By Emily Williams
As he finishes his first year on the board of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, Robin Savage of Vestavia Hills is preparing to be Grand Marshall of the organization’s annual fundraiser, Jazz Cat Ball.
The event, being held Feb. 9 at the Sheraton Downtown Birmingham, raises money for an organization in which Savage has become deeply invested.
“The thing I’m most impressed with is the dedication of the staff – how much they all seem to care,” he said. “They’re just good people.”
Savage was first formally introduced to the organization through his work at Robins & Morton, a construction and engineering company, when the company was approached to participate in a GBHS capital campaign about five years ago.
It wasn’t until last year that Savage decided to get more involved.
Seeing the way that serving on the GBHS board of directors had affected Tim Hightower, a business associate and close friend, led Savage to get more involved.
“I saw how caring Tim was on the board and it just sort of planted the seed that this is something I could really get into, that I could really care about,” he said. “It’s something that is both fulfilling for me and I feel like I can help them, too.”
Not only has Savage enjoyed his work on the board so far, he is able to use his professional expertise, as president and chief operating officer for Robins & Morton, to help the organization search for a new facility.
“We’re in the process of trying to find property for a replacement facility that would bring all of the facilities together in one place: the county facility, the adoption center and the surgery and treatment areas,” he said, “whereas right now they are kind of spread out.”
“We’re going to find the right place,” Savage said. “The humane society is just a wonderful service and I’d call it an institution on behalf of animal care.”
The Greatest Dog(s) in the World
For Savage, it has been easy to get invested in his work with the organization because he is a lifelong dog owner and lover.
“Dogs are sincere. They’re honest and they’re sincere. There’s nothing fake about a dog,” he said. “They’re going to react exactly like they think and I love that about animals.”
He’s had a dog in the family ever since he was about 4 years old, save the years he attended Auburn University to get his bachelor’s in building construction. Even then, he had a dog waiting for him at his parent’s house.
“My dog right now is waiting at the top of the stairs every night when I come home,” he said. “He’s just always glad to see me.”
Charlie, his dog now, is an Australian shepherd and the current “greatest dog in the world” according to Savage.
“I had a dog named Ellie when Ginger (his wife) and I first got married, and I called her the greatest dog in the history of all dogs. … Until Lilly came along – she was an Australian shepherd – and she became the greatest dog of all dogs.”
Raising a dog is also a great learning experience, Savage said, that gives a newly married couple the opportunity to tackle a new level of responsibility. It’s a task both of his daughters have experienced, giving him three granddogs that he cherishes as well as his own.
One of his daughters has Scout, who Savage says is the most athletic, energetic Labrador retriever he’s ever seen. His other two granddogs, Macy and Maddie, are more laid-back golden retrievers.
“Maddie is the sweetest thing that ever lived,” Savage said. “She would not hurt a flea. When my granddaughter was born and now that she’s just a toddler running around, she climbs all over that dog. Not only does (Maddie) tolerate it, she loves it.”
Funding for the Future
Having such a soft spot in his heart for animals, Savage said it was easy to become emotionally invested in his work with the GBHS.
“They do so many good things for the animals, but they are also a people organization, too. They help people figure out how they can keep their animals.”
One of the major triumphs he’s seen in the organization over his past year of service is the addition of the Yes Save program.
Through the program, people who come to the facility to surrender pets are taken to one of the organization’s pet counselors to discuss their issues with their pet ownership.
If they are surrendering the pet because they can’t afford to spay or neuter it, the GBHS can handle that. If they can’t afford pet food, the center has a Pet Pantry Assistance program for which the owner may qualify. If they can’t pay their pet’s medical bills, there could be a solution to that.
“They find the root cause and they try to solve it so that pet can stay in its home,” Savage said. “I think the figure is about 1,000 animals this year that would have been just dropped off are now still with their owners.
“We had a long discussion about this in our board meeting as to how to do this and if it was worthwhile,” he added. “It’s just been wildly successful. That is the one thing this year that we have done that has been the most impactful.”
Money raised through the Jazz Cat Ball goes to operational costs, helping the organization properly care for the animals it houses and provide services such as Yes Save.
In addition, the event will include a Fund the Need fundraiser to raise money to buy a new Tara – transport, assist, rescue and adopt vehicle – for the GBHS. The organization’s current vehicle is worn out from performing its many tasks as a traveling clinic, a traveling pet adoption site and animal transport.
“A lot of the use for this is disaster relief,” Savage said. “So, if there is a hurricane coming, then they will send the Tara down there and they will start collecting animals out of the existing shelters and … bringing them north. Essentially, they are freeing up capacity for lost dogs and cats as a result of a hurricane. It’s the same with tornadoes on a more reactive basis.”
Guests attending the Feb. 9 event at the Sheraton Downtown Birmingham, hosted by the GBHS Auxiliary, have a variety of festivities to look forward to. The evening will include a cocktail hour and silent auction, followed by a seated dinner. After a post-dinner live auction, casino games will begin as well as dancing to music by The Downtown Band. Tickets start at $250. For more information, visit gbhs.org/jcb19.