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VOL. 125 | NO. 123 | Friday, June 25, 2010

Donation Gives House of Mews New Life

Jonathan Devin | Special to The Daily News

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Cats sit in the window of House of Mews at 933 Cooper Street in the Cooper-Young District. 

Photo: Lance Murphey

Mark Giannini is allergic to cats, but they touched his heart just the same.

Giannini, founder and CEO of the Memphis-based information technology firm Service Assurance, and company president Kelli Mitchell made a long-term commitment of financial support to the struggling yet iconic House of Mews cat adoption center, giving its director a reprieve from personal hardships.

“Because they are an adoption agency, we adopted them,” said Giannini.

Beginning this month, Service Assurance has agreed to pay the House of Mews’ $1,000 rent for 36 months, repair its awning and electrical fixtures, maintain its Facebook and Twitter accounts and encourage its employees to provide 10 hours of volunteer work each week.

The commitment comes just in time for House of Mews’ managing director Elain Harvey, who has contributed her own money to the center’s budget virtually every month since it opened in October 1994.

Harvey was several months behind on her own mortgage and preparing to sell her house when Giannini called her in May and asked for a meeting. He had read an article in the Memphis Flyer about Harvey’s decision.

“I showed it to Kelli and said what unbelievable dedication to the animals, which don’t really have anybody to stand up for them,” said Giannini. “I said I think we can help.”

“I’m a big cat fan,” said Mitchell. “We’re not a huge company, but we can make some kind of impact.”

Giannini had never met Harvey before, but he knew of the House of Mews from frequenting restaurants in the Cooper-Young neighborhood.

The House of Mews, the adoption arm of the nonprofit Puddy Tat Protectors Inc., has been in a 980-square-foot bay at 933 S. Cooper St. for the last three and a half years since rising rent forced it to move from its original space across the street.

It is home to some 140 cats, including 30 kittens that Harvey recently took from the Memphis Animal Shelter, all of which were scheduled to be euthanized. She said she wouldn’t have been able to save them without the gift from Service Assurance.

At the meeting, the deal was sealed with a handshake.

“We had a meeting and I considered it formalized then,” said Harvey. “There’s nothing written up. Whatever they say I think they’ll honor. That’s the way it is.”

Service Assurance was founded in 1989 and occupied a space on Shelby Oaks Drive for 15 years before moving to its current location at 6935 Appling Farms Parkway.

The company specializes in IT outsourcing services, namely off-site data backup and disaster recovery, managed infrastructure service and maintenance, and help desk service for companies.

“What we found in this recession is that a lot of (companies) are trying to figure out how they can maximize IT,” said Giannini. “We serve as their guide.”

Service Assurance has also performed a cat rescue of its own.

“About 10 or 12 years ago in the middle of winter, a stray cat got dumped in our parking lot,” said Giannini. “Kelli let it come in, we named it Badger and the plan was after the cold snap we’d let him back out, but Badger’s still there.”

In return for the support, the House of Mews will post signage in the center’s windows and Service Assurance will have a presence in the Cooper-Young Festival in September.

“This is precedent-setting,” said Harvey. “Usually sponsors chip in for a one-time event. It’s unusual to have a corporate sponsor.”

Giving back is clearly not unusual for Service Assurance, which has made donations of services and equipment to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Streetz Ministries, Christian Brothers University, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Memphis and Habitat for Humanity.

“We would like other businesses to step up and do this,” said Mitchell.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 88 88 7,923
MORTGAGES 119 119 8,904
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 5 5 1,133
BUILDING PERMITS 253 253 17,320
BANKRUPTCIES 42 42 5,201
BUSINESS LICENSES 35 35 3,417
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 30 30 2,298
MARRIAGE LICENSES 25 25 1,617