Upscale thrift store donates over $2 million to pet charities

Where can you go thrifting and save the life of a pet at the same time?

You can do both at Second Life, an upscale thrift store in Avondale Estates that supports animal rescue organizations.

Since the store opened almost 12 years ago, married owners Tanya Mahrous and Toby Tobias have given more than $2 million in grants to pet rescue groups and programs supporting animal medical care, community outreach, spay/neuter assistance, education and more.

Donated gently-used clothing, accessories, housewares, electronics, and you-name-it sell at bargain prices to support the nonprofit’s purpose of giving a homeless pet a second chance.

“We’re doing our part by helping these groups, but also by educating the public,” said Tanya. “It’s not just running a store; it’s running a mission to save lives – to save animals.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

From its beginning, Second Life has supported PAWS Atlanta, a no-kill animal shelter in DeKalb County. They give grants for spaying and neutering, sponsor fundraisers, and foster cats in the thrift store.

“We feel incredibly lucky to be partners with them,” said Suzie Sloan, PAWS Atlanta’s director of development. “We really appreciate all they do for us and the many other rescues in the community to make sure animals get the care they need.”

The store is also a drop-off for pet food donations for Pet Buddies, a nonprofit that helps low-income and unhoused pet owners in DeKalb and Fulton counties. Founder Heather Koehler said Second Life also provides quarterly grants for spaying and neutering, which, over the years, has helped 500 animals.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to spay and neuter at all, particularly this year because donations are lower,” she said.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Long before opening Second Life, Tanya and Toby were involved in animal rescue. However, their desire to help grew deeper when they started bringing foster dogs into their home.

They fostered several rescues over the years, but the one that first grabbed their hearts was a Dalmatian named Lucky – an alpha male with a sweet personality.

“He won us over every day,” Toby said, “and showed us there are these good, amazing dogs in shelters. He’s the dog that pushed me into the rescue world 100%.”

With Lucky in their care, Tanya and Toby began envisioning how to do more for pet charities.

Tanya left a corporate job with Delta and was exploring next-step opportunities involving her love for animals. During a chance shopping trip on a visit with her parents in Nebraska, she went into a thrift store seeking a sweater and left with a business plan.

Tanya had never seen a store like this one that supported animal rescue.

“That’s when the light bulb went off,” she said. “I wanted to be my own boss and help animals, but the concept of thrifting and animal rescue never occurred to me.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The couple spent a year investigating the idea, then opened Second Life in January 2011 in an empty 5,000-square-foot space they worried would never fill up. Now they worry about not having enough space.

To start, they asked everyone they knew for thrift donations, and people began emptying their closets, wanting to help even before Second Life had its nonprofit status.

Lucky was named the “chief smile officer.” He sat at the front of the store by the window, and when people came in to pet him, Tanya would talk with them about Second Life’s mission.

More than a decade later, its purpose remains the same – giving homeless pets a second chance at life and giving items a second life to keep them out of the landfill.

And, for Tanya, the Second Life nonprofit gave her career a second life, too.

The couple looks back and thinks it “was crazy” to leave good steady jobs and open a store dependent on the community. They needed donations, shoppers, and volunteers to make it work.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Now, about 30 regular volunteers help in all phases of the business. Lynn Watson-Powers has been supporting them since 2015 and enjoys the store’s atmosphere and friendships with other workmates.

She gives about 12 hours weekly in service, mostly sorting clothes and working with online sales items. Second Life is selective about what goes on the floor, so donations it can’t use will pass on to shelters and street ministries.

“Most people are very generous, and it’s amazing the things they give,” said Watson-Powers.

It can get discouraging working in animal rescue, says Tanya. And right now donations are down, pet surrenders are up, and foster homes and adoptions are lower than usual.

Still, it’s rewarding to do something every day that you’re passionate about, she said.

“It’s been a lot of work, and some days are really hard, but then you get to write those checks, and you get to talk with the customers and see the dogs in our store,” said Tanya. “It’s really gratifying to interact with the community and feel like we’re making a difference.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner


Second Life. 1 N. Clarendon Ave., Avondale Estates. 678-974-5671,