Harrison County

Celebrity dog trainer gives heartwarming surprise to Coast Humane Society volunteer

A volunteer’s dedication and love for unwanted animals led to a surprise celebrity visit and thunderous applause at the Humane Society of South Mississippi on Tuesday.

Jacob Himes, who’s 26 and has a mental disability, has been a volunteer for three years at the animal shelter.

He was surprised to see walk in to a room full of people cheering for him Tuesday afternoon, including celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stillwell. The London native stars in the international TV series “It’s Me Or the Dog,” and the CBS show “Greatest American Dog.”

She presented a $10,000 check in his name to the shelter as part of the Petco Foundation’s Unsung Heroes campaign.

A film crew is producing a video that will show Himes’ work to a larger audience in May, when Petco’s Love in Action Channel will tell his story.

Fellow volunteers and HSSM workers gathered in a lobby Tuesday as a film crew set up and waited to surprise Himes. He was caught off guard, but kept smiling, as he was met by loud applause.

His mother hugged him, whispering in his ear, and Stilwell explained why he was the center of attention.

“I have watched a lot of video on you, and when you were nominated, I thought, ‘This man is really special,’” Stilwell told Himes.

“He comes in and volunteers his time and makes the lives of these animals that never asked to be here, that are in transition, better. For me — I work as a trainer, I work in the animal rescue world — there is nothing better than somebody who dedicates their life to doing that,” she said.

Himes “is raring to go” each morning, looking forward to being dropped at the shelter so he can be one of the first volunteers to arrive, said his mother, Amanda Bianchini.

The Unsung Hero award is a way to honor “extraordinary people, like Jacob,” and to tell their stories as “our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the many others out there saving animal lives,” Susanne Kogut, Petco Foundation president, said in a written statement.

HMMS will probably use the money to help pay for an indoor play yard for dogs, said Katie King, HMMS development manager.

Bianchini said her son comes from an animal-loving family, so caring for them comes naturally for him.

Although it’s difficult for Himes to express his thoughts, he said he loves animals. He loves giving them baths, taking them for walks or running them on trails at the shelter.

He gets along well with animals.

“They have an understanding of each other,” Bianchini said.

Himes had some hard times growing up developmentally delayed, but he has blossomed with his volunteer work at the HSSM, Bianchini said

“This is a blessing for him and I am so blessed to be his mother,” she said.

“I think he has taught me far more than I have taught him.”

Robin Fitzgerald covers real-time news, such as crime, public safety and trending stories. In nearly 40 years as a journalist, her highest honors include investigative awards for covering the aftermath of the fatal beating of a Harrison County jail inmate in 2006 and related civil rights violations. She is a Troy University graduate.