Cigar box guitars and homeless dogs

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Simple pleasures are what makes life worth living, and a fine cigar, soft guitar music and a good dog by your side are the more popular ones.

The St. Joe Bay Humane Society brought together all three in a day-long fundraiser Saturday.
Two families adopted dogs from the not-for-profit, no-kill shelter, and four took part in meet-and-greets on the newly-created outdoor yard, bringing together their household pooch to meet the visiting stranger they planned to welcome in, and see if the two hit it off.
A cat was adopted into someone’s home, too.
Most of the day was filled with happy moments, like when the Shane Bryan family held the winning raffle ticket to score one of Paul Durham’s handmade cigar box guitars.
Or when Ann Comforter sang vintage folk and country and pop vocals as she strummed along on her electric to the small crowd that ventured in and out all day.
There were sad moments, too.
Such as when shelter director Amanda Lucas had to remind a questioning staffer to be sure not to feed the premature runt puppy  she had been caring for, as the veterinarian had said its condition indicated it would soon die. Rather, Lucas advised, to keep it warm near its mother.
“The circle of life,” Lucas told her, and the shelter worker went back inside to comply.
The emotion of caring for a menagerie of surrendered or abandoned, sometimes poorly cared for, animals can range from the joy of cuddling kittens to the sorrow of watching an incapacitated animal freed from its misery.
“We see the neglect, we see the abuse,” said Lucas. “We see so much on the other side. We take in everything that is brought to us, we see that side too.”
In the two years she’s been at the shelter, first as a volunteer and later as director, Lucas has shaped protocols and implemented policies on behalf of the board, presided over by Jill Davis.
Thanks to bequests, and financial support from the living throughout the county, the humane society has put in place a K-9 meet-and-greet yard, ensuring that puppies, too young to be exposed to parvo in a natural setting, have an outdoor space to run, on special grass designed to be easily drained of waste and cleaned.
The shelter partners with the county’s animal control department, and Ronald Mayhann brings in cats and dogs found without homes.
They get held for five business days, and then receive a full medical intake, including tests for heartworm, of which about half are positive. The animals are chipped and put for adoption, and there’s an ample collection of them, evidenced by the chorus of barks and howls that accompany Lucas when she walks between the cages.
The packed house has meant some are transferred to a supportive shelter in Lynn Haven, which will spay and neuter puppies at their own cost. Or they may be sent off to breed-specific rescue places, both in Florida and around the Southeast, even as far as Michigan.
In 2019, the shelter adopted out 330 dogs, and 154 cats, but last year, due to COVID, was steeply down, and so the shelter used its funds to redo the kennel floors, and other projects that needed doing.
Lucas said being a no-kill shelter is no idle boast, but backed up by the shelter’s ability to exceed the minimum threshold to claim such status, which requires at least nine out of 10 otherwise healthy animals remain untouched by euthanasia. The shelter has a live-release rate of 98.5 percent, with just four mercy killings last year, one due to a biting incident and the others the consequence of significant injuries from automobiles.
Much funding for the shelter comes from the Thrift Store next door, at 1007 10th Street, where manager Megan Shiver and Barb Van Treese were busy all day tending the merchandise.
There you can buy quality items, at very low prices, if you stop by Wednesday through Saturday, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
They have adult clothing, more women’s than men’s, but no children’s clothing. Small appliances, housewares, kitchen items, DVD, CDs and vinyl records, antiques and collectibles, furniture, dolls, they have at one time or another most everything you might wants, except mattresses, or construction or remodeling materials,
“Every cent goes to the dogs,” said Shiver.
Going to the dogs is where the money from the raffle, won by the Bryan family, is headed.
The guitar made from a Leon Jimenes Maduro box, once filled with cigars from the oldest factory in the Dominican Republic, will eventually by handed over to son Zach Bryan, who plays with LoRu, (for “Locals Rule”) once a month at the Haughty Heron.
But, for the time being, dad Shane, wife Kristy, and daughter Kylee, a Port St. Joe fourth grader, all agreed they wanted to display it at their White City home for a while.
The guitar was the handiwork of Paul Durham, who was debuting his new line of Durham Custom Guitars.
With his wife Bonnie as his accountant and secretary, Durham takes used cigar boxes, and with the addition of a birch, sometimes oak or poplar, two-foot-long neck, he crafts them into fretless, three-string acoustic guitars, ideal for capturing the slide guitar licks that give country and blues songs their twang.
He’s made a four-string, and a six-string from spruce entirely from scratch which has the capability of a conventional electric guitar.
Durham would like to work in mahogany, but it’s more expensive and harder to get, so he’s more likely to stick with Sitka spruce. “I get bottom of the mill stuff,” he said.
He uses a cross-cut hand saw to do the cutting, or may borrow tools available at his mother-in-law’s. “My dad had a lot of tools,” said Bonnie.
The Durhams’ guitar-playing friend Johnny Buckins, a collector who owns a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender Stratocaster, vouched for the sound and playability of the Paul Durham guitars. “If it sounds good without an amp, if it resonates without being plugged in, that’s good,” he said.

Saturday was a good day for Durham, because it marked his first sale since starting out on his project in August.
As a surprise for her daughter, Mimi Minnick opted for a sky blue and white guitar, Durham’s hand-signed debut creation, made from a box of Catch Twenty-Two Connecticut Shade cigars donated to him by the Haughty Heron.
“They said they would put them in a bag and throw them away.” Durham said.

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