Thursday, October 6, 2005

County deals with animal concerns
• Adoption center to open

Staff Writer

The Marshall County Humane Society will soon have a new facility to house adoptable dogs and cats made possible by the contributions from people concerned about the welfare of animals, according to Sherry Janssen, Society president.

The adoption center will be operated by volunteers and all contributions of time and resources go to provide solutions to Marshall County’s overpopulation with homeless dogs and cats.

Progress in small steps
Right now the new adoption center is just a shell, Janssen said in an interview last week.

“Now we have to get busy to earn money to get things going,” she said.

Monetary donations are coming in with three members of the Humane Society each shelling out $1,000 to sponsor a dog kennel. Cat kennel sponsorships go for a $500 donation. And the Society will look for stepping stone sponsorships, Janssen said.

Lucky to get land
The Humane Society purchased three acres of beautiful wooded property that was cut off from land owned by Ruby Carter when the Highway 4 Bypass was extended to Highway 311.

“We were so lucky to get that little chunk of land,” Janssen said. “We had a gentleman’s agreement on it and three people in town offered them cash money - much more than what they had agreed to sell it to us for. Their integrity was so fabulous.”

It was George and Tim Weatherford, a sister and their mom Ruby Carter who kept the gentlemen’s agreement that made the adoption center a reality, according to Janssen. George Weatherford has continued to help out with grass cutting on the site which the Society wants kept in its pristine state.

The Humane Society is working up a wish list for the adoption center, which for now consists of t-posts, sheet rock and materials to finish out the inside of the new building. The bathroom needs fixtures and animal cages will have to be purchased. Volunteer skills are welcomed, too, including plumbers, electricians, painters and carpenters, Janssen said.

All donations are tax deductible. The center will be run by volunteers as the Society has no paid employees.

Marshall County government for the first time has put money in its budget for animal control - $20,000 - which Janssen said is “a huge start in changing things in Marshall County.” The board of supervisors is also working up a set of animal control ordinances.

The Humane Society continues to direct its time and effort into education on the importance of spay/neuter, which, Janssen said, has already made noticeable impact into the stray cat and dog populations.

An existing grant to cut down spay/neuter costs for dogs and cats helps those who will adopt to not have to pay the full cost of neutering and vaccinations, Janssen said.

The Society hopes to get a license plate grant from the state tax office but with hurricane damage putting Mississippi in a financial crisis, the tag grant may not be forthcoming soon, she said.

The Society defrays a lot of operating costs with fundraising activities and through the operation of a thrift store. Friday and Saturday are regular open days at the store but manager Maria Lambright said she is there most other days during the week. The store is located beside Bailey’s Printing on Van Dorn in the pink building.

Janssen is excited about the adoption center opening.

“I think it is going to be magnificent,” she said. “We will be able to house about 30 dogs and have a nice cat area to keep about 25 cats or kitties at a time.

The Society only adopts healthy animals. Dogs are checked and treated for heart worms and cats are tested for feline leukemia as soon as they arrive and animals are put on a good diet, she said.

Without an adoption center, currently the Society provides adoption through its volunteers and adoptive parents program.

Veterinarian David Childers with Willow Bend Animal Clinic works closely with the Society, Janssen said.

“He helps anytime night or day with distress calls,” she said. “They always have been fabulous.”

Janssen said Marshall County Humane Society regrouped, after a period of ebbing interest, in 1998. She attributes the rebirth to one person - Audry Peterson.

“Audry Peterson was absolutely the person who got us regrouped,” she said.

Outsiders help rebuild
Public awareness of the problem of homeless, neglected and abused animals was not raised by locals so much as outsiders moving into Marshall County, Janssen said. She didn’t get involved in the Humane Society work until moving to Marshall County.

Janssen was born in Deadwood, South Dakota, and her husband Bill was born to military parents from Georgia, but spent most of his time as an Iowa farm boy.

They have been married 39 years, and Bill spent 26 years in the U.S. Air Force. They moved to Marshall County in 1990 after Anita Gresham, who worked for Jones Realty in Olive Branch, showed the Janssens a house on Marianna Road.

Following retirement from the Air force, the Janssens chose North Mississippi as a home on the recommendation of good friends stationed in Memphis.

The Janssens were weary of the snow and bad weather in Utah, had lived all over the world in places like Hawaii, England, Texas, New Mexico and Utah, and were looking for good weather and a country life they could afford.

They found Holly Springs as an area where someone could buy affordable land and find a community to start a business.

Bill Janssen worked for Marshall County Lumber, then in 1994 opened The Rental Barn.

As a veteran, Bill Janssen gravitated to the local Collins/Hurdle VFW Post where he could be involved in volunteer work.

Sherry got involved in the Humane Society in 1998 when Peterson undertook to rebuild the local chapter.

“When we moved down here I noticed immediately there were animals dumped on the side of the road like a piece of garbage,” she said. “People think the animals can survive, but they become road pizza or feral.”

