Five years ago, Margaret Hatley read an Anniston Star Speak Out letter about the need to control the stray animal population in Calhoun County. The author was Millie Harris, a local animal welfare advocate, who would later go on to take a seat with the Anniston City Council.

Hatley made contact with Harris to discuss the matter further, and the two ladies decided to convene a meeting to explore possible solutions. They put the word out to friends and, as a result, more than 60 people gathered at Hatley’s home on Lakeshore Drive to brainstorm ideas for reducing the area’s unwanted animal population.  

And that was how Saving Animals through Volunteer Effort — better known as SAVE — came into being.

“Our goal then, as it remains today, is to raise money for spaying and neutering,” Hatley said. “We assist pet owners by making arrangements for the surgery and then we pay all, or a portion, of the expense, depending on what the owner can afford.”

Kara Silvers became involved with SAVE after witnessing a series of stray animals come looking for food near her parents’ home.  

“We have taken them in and they have became part of our family,” Silvers said. “But we all know if more animals were spayed and neutered, problems like these would be minimized.”

On the second and fourth Mondays of each month, SAVE volunteers rendezvous with pet owners in the parking lot of Pickette’s Feed Store on McClellan Boulevard. Cats and dogs are transferred to a waiting van, transported to a clinic in Birmingham for spay or neuter surgeries and are then returned the following day.  

“Pets being reunited with their humans is a beautiful sight to witness,” Hatley said.

In an effort to spread the word and reach pet owners who need them most, SAVE volunteers attend community events to pass out information flyers. “We also use Facebook and websites,” Hatley said. “But word of mouth is our best advertisement.”

In addition to assisting pet owners, SAVE also employs a process called TNR — Trap, Neuter, Release — to reduce the number of feral cat colonies, which have become a severe problem in Calhoun County.   

“All of our traps are in use,” Hatley said.  “And more are desperately needed.”

Working with a low-cost clinic in Birmingham as well as local veterinarians, SAVE has, thus far, financially assisted with more than 4,000 surgeries. The money needed to accomplish their mission is generated through two fundraising events, one in the spring and the other in the fall.

Cupcakes for Critters invites guests to enjoy a variety of delicious baked treats while touring the exquisite gardens of Braxton “Bracky” Harris at the Harris family’s Eastside home. The admission price is a donation of any amount. In the past, Cupcakes for Critters was held on a weekday, but this past May, the group hosted it on a Sunday. The turnout was phenomenal. “We’ll be having it on Sundays from now on,” Hatley said with a laugh.

Sips for Snips, a wine and beer tasting event at Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs, is held in October. The $5 admission is a minimum suggestion, and all monies provided go directly to SAVE, whose members provide raffle prizes and party foods for the occasion.

SAVE maintains 501(c)3 non-profit organization status with the IRS and all money donated is tax-deductible.