Furkids Founder Reflects on 20 Years

You know how it is when you look back and think about your life, and there are certain events, or days—or moments—that stand out so clearly in your mind? For me, the Furkids 20th anniversary is one of those memories. 

I say this because it isn’t just a 20th anniversary celebration, it’s THE MOMENT—of an entire generation for Furkids. In 20 years, we have gone from zero to becoming one of the most respected animal rescue organizations this side of the country. And right now, at this moment, we’re standing at the cusp of being able to provide so much more rescue, health, safety, security and love to the animals who need us.  The opportunities are endless and it makes me so excited for our Furkids!

As we celebrate 20 years this year, I put a lot of thought into what to say to you—and how to thank you. I have been sifting through all of my Furkids memories, and my thoughts seemed to fall into a pattern.

So I decided to share five things we all have learned through 20 years at Furkids.

The first is about dreams and ambition.

Some of us are like young athletes or scholars, who know early on that they want to be Olympians or cure diseases. But some of us have dreams sneak up on us and take us by surprise. That certainly was the case with me.

The day before I found that mother cat and three kittens in my yard, I had what you’d consider a good life. Of course, there were bumps in the path, but I had a successful career with more than 10 years of business experience in Corporate America. The expectation is that I’d continue on that path. And that was certainly my family’s expectation!

 But those cats! Those cats were a dream that sneaked up on me. It was impossible to ignore their fear, their hunger, and their vulnerability to being murdered—for no reason. That day, I had no idea that my simple desire to protect them and find secure, loving homes for them would profoundly change the course of my life and the lives of tens of thousands of animals and people. Today, I am living my dream and I realize how blessed I am to be able to do so.

Against so many odds stacked against me, I learned that when you have a dream, a vision, that you must stay true to your calling and never give up!

The second thing we’ve learned is to take things one bite at a time. 

As I stood there 20 years ago, on the phone in my kitchen, calling animal shelters, the enormity of the problem of homeless animals began to be gut-wrenchingly clear. Here in my guest room were four little cats. But outside my door, Atlanta was teeming with homeless cats, and the shelters were killing cats every day. They didn’t have the capacity to care for them.

So the immediate need was to take care of these four little cats and from there we grew to help more animals. 

We needed money to feed and care for our little collection of cats. So we had yard sales in my yard to raise money to provide medical care for our rescues. By the way, those yard sales turned into the four thriving thrift stores that we operate today that provide one-third of our operating budget!

I can’t forget the moment when I realized if I ever wanted to have my home back, I needed to move the shelter out of it and to a place where people could come and serve and see where their support was going. We were ready to graduate from a foster network to having a physical shelter. We searched for space we could afford and signed the lease in Norcross with a combination of excitement and panic, knowing we were taking a huge step, putting ourselves on the line with a lease and a facility, and a paid staff.

In 2011 we took over Small Dog Rescue and expanded our services to include dogs full time, and taking over an existing shelter that needed serious work. 

And four years ago, in the biggest step in our history, we finally secured a home of our own and purchased nine acres that was the former home of Wakoola Water Gardens. We started the process of restoring and renovating the building and the gardens so we could move our shelter after renting space for 15 years in Atlanta. 

All of these moments were steps in our growth to save more animals, and to provide more services for them, the community, and our staff and volunteers, too.

 Another lesson we learned during 20 years is that we can’t do anything alone. 

When we were faced with new challenges, especially ones where we had no experience, we found people who provided answers. We got by with a lot of help from our friends. And wow, do we have a lot of friends!

  • Hundreds of donors and supporters who have helped Furkids through the years.

  • Our staff members who are tireless in tackling whatever our animals need, whenever they need it. Many of them, along with our volunteers, have gone out in the middle of the night to scrape up injured, terrified animals from the side of the road, dumped into dumpsters or stuck in sewers. No one complains.

  • Many of them have fed kittens every two hours, around the clock, for days, because the mothers had died or been killed. They do it willingly.

  • Many open their homes and families to be foster caregivers so that their animals can be socialized and easier to adopt. They might put up with dogs who try to eat the furniture or pee and poop on the rugs, or cats who climb the drapes. It doesn’t matter, our fosters do it gracefully.

  • Many of them regularly troll kill shelters, with their hearts pounding, to scoop up animals on their last days to live. They do it for love.

And of course, you reading this story are our friends and have a role in our success!

Here's lesson number four: we succeed when we find a cause bigger than ourselves.

Our cause is important and Furkids certainly is bigger than we are.  

We don’t just save animals. We build trust and knit a bond between animals and humans. We nurture spirits and souls. We bring health, hope, security, confidence, and love to animals, and we give humans the gift of being part of a powerful part of hope for humanity.

The final lesson we’ve learned is that one person can make a difference. 

20 years ago, four homeless cats triggered me to do something to help them, and I could not look away. 

20 years and HOW MANY animals later, you—and thousands of other people have heard that same call. 

We are Furkids, guardians for animals, stewards of creatures with fur. Equally important, stewards of creatures with human skin. 

We are standing at the greatest moment in Furkids history, opening an event space to help raise funds for our operations and giving partygoers a chance to share our life-affirming experience. We are starting on our new cat shelter, planning on a new dog shelter and veterinary clinic.

Future event space

Future cat shelter

We are expanding this extraordinary sanctuary to save more animals, support animal lovers and people in our community, not just during our lifetimes, but long after we’ve left this earth. 

In closing, I want to say thank you, every single one of you beloved people. Thank you to the beloved people who have since passed on, for helping Furkids grow through the years. You have made miracles happen and you inspire me every day. 

Here’s to year 21 and beyond! 

With love and gratitude,

Samantha Shelton

Furkids Founder & CEO

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