When Bette Grahame was a girl, she badly wanted a dog, but never got one.
Now, she has fostered thousands of dogs and cats and has helped to find permanent homes for many more as president of the Humane Society/SPCA of Nelson County and former volunteer director of the Almost Home Pet Adoption Center.
“It was really a dream come true for me,” Grahame said. “My mother used to say, ‘When you grow up and you have your own family, you can have all the dogs you want,’ and my husband used to say, ‘Well, your mother never told me that.’ But he went along with it and we had lots of animals.”
In the mid-1980s, Grahame was asked by a new neighbor and friend, Terri Olcott, to attend a humane society meeting. Shortly after, she was elected president.
“I thought, yes, she could be the head. She has the perfect background leading people, and she is just a wonderful, lovely person,” Olcott said.
When Grahame became president, the shelter had just a handful of volunteers, and was only open a few hours two days a week. Hardly any dogs were adopted — most were euthanized, she said. Then, Nelson County contracted with the humane society to manage the animal care out of the county’s facility.
“We still had to euthanize,” Grahame said. “I cried a lot in those days, and we did that for seven years.”
She also helped to establish a program to take puppies to a shelter in Massachusetts so they could be adopted.
Tedi Wright, who’s on the board of the humane society, said she estimates that each year at that time, they took care of about 300 puppies between the two of them. She said around that time is when she really got to know Grahame.
“Then I realized, this is a person who does this solely because she loves animals,” Wright said. “She’s not looking for glory, not looking for things to be done her way … she just wanted to save as many animals as she could.”
After seven years, the humane society stopped managing the Nelson shelter, after county supervisors didn’t want to hold animals for more than a few days.
“For five years, the humane society operated out of people’s homes — my home, several people volunteered to take in animals that people wanted to surrender,” Grahame said. “And we just went and stood in front of supermarkets and many stores and just did our best to adopt.”
Wright said she is astounded by Grahame’s kindness.
“Despite having seen all that, and having been through all that, put up with so much unpleasant political stuff, she still never has a bad word,” she said.
After fundraising through events such as multiple Animal House Balls and with the help of generous donors, the Almost Home Pet Adoption Center opened as a no-kill shelter in 2004.
“Her goal wasn’t to have a no-kill shelter that you could walk into and pick out the perfect dog or cat; it was to have a shelter for all the animals,” Wright said.
Grahame said they began to develop a good relationship with several Nelson animal control officers.
“Working together, in 2010 we made the whole county a no-kill county, so unless an animal is vicious, terminally ill, what doesn’t get adopted over there comes to us,” she said.
Wright said what stands out to her about Grahame is that she’s so genuinely caring about people and animals.
“I know a lot of people have opened no-kill shelters, and mostly they’ve done it by being jerks to people, which works for the animals,” she said, “But to see somebody do what she has done, and to do it with as much kindness and consideration and caring for people, as well as animals, is pretty impressive.”
Grahame said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the shelter’s long-time resident cats and dogs were adopted, and they got so low on animals that they took many in from kill shelters in the area. In November, Almost Home hired its first full-time director.
“We’re still developing, still building and still improving,” Grahame said. “But I don’t cry anymore, because the animals here have it wonderful.”