blasted past the humane society’s goal of $30,000.

“People are still making donations to this day, just walking in the door, so we’re close to $50,000,” Threadgill said.

The Howard Oliver Armstrong Bark Park will open to shelter dogs in late June.

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