Gigi's Shelter for Dogs is Coming to the Rescues

Teresa Woodard
Meghan Herron tends to a dog.

When longtime philanthropists Tina and George Skestos, founder of Homewood Corp., started working on a legacy project, they decided to address the troubles of a dog-rescue network burdened with overcrowding and costly medical care. After talking with dean Rustin Moore of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Columbus Humane CEO Rachel Finney and several veterinarians, the Skestoses noticed a problem of supply and demand. In Southern Ohio, rural shelters were overwhelmed by unwanted dogs and their medical care, yet Central Ohio’s counterparts could not keep up with the demand for adoptions.

“It was being solved by putting dogs in a van and taking them from point A to point B, then causing more costs to the system as dogs transferred with health conditions,” says Justin McKinniss, acting CEO of Gigi’s Shelter for Dogs, the Skestoses’ expansive center. “George thought if you put a dollar in the middle of the system, it would save two dollars on each side.”

Opened in 2018, the $4 million, 26,000-square-foot complex and its 19-member staff examine and treat up to 1,500 dogs annually. The dogs arrive from six partner shelters and typically spend three days at Gigi’s before being transferred to one of 17 adoption centers. On day one, they receive medical care. Day two, they are evaluated for their behavior, and on day three, they are spayed and neutered. During their stay, they’re kenneled in four separate wards to minimize the spread of disease. Dogs receive care at the state-of-the-art medical center featuring two surgical suites, two veterinarians, a dental suite, exam rooms, X-ray equipment and an isolated parvovirus treatment clinic.

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The newest addition is a behavioral center directed by Meghan Herron, one of only three behavioral vets nationally within the shelter community. Dogs receive training to overcome behavioral issues and prepare them for adoption. The shelter now serves as a nationwide model, earning a spot among this year’s Petco Unsung Hero award finalists, alongside Gigi’s Shelter board president Jim Phieffer.

Beyond its own operation, Gigi’s invests in its partners’ facilities and equips them with vaccines, medical equipment and training. “Gigi’s is the first of its kind,” says Finney, who has worked with Gigi’s from the start. “There were lots of transfer agencies, but this was the first that invested in the source shelters. It’s not good enough to remove a dog from a [difficult] situation; it’s about helping agencies do a better job for all dogs.”

“Before Gigi’s, we would import litters of puppies with no medical or behavioral information and find out they had parvovirus once they arrive,” says Kelsey Smucker, director of CHA Animal Shelter in Westerville. She explains that they would have to pay thousands of dollars to treat this highly infectious and deadly disease that’s especially threatening to puppies. Now, Gigi’s has the facilities

to quarantine and treat parvovirus as well as intervene with many other medical conditions.

“When Gigi’s dogs arrive at our shelter, they go right on our adoption floor and often are adopted the first day,” says Smucker.

While the shelter has garnered recognition, Tina Skestos says the biggest reward is seeing its adoptees, including several she and her husband pass on neighborhood walks with their Akita, Gigi, the shelter’s namesake. “It’s great to see the happy faces on these dogs and the joy they bring to these families,” Tina says. “All these dogs deserve a chance.”

George and Tina Skestos with their dog, Gigi