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By AMANDA MAYOR
If you happen to wander back behind the Wakulla County Health Department to a road called Oak Street and into a little building run by an organization called CHAT, then you may just find your heart warmed, a smile formed and your life subtly changed.
CHAT stands for Citizens for Humane Animal Treatment and was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2001 after the Wakulla Humane Society disbanded. Their mission includes improving the health, safety and wellbeing of domesticated animals through education and charity.
As a private, nonprofit organization, CHAT, although they do not receive anything from the county other than the building they are in, does work in close partnership with the county’s animal shelter.
After animals have been at the shelter for five days, leaving time for their owners to reclaim them, animal control works closely with CHAT to get the adoptable animals to them so they can be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and receive any needed treatments.
Dr. Faith Hughes with VCA Animal Hospital dedicates her time, talents, expertise and days off to take care of any issues with the animals taken in by CHAT. Vernon comes in to the shelter early and spends two hours cleaning, feeding and getting the pups and felines ready for visitors, working under the license of Hughes as the shelter’s veterinary technician.
CHAT Secretary Petra Shuff got involved six years ago when she read an article about the need for CHAT buddies – people who come in and work with an animal of their choice that needs help with basic command or leash training.
“I did that with about two or three dogs before I really got sucked in,” says Shuff, who found herself on the board of directors within a year and volunteering whenever she can. She says she goes twice a month to help represent CHAT at the Petco in Talllahassee in order to bring awareness to Leon County and in hopes of finding homes for some of the shelter’s animals.
Another aspect of CHAT’s outreach is a publication called the Kind News. Wakulla County third and fifth graders are supplied with the magazine, which teaches them valuable information on the responsible treatment and care of animals.
CHAT spends time each year during the elementary schools’ Project Learning Tree as well. There they will spend the whole day at a school, take a couple of dogs and talk with the kids, hoping to plant the seeds of animal appreciation that may save the lives of future animals.
Shuff says the organization is currently working on short videos for students and teachers that will be widely accessible on YouTube. Their hope is to be able to offer a free and easy way to educate youth and protect the interests of the animals that each child will come in contact with throughout their lifetime.
In terms of trends, it seems as if the shelter has seen a heavy number of animal drop-offs, which Shuff guesses, is due in large part to the economy.
“Food and shots and vet visits and follow-ups do get expensive,” she says, adding that sometimes an animal will get adopted, but in a few cases, they end up right back at the shelter in need of a good home.
Roughly $8,000 in donations is raised each year through fundraising. Twice a year they hold a Pamper your Pooch day at the park where services such as baths, nail clipping, glamour photos, anal gland extractions micro-chipping and more are offered.
CHAT also holds an annual rose sale. For the past 17 years CHAT Founder and Grant Director Heide Clifton diligently sows and maintains about 400 rose plants until they are ready to be sold during her annual sale.
“That $8,000 alone goes towards food only for the animals,” Shuff says.
If you would like to help CHAT, they are always looking for those that are willing to foster an animal, volunteers, donations and people who are willing to just come to the shelter and spend time with the animals.
Anyone who wishes to foster an animal choose to participate in offsite events and provide shelter and everyday care, while the organization itself provides the necessary medicines and food.
“CHAT has my heart,” Shuff said. “I feel like we do the right thing.”