She said cats become feral because their nature is to run away from traffic and strangers. Puppies hear car noise and run out in the road to see about it and get killed, she said.

Seeing so many animals in that plight was heartbreaking, she said.

“My husband came home to me more than once to find me washing a dog with fleas and ticks and no hair and all the tears,” she continued. “Tears - it’s a woman’s thing. I don’t have near as many dogs now. We have a huge group of caring people.”

In recent years the Marshall County Humane Society’s spay/neuter program has sterilized over 4,000 animals.

Janssen was reelected last week to a third term as president of the Society.

“I am strictly a figurehead as president,” she said. “We have a very responsible group and everybody just knows what to do and does it.

“New people mean new ideas and we have a very dedicated, hard-working group.”

Norma and Bill Bastone have been involved with Humane Society activities since moving to Mississippi. The Bastones lived in Miami, Florida, and then in the Ozarks for about seven years before coming to North Mississippi.

“I was tired of the heat and the bugs,” Norma Bastone explained as the reason they left Florida. Bill was an educator and learned through the University of Arkansas that Henry Elementary had an opening in the principal’s spot.

“They said, ‘they’ve got a good job there for you, why don’t you look into it?” Norma said.

The Bastones got involved in the Humane Society after moving to the county. And they like people here. Humane Society volunteers are all animal lovers, she said.

“We have met so many nice people here,” Bastone said. “I’ve not ever met any nicer people in my life as here in Marshall County.”

There needs to be a countywide animal shelter, Bastone believes.

“When people call they are shocked about the facts of life,” she said. “It’s just a tragedy. We are all volunteers and we are not getting any younger. We handle animal abuse cases the best we can. Unless we can get foster parents, I don’t know what we can do because it will never end.”

Maria Lambright, a foster parent, also manages the thrift store which Bastone called “Our bread and butter.”

“Operating money is coming from the thrift store, fundraisers, and donations,” she said. “If anybody wants to remember us in their will....”

Bastone, who is once again answering the Society’s hotline, said residents in Byhalia, Barton and the Cayce Road area account for most of their calls.

“Most calls are from people who move in and are horrified there is no animal control,” she said.

Holly Springs has an animal control officer, there is some animal control in Byhalia and none in Potts Camp, she said.

Audry Peterson says she has been with the Society since 1978 back when Frances and Mary Walker Gatewood and the Bastones were volunteers.

Then the Society lost steam and was pretty much defunct until 1998.

Peterson renewed her commitment in helping do something about abandoned puppies after an incident in 1997.

“We were living in the country and were always getting dogs dropped off here,” she said. “David Childers could take only so many and he said if the animals were adoptable he would treat them and if not adoptable he would pay for euthanasia.”

In November 1997 Chewalla Lake had been drained so repair work could be done on the structure. Someone had dropped off four puppies, four white ones and one spotted, on Pine Mountain Road.

“It started to rain and we hoped someone would stop and pick them up,” Peterson recalled. “After four days in the rain, I said someone has to do something. They were eating a catfish.”

The three little white ones were caught and taken to Dr. Childers but the spotted one could not be caught.

“We looked for the other one and he barked at us from the dropoff spot,” Peterson said. “He wouldn’t come to us so we left food under a fallen tree and put a towel down for warmth. The next day Sue Dieckmann built a little house and I dragged it up the hill. For three days I made two or three trips a day until I finally went to David and got a valium and slipped it in the puppy’s dinner.”

Peterson caught the puppy after the valium took effect, put him in her car and while driving home the puppy wet all over her lap.

“I said, ‘we have bonded.’ So we kept Chad.”

Peterson was so disturbed about the situation with the four puppies she wrote a letter to the editor.

“I wrote, shame on you, and told them what had happened,” she said.

That was the beginning of the rebuilding of the Humane Society in Marshall County.

Peterson said she always had been an animal lover and over the years had kept five or six adopted animals - gave them good lives and care. By the way, she was also an outsider.

“But you can only do so much,” she said. “It was a case of the Humane Society did not exist at that point. So I decided to see if we could get it reorganized. Sherry Janssen was there as well as the core group and long-timers Bill and Norma Bastone of Potts Camp. He was very active in getting the adoption center going.”

A recent visit to the Board of Supervisors by Humane Society volunteers produced a ray of hope.

“We were suggesting somehow to bring the community up to date and solicit more local help,” said Peterson.

Having worked as an educator, Peterson said one thing a leader does is to try to spin off leadership to begin with. At one time she served as president, secretary and treasurer of the Society until new leaders could be attracted.

“We got the enrollment up and I backed off and have been in a supportive position on the board of directors,” Peterson explained.

“I have tried to foster leadership other than myself,” she said. “We have a lot of members and new people moving to the county. You buy property here and learn there is a real problem (with animal control). This is a reality they have to face.”

The Humane Society meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. in the Marshall County Library. Current officers are Janssen, president; Shelly Sharpe, vice president; Lynn Pullen, treasurer; Melissa Chipman, secretary.

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