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Humane Society Groundbreaking Marked By Jubilation

June 4, 2006 – "People who love animals are good people," said Erica Benjamin Sunday morning as she stood among upwards of 100 smiling "good people" gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking for the Animal Care Campus of the Humane Society of St. Thomas.
Everyone wore a smile. The center has been a long time coming, everyone agreed, but worth all the effort it took to reach this day.
The new campus, directly across from Market Square East on the Weymouth Rhymer Highway, is projected to open in 18 months.
Society President Joe Aubain and businessman and philanthropist Randolph Knight, the driving forces behind the effort, were almost speechless. But not quite.
Knight looked over the crowd assembled on the hill where the center will be built. "I didn't really sleep last night," Knight said. "My cats wake me at 5 a.m. anyhow. It's a great and wondrous thing. I hope it will be a model for all shelters. It's one of a kind."
Knight has contributed a total of $1 million in his fund-raising drive. So far, about $2 million has been raised for the campus, which is estimated to cost about $5 million.
Chatting under the shade of a few trees, a chorus could be heard: "It's so exciting"; "I can't believe the day is here"; "It will be so good for children." And, on all tongues: "Finally."
The center was a dream five years ago. Aubain was like a proud new father Sunday as he guided well-wishers around the soon-to-be animal haven. "Come," he told everyone, "take a tour. Our board members will take you up the hill. Come right over here," he said, leading the merry group of celebrants up the hill to the spots where the center's new digs will be built.
A bright morning sun beamed down on the crowd as it dutifully trudged up the hill. Chris Macken led one group, pointing to the sites as though they already were constructed. "Here's the flea market," she pointed out to an area to the right. "And this will be the cat house," she said, indicating some more dirt on the hillside. And here's – " she paused, as a call went out to return down the hill for the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of the participants sighed, as they hiked back down to an area offering bottled water and a tent.
The new shelter will include cutting-edge sound- and odor-contained kennels, where each dog will have complete privacy; dog play areas; a real cat house complete with window sills; dog runs; a dog-walking path where members can bring their own dogs; an on-campus animal treatment center; and an area for the Police K-9 unit.
Police officer Elton Grant, who heads up the K-9 unit, said, "I'll be happy when we have a place of our own to train the dogs. That will be phase two of the project, which still needs funding."
Golden shovels were then hoisted by Knight; Aubain; Herbert Lockart III, Senate President Lorraine Berry; James O 'Bryan, digging for Gov. Charles W. Turnbull; shelter official Darr Conradsen; Grant; and Henrik Lockhart and his parrot, Lola.
After the brief ceremony, Conradsen, who operates the shelter's education program, said, "Look at this crowd! What a wonderful gift the Lockharts gave us. There's a pond, and there are deer on the property. We will get more support now that people see it's really going to happen. I'm just glad we've gotten to this point."
Rhea Vasconcellos, a board member and steadfast volunteer who spends her Sundays dispensing shelter goods, said, "It's been a lot of work – and I'm so glad for the community involvement."
Ivy Branco is a familiar face in the book section. "I've been there since the days Mrs. Moss ran it," she said, adding, "It will be so good to get room for the books. We get them by the cases."
O'Bryan, who heads the car abandonment task force, said he is disturbed by the number of stray dogs the task force finds in abandoned cars. "We had four or five last week – it's overwhelming. So much is needed."
On a lighter note, O'Bryan mentioned his own dog, an English bulldog named Sir Winston Churchill O'Bryan of Wintberg. "We call him Blair," O 'Bryan said.
Gubernatorial candidate John de Jongh was beaming to see the project coming to fruition. "I was in on the beginning of it when I was with the Lockhart Companies. It's great. It's long past due."
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, sponsor of the animal cruelty bill, which lingered for five years in the Senate before passing last year, said, "It's refreshing; a major project. It's good to see the community here. Now, let us hope there is some enforcement of the bill."
Lisa Walker – longtime shelter volunteer, administrator and initiator of the spay-neuter program – said, "What I pray for is that our kennels are only half filled, because then it would mean we are doing our job with the animal population problem."
After the groundbreaking ceremony, the group moved to Coral World for a "Bow Meow" brunch where Knight thanked the community, the members and the board generously.
And the society thanked Knight, presenting him with a Lladro elephant statuette. Knight, who collects elephants, remarked, "It's the perfect gift for a compassionate Republican."
Knight was passionate in what he had to say. After praising the work of all involved, he got to the nitty-gritty. "The real work is about to begin," he said. "We need to raise in excess of $3.5 million – Pronto! We will do it because there are those in our community that really do care about the quality of all life; we will do it because it is the right thing to do."
Mincing no words, Knight said, "I know I will be able to count on significant funding from those who have always shown their commitment to the community," but, he said, "it is hoped that the many millionaires, and yes, even billionaires, who have prospered here and traditionally shown a lack of generosity, will come onboard and take some pride in their newfound philanthropy …. I will gladly welcome each and every one of them."
Knight spoke of the animals and the children who, he said, "will be welcomed at our Corrine Lockhart Education Center …. where they will have the opportunity to learn that until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. "
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