Ed Randall said he wasn’t surprised when the Butte animal shelter heard from an attorney who said the facility would be receiving a donation from a late Helena couple.
After all, staff at the Chelsea Bailey Butte Silver-Bow Animal Shelter on Centennial Avenue hear often from people wishing to donate to the facility, which services over 1,000 animals each year.
But what surprised Randall was the amount of the donation: $101,505, which wasn’t announced until recently when the estate’s executors said they would be dropping off the check.
They arrived Thursday with the money in hand.
Randall, the county’s community enrichment director, said it’s one of the largest donations to the shelter to date.
The executors are Patti and John Armstrong of Helena, who say their neighbors and longtime friends Dorothy and George Huston were lifelong animal lovers who had adopted pets from both Chelsea Bailey and the Lewis & Clark Humane Society in Helena.
The Hustons were natives of Toledo, Ohio, but moved to Helena in the late 1990s after George retired from a career at Champion Spark Plug Co. Shortly after arriving in Helena, the couple adopted a dog from the humane society in Helena — who the Armstrongs say may have been named Pickles — and later adopted a spaniel mix called Buddy from the Butte animal shelter.
The Armstrongs said George and Dorothy didn’t have any kids and their pets were like their children — so much so that George also left Buddy an inheritance of his own.
The Armstrongs described George as someone who could be curmudgeonly at times and who liked to talk politics, while Dorothy was “a love,” who could often be seen reading a book in her backyard, Patti said.
After Dorothy died in 2010, George reorganized his will, initially wanting to donate his estate to the Humane Society of the United States.
But John — who George elected as his personal representative — said he encouraged his longtime friend and neighbor to donate the money locally, resulting in half of his estate going to the Butte shelter and the other half to the Helena shelter.
George died in March 2017 and left the Armstrongs in charge of donating the money to the animal shelters. In addition, the Armstrongs were put in charge of finding a new home for Huston’s dog.
“We’re also personal representatives of Buddy,” said John, noting that the dog, Buddy, now resides with Jennifer Magill of Great Falls, the daughter of another neighbor on Barnett Drive.
Growing up, John said, Magill had an affinity for the dog.
“She was a buddy of Buddy’s,” John said.
When asked if he’s ever filled out a $100,000 check before, John replied, “No, I haven’t.”
Laughing, he explained that he had to void his first attempt because he wrote something on the wrong line. It was also his first time voiding a check over $100,000.
As for Randall, he said the Butte shelter staff is surprised and grateful for the donation.
“We were stunned,” he said. “It was truly unexpected and more than appreciated.”
Jacki Casagranda, shelter manager, agreed.
“It was definitely an amazing gift,” she said.
The Armstrongs, who also gave the shelter a plaque honoring their friends, said Thursday was a special day for them, too.
“It was just a feel-good day all day,” said Patti. “They were so excited to get (the donation)… everybody was so gracious and kind.”
Randall said the shelter plans to use the money to improve the care of the animals, cats and dogs included, and that county Budget Director Danette Gleason will help the shelter use the money efficiently and effectively.
When asked what motivates donors to give a portion of their hard-earned money to the shelter, Randall said that Chelsea Bailey has engendered trust within the community, adopting out between 300 and 400 animals per year.
But people also donate, he said, because of their passion for animals.
“People love animals and Butte specifically is an animal town,” he said.