Photos by K2 Images
The dogs and cats at the Rita B. Huff Adoption Center outnumber the humans, and Marjolein Lemmon, executive director, is right at home. A native of Holland, she has worked at the animal shelter more than 28 years and has helped many people adopt furry friends. “I find it very impressive when I am out in the community, and I meet so many individuals who say they have adopted from Rita B.,” says Elaine Brown, president of the Rita B. Huff Adoption Center Board of Directors.
The center opened in October 1986, and as a student at Sam Houston, I would drive by every day and think, “What a neat place that would be to work.” Little did I know I would end up here and make it my career. I was hired in September of 1988—part-time at first—on shelter staff. Not very long after that, the then-manager’s husband was relocated, and she suggested to the board that I become the manager. Our by-laws changed in 2006, and the board decided to have an executive director and a shelter manager.
I was born in Holland, and we moved around quite a bit. At the time, my dad was an engineer with Philips. We lived in Mexico, Taiwan, and ultimately moved to Curacao (Dutch Caribbean) where I went to high school. At the time, there were no universities on the island, and most students would move either back to Holland or to the U.S. to continue. I went to Blinn College in Brenham for two years and finished up at Sam with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.
The people, the way I was welcomed here. I felt right at home. There weren’t any big cultural differences that were uncomfortable. I liked the lifestyle, the relaxed Texan way. I also love the fact that Texas offers a little bit of everything—mountains to the west, beaches to the east. After living on an island, I wanted to do and see more. I enjoy going to concerts, museums, and an occasional baseball game. My dad still lives in Curacao, and I try to go back once a year.
I was the one that always came home with strays as a little girl, and we always had pets. I also love horses and had the pleasure of owning one, which I did dressage and jumping with. I guess I was born an animal lover. I had thought about becoming a vet, but that didn’t pan out.
I do everything from cleaning the cages to making executive decisions and everything in between. I might take in animals or do adoptions, depending on how busy we are. Mainly I do the administrative part of it—fund-raising, bookkeeping, public relations. When we get here in the morning, it’s dirty in the back, and the animals are hungry. Everything needs to be cleaned. It takes four people a good three hours to get everything ready by 11:00am to open, and the staff does a great job. Once we open, people are lined up to drop off animals, and others are lined up to adopt animals. We try to make everybody’s visit here as pleasant as possible. On a big day, we could have up to 30 animals come in, including mothers with puppies or kittens. On a good day, we may have five to six adoptions.
That is why it is so important to spay and neuter. In 2003, we converted our meeting room into a spay and neuter clinic. Since then, we have spayed and neutered over 10,000 dogs, cats, and an occasional rabbit! We have our Spay/Neuter Assistance Program, which is funded by the city and the county. Residents of Walker and Trinity counties who qualify can get their pets fixed for $10. We are also pushing our fostering program. We started only fostering out pregnant mothers or mothers with newborns, since we can’t keep them here for six to eight weeks to be adopted. A couple of months ago we opened it up to other animals, whether they are six months old or six years old. All the animals in foster homes are available online for people to adopt, unless the foster parents want to adopt them, of course.
Yes! We have a link on our website (www.ritabhuff.org) to Petango, where people can look at all our available animals, and we also try to feature several on our Facebook page (RitaBHuffTX). To get more exposure, we do mobile adoptions every first and third Saturday at Petco, and our mobile adoption team goes to the Wal-Mart in Conroe and to the feed store in New Waverly whenever they can. We also work with rescue organizations. Last year alone, we were able to place 371 animals in rescues and we had 592 adoptions. That comes to close to 1,000 animals, and 188 lost animals were returned to their owners. We try to find homes for all of them through fostering, rescues, and adoptions.
Most people who come in have an idea of what they are looking for. If not, we get a feel for what they want by talking to them and trying to pair them up with one of our many choices. Then, they fill out an application that we hold for 24 hours. That way we can take care of everything we need to do and the adopter can get ready for their new addition. The fee is $85, which covers puppy/kitten shots, feline leukemia or heartworm tests, rabies vaccinations, spay or neuter, and microchip. When the application is approved, the animal stays at the shelter until our next spay/neuter date and will go home that afternoon. If the puppy or kitten is too young or weighs less than four pounds, we give the adopter a date to return for the surgery and ask for a $50 deposit to ensure they come back. It is a federal law that every animal adopted from an animal shelter must be spayed or neutered. You would think puppies and kittens get adopted more, but a lot of people don’t want to deal with babies. There are people who come in for weeks at a time until they find the right one. Other people come in and choose an animal on the spot.
Yes. We encourage parents to bring their kids to meet that forever furry friend. We understand parents like to surprise their children, but it’s better to make a first connection and make sure they get the right fit. We also encourage gift certificates; that way, a friend or loved one can pick out one they want, instead of being surprised by a pet they don’t care for or don’t have time for.
Every day. We also take lost and found reports. We will jot down all the pertinent information and that way, when an animal comes in that fits that description, we can call you. We also stress the importance of pet identification, whether it’s a name tag, a rabies tag, or best of all, a microchip. These make it possible for us to trace pets back to their owners.
I can’t tell you how many I’ve adopted through the years. Right now, I only have cats. If I had a yard, I would have dogs, too. Harley is going on 15. Then there is Simba. Simba is around 10. Nala is one we rescued from Hurricane Ike about six years ago. And, after Twizzler disappeared one day (she was going on 18), I acquired a new two-month old. Her name is Snoepje. It’s Dutch for “candy,” because she is so sweet.
I have a daughter Anneke, 24, who is a senior at Texas State, and a son Christopher, 27, who lives and works in Steamboat Springs, and a four-legged granddog, Balou, the best dog in the whole wide world.
I am a board member of the Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies, which provides educational training and resources to assist animal welfare agencies and sponsors programs to promote animal protection and care. We also work on pushing bills through the legislature concerning animals. One big breakthrough was getting the “Pets in Protective Orders” law enacted, which protects domestic violence victims and provides assurances to save pets from potential abuse and death. Locally, Rita B. has worked together with SAAFE house for years, taking in and caring for pets owned by people having to stay there. I have also been a member of the Rotary Club of Huntsville for seven years and will be the president starting July 1, 2016!
The absolute importance of spaying and neutering. There are too many dogs and cats and not enough homes. Some people have no idea how many offspring an unneutered female cat or dog can produce over the years. The only solution is to spay and neuter. Besides that, it makes a healthier pet. There are a lot of myths, like “My pet needs to have at least one litter,” or “I want my children to see the beauty of birth.” Those myths hold no value to unwanted litters that can’t find homes. We can spay or neuter a puppy or kitten at four months old without any consequences. When our vet comes here on Wednesdays, he will do up to 20 surgeries. They go home that same afternoon and we can all go home knowing we have prevented thousands of litters.
For the past ten years, we have been working on getting a new facility. We are getting closer and closer. It has become very evident our little 30 year-old shelter can no longer keep up with the growth of Walker County; besides that, it is falling apart. My plan is to make sure we get what we envision and make the Rita B. Huff Adoption Center and Campus become a go-to place for others to take an example from and to have every animal find its way home.
530 Bearkat Blvd.
Huntsville, TX 77340