Friday May 7th, 2021 9:49PM

It all started with the Pupper

By Lauren Hunter Multimedia Journalist

In honor of National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day today, I would like to take a moment to dive deeper into my Social Impact Initiative (SII), “From Shelter to Forever”.

When I found out in February that I would have the opportunity to compete at Miss Georgia, one of the first things I did was create my SII. The SII is essentially a Miss Georgia candidate’s personal cause that she will advocate for if she wins the title.

I knew immediately that I wanted my SII to have something to do with rescue animals, so I decided to raise awareness for the need for homes for rescues, especially special cases.

As an adopter myself, I realized how many rescue animals come through the shelter and how badly they need forever homes.

I adopted Josie in March 2020. Up until that point, our family pets had come from other family members or through purchase.

When I was eight years old, my brother and I persuaded our parents to get a Mountain Feist puppy from a cousin whose dog had just given birth to a litter. We named her Amber because of her amber-colored coat.

A few years later, I won my yellow Labrador Retriever, Duck Reagan, during an auction at a Duck’s Unlimited banquet. I named him for Duck’s Unlimited and President Ronald Reagan.

Not long after I got Duck Reagan, my brother said he wanted a Blue Heeler puppy. If you are not familiar with the breed, they are an offshoot of the Australian Cattle Dog. In other words, they make my crazy 72-pound lab look tame.

Once again, social media struck at the opportune time. The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia posted on Facebook that they had just gotten in a litter of Blue Heeler puppies from a foster. The puppies went up for adoption on the same day that the shelter was hosting their Clear the Shelter event; this event was an effort to find each of the rescues a home before the shelter shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Devin was out of town at the time, but I jumped into action and offered to adopt one of the puppies. I drove down to the shelter on a Saturday morning and to my surprise, many of the puppies were still there.

A volunteer reached into the pen and picked up a tiny, furry body from the mass of puppies, then handed her to me. Nancy, as she was called by the volunteers, relaxed immediately and settled into my arms.

Nancy weighed only four pounds but might as well have weighed fifty. I clung to her, scared to death that she would suddenly wiggle away from me and fall. The volunteer led me to a nearby bench, where I had time to get acquainted with Nancy.

It did not take me long to know that I wanted to take this tiny puppy home with me. Unlike many other puppies I have held, she did not squirm or try to nip at me. She was completely at ease.

After a few minutes, the volunteer asked if I wanted to take Nancy home with me. I lifted Nancy to my face, looked into those tiny eyes and asked, “Do you want to go home with me?”

She looked back at me as though she understood every word and took her commitment very seriously.

After the adoption papers were complete, I took Nancy to my car and set her in the seat beside me (secured, of course). But she was not having it, so we rode the rest of the way home with her curled up in my lap. We even went through the Chick-fil-a drive-thru that way, which made the workers’ day.

I did not realize until nearly a year later that I adopted a puppy with the same name as the former First Lady who was married to the president I named my own dog after. That did not matter much though, because Nancy was renamed to Josie shortly after, and our home was complete.

Josie quickly settled into her new home. She and Duck Reagan have been best friends since the beginning. And like most dog owners, we have given her about five different nicknames, one of which is “the Pupper”.

My experience adopting Josie made me want to get more involved with HSNEGA. I started covering more stories about them through JMC and Bill Maine and I began taking a dog out once a month for a field trip.

The more I learned about the shelter, the more dedicated I became to finding homes for rescues. I have said this many times before, but too often when I go into the adoption rooms I see sad, lonely, confused and even scared eyes looking back at me.

You might ask, “Well, Lauren, what have you been doing about it?”, and I will tell you!

At the minimum, I visit the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia each week to film a PUPdate about an adoptable rescue. Yes, these updates include cats as well. The PUPdates are posted to my Miss Greater Atlanta Instagram page and personal social media with the hashtag Shelter2FURever. The intention of these PUPdates is to raise awareness for which animals are available at the shelter and share a little bit about them.

In addition, I was honored with an invitation to HSNEGA’s annual Art with Heart fundraiser. The event featured a wide variety of art pieces for auction with all funds going directly back to the shelter. Two of my own personal pieces were featured in the auction and raised more than $200. To put that into perspective, that is enough money for two rescues to get a second chance at a good life.

Another event that I was a part of was the Mutts on Main in downtown Gainesville. The event, hosted by Main Street Gainesville, was an opportunity for the community to bring out their furry friends for some fun activities. The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia brought out several of their adoptable rescues, many of which found homes that day.

 As for myself, I was asked to emcee the pet contest portion of the event. Boy, was that a blast.

If you read the article my co-worker Austin wrote about me last week, you read the portion where I said that I want to win Miss Georgia so that I can keep promoting my SII. That statement is 100 percent correct. There are so many animals out there that need our help and it is my greatest desire to use my voice to find them a loving, FURever home.

No life deserves to be wasted.

  • Associated Tags: blog, Miss Georgia, Miss America, Lauren Hunter, Miss Greater Atlanta, Miss Georgia Scholarship Competition
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