Saturday, February 27th, 2021

Shopper Client Stories


Dog-Lover Finds her Niche in Life Helping the Animals in Isle of Wight County

by Rob Lauer

Before moving to Smithfield, Robin Knauth volunteered for the <BR>Animal Welfare League of Northern Neck. She founded Gimme Shelter Inc. to help provide medical care and other needed services for the animals of Isle of Wight County.

Before moving to Smithfield, Robin Knauth volunteered for the
Animal Welfare League of Northern Neck. She founded Gimme Shelter Inc. to help provide medical care and other needed services for the animals of Isle of Wight County.

I love this place," Robin Knauth says. "I love to open that door and walk in here each day."

The place of which she speaks is an old gas station, built in the 1920s, sitting on the south end of Smithfield's quaint and picturesque Main Street. It's the type of  structure found alongside rural backroads throughout the south- a slice of early 20th century Americana that might, at best, merit a glance from those driving by. Long gone are the antique gas pumps that once stood under the building's front portico. In their place are racks, shelves and tables loaded with the kind of items typically found in any thrift store. A sign over the front door declares that this place is now Gimme Shelter Thrift Store, and after browsing through the items on display, one might be tempted to move on.

But walk inside the gas station and one enters a space that feels enchanted. The rose-tinted glow of vintage  lamps illuminate a room in which antiques seem to cascade from the ceiling and down the walls. On one hand, the coziness of the place entices one to sit a spell and relax- but the curiosities, decoratively displayed all about, demand closer examination. Those with a knowledge of antique furniture, may recognize a nearby English cane-back bench as dating from the 1700s. Examine the room's contents more closely, and one might discover antique furnishings and other items from Smithfield's historic Gwaltney Mansion. Through a doorway at the rear, the inviting glow from another cozy room filled with yet more treasures, beckons.

Near the front door is a plush Victorian chair in which someone has tossed a small furry white pillow. At least, visitors might assume it is a pillow, until it suddenly stirs and they find themselves looking down into two twinkling black eyes. The chair's adorable canine occupant is a clue to the mission of Gimme Shelter. Another clue is found in the framed photo of a beautiful Black Lab, displayed on the back wall.

"That's Jack," Robin says, gesturing toward the photo and smiling warmly. "He's gone now, but I'm telling you, there was never a prettier Black Lab than him."

"After my husband, Peter, retired, we bought property up in the Northern Neck of Virginia, and built our dream house there on the water," Robin recalls. "Soon after that Duke, our beloved Chesapeake Bay Retriever, passed on. We were heartbroken. Then a friend told us about a little Black Lab puppy that had been brought to the humane society in Kilmarnock after having been found tied to a mailbox and deserted. That was Jack. It was love at first sight, but before we could adopt him, some ladies from the humane society had to meet Peter and me, and approve of us."

"Everything has just  worked out.
It was as if this sort of non-profit was needed here...
 Smithfield is a dog-loving town."

- Robin Knauth

"I was so impressed with those women," Robin continues. "They cared so deeply about the welfare of the animals. Then I found out that they also ran a non-profit thrift shop in Kilmarnock to raise money for the Animal Welfare League of Northern Neck. We all became good friends, and I started doing volunteer work with them."

So, if Robin and Peter had their "dream house" in the Northern Neck, how did they end up in Smithfield?

Robin chuckles. "We were going to live in the Northern Neck forever, but then we came to visit some friends here in Smithfield," she recalls. "When we saw that the beautiful old house on Church Street, that used to be the town library, was for sale- well, that changed everything. We love to restore old homes. So, we bought the house, left Kilmarnock, and the three of us- Peter, Jack and me- settled here in Smithfield."

Deciding that Smithfield needed its own non-profit thrift store to benefit the animals of Isle of Wight County, Robin began looking for a place to set up shop. When the owner of the old gas station offered to lease it to her, Peter loaned her the money, warning, "When this money runs out, that's it." He needn't have worried.

"The merchants here in town have been so good about helping us," Robin explains. "When word got out that what we're doing here was just for helping animals, people  from all over the county started dropping off donations. At first we just used the front room, but finally, we opened up the back room, too. Until recently, there was no plumbing, no heat, no air. But after we sold two trucks and two cars that  had been donated, we were able to install heating and air."

A team of 15 volunteers help keep the shop running smoothly.

"I can't say enough about our volunteers," Robin gushes. "They love to come in here and do whatever work needs doing- including decorating the store."

Anthony "Man" Goodman is another valued member of the staff. Robin met him six years ago, and upon learning he was homeless, she offered him a job in the store. "He has been here every morning since then," she says. "Last May, he was honored for his work with a plaque from the Smithfield & Isle of Wight County Convention & Visitors Bureau."

The staff donates their time to carefully researching online the current value of every antique and heirloom item that is donated. That price is then slashed in half and reduced by an additional ten percent. This means that the savvy antique hunter is going to find some fabulous buys at Gimme Shelter.

Proceeds from all sales go first to help animals whose owners are unable to afford needed veterinary care. Gimme Shelter has also installed a $66,000 dog run at the Isle of Wight Animal Shelter, as well as a gazebo where visitors can spend time with the animals they're considering for adoption. In addition, the store awards a $5,000 scholarship each year to a deserving veterinary student.

"Everything has just worked out," Robin says in a tone of slight amazement. "It was as if this sort of non-profit was needed here. The community is so supportive. Smithfield is a dog-loving town. Just go to the Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning, and see how many folks are out with their dogs."

"I keep so busy here that my husband says, "Well, I guess the rescue squad will call me any day now, and say that they came and hauled you away," Robin says, laughing. "But this is fun, and I look forward to coming here every single day. It's so good to find your niche in life!"

Gimme Shelter, Inc.

426 Main St.
Smithfield, VA 23430