Singers crooned, dogs danced, experts read lip prints and the wine flowed Saturday as the Humane Society of Central Arizona raised at least $135,000 to operate its Payson animal shelter.
The “Reds, Whites, Bronzes and Bluegrass” raised about one-third more than last year and coincided with the start of construction of a new animal shelter, after years of struggle.
“Construction will start this week for the new shelter for these beautiful, wonderful animals that we love so much,” said Diane Reid, who spear-headed the wine tasting fund-raiser held beneath a brilliant white, air-conditioned tent on the Randall ranch in Rye.
More than 200 people crowded into the breezy tent to taste Sebastiani and Coronado wines, savor a gourmet lunch and listen to blues and bluegrass bands. Over on the spacious patio of the ranch house people got insights into their personality from juicy red lip impressions on a piece of paper, enjoyed a chair massage and browsed bronze sculptures by Chris Navarro, with a big chunk of the sale price promised as a donation to the Humane Society.
And as a break from the fine wines, the event also included some dancing dogs and demonstrations on how to train your distractable furry friends from pulling on their leashes.
The dancing dogs were actually therapy dogs, that work a lot with patients at Banner Desert Hospital.
Studies show that simply petting a dog lowers blood pressure and works other surprising changes. But the dogs up from Mesa had also undergone nine months of training to learn various droll dance moves, which delighted the crowd — although it must be admitted that they were pretty much all suckers for a smart dog anyhow.
Reid estimated that the event raised at least $135,000 — perhaps as much as $150,000. Last year, the same event raised a then-record $100,000.
The week represented a triumph for an organization that has struggled to raise money to replace its aging, high-maintenance facility just off Main Street with a state-of-the art animal shelter. Once upon a time, the Humane Society hoped to build a $3.5 million shelter with lots of room to grow. But just when the downturn seemed to doom those fond hopes, a $400,000 bequest saved the day.
As a result, this week the Humane Society will start construction on an $800,000 shelter with 7,000 square feet of space devoted mostly to kennels. The overhaul replaces the mostly open-air kennels in the current shelter with indoor kennels, which will not only reduce noise but make it easier to clean kennels and maintain animal health.
The great success of the big annual fund-raising bash means the Humane Society will also have the money needed to staff and operate the new shelter.
As an additional piece of good news, the Humane Society recently won a modest increase in its contract with Payson to take care of stray dogs in the town limits.
The piling on of good news created a festive atmosphere at the well-attended fund-raiser and a chance for people who have supported the shelter for years to savor a milestone.
The high point of the five-hour celebration came with the announcement of a $60,000, three-year grant — providing other donors matched that amount.
Reid took the microphone on a sturdy stage and appealed to the onlookers who had already paid $100 each to attend the fund-raiser to pledge matching grants.
That touched off a remarkable round of bidding for the privilege of saving hundreds of dogs, cats and other animals annually.
The Humane Society of Central Arizona keeps any adoptable animals for as long as it takes to find an owner, which sometimes involves months of care and feeding.
Humane Society employees moved through the tent, collecting pledges. First a $5,000 gift, then $500, then $1,000 — then $40,000.
“Wow. That is fabulous,” cried Reid. “You guys are fabulous.”
The pledges kept rolling in, with an additional $5,000 pledged in various amounts.
“Going, going,” began Reid. “This is what makes this so much fun,” she chortled.
Next up, the raffle to award the $3,000 trip to a California spa trip in wine country.
Finally, the Loose Cannon Blues Band to close down the record-breaking fund-raiser.