In October, RedRover board member Don Garlit deployed with RedRover Responders to give some hands-on help to a domestic violence shelter in Michigan. Our mission: Help make First Step, which was also a RedRover Safe Housing grant recipient, pet-friendly for survivors and their four-legged family members.

Don has served two terms with the board beginning in 2005, after meeting RedRover’s former executive director at a time when they were in search of board members with financial and legal experience. He lives in Michigan with his wife and three loving cats, Julia, Stella and Precious. When he first visited Sacramento to learn more about RedRover, he was instantly sold on the mission and the enthusiasm of the Board and members.

Two weeks after his visit, Hurricane Katrina struck, and Don witnessed RedRover’s involvement in the massive animal relief effort. This proved to be an instant education on RedRover and the urgent need for disaster sheltering work.

Flash forward more than a decade later, when Don made the serendipitous connection between RedRover and First Step. He was at his local independent pet supply store and overheard the owner talking about a local domestic violence shelter raising funds to house companion animals on site. He told the owner about RedRover’s program to help domestic violence shelters become pet-friendly, who then contacted First Step’s then-board director and told her about the potential for a grant.

First Step was in the process of fundraising to create a pet center onsite, later called ARK (Animals Receiving Kindness), when they received RedRover’s Safe Housing grant. The next step brought it all together: RedRover partnered with GreaterGood’s Rescue Rebuild and Safe Haven initiatives to participate in a deployment “build,” to make the pet center a reality.

Don was eager to help once he learned about this special opportunity. Together with Rescue Rebuild and Safe Haven, our RedRover Responders team began the intensive work to finish the ARK. Over four days, Don joined the volunteers and staff as they dug for sidewalks that connected the kennel to the main building, built sidewalk forms, spread gravel and poured and worked the concrete for the sidewalks. They also created a play yard for dogs that included agility equipment on spread gravel surrounded by a new chain link fence. In between digging and building, volunteers painted furniture and agility equipment, cleared the grounds and performed leveling work. Don described it as hard work, but was happy to see how eagerly everyone pitched in!

Knowing that the work they did would save lives both human and animal really helped to keep everyone motivated.

Reflecting on what he found most gratifying about the project, Don told us, “Domestic violence survivors don’t have to remain in a bad situation because leaving might mean leaving the family animals in a harmful situation. They have a safe place to go to and can take their animals.

Don also appreciated that all of the volunteers developed great camaraderie and teamwork, as well as learned new skills. While Don had experience in building a farm fence, he had never built a chain link fence. Seeing the results of their work was truly fulfilling, and some of the team members even said that they got ideas for their own houses!

He went on to say that while deployments may seem like a challenge at first, volunteers get lots of help on-site.

“RedRover has a deployment system so you will know what to expect and bring if you go to a deployment. I really believe that we can accomplish important things if we just all get in and do something. You don’t have to go to every deployment and that is OK – consider one, though, if possible.”

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