story by Ellis Anderson, photos by Denise Hines and Ellis Anderson
Anyone in Bay St. Louis who’s ever had a pet go missing, a raccoon stuck in their garage, or a snake in their kitchen has heard this advice: Call Dorty.
For good reason. If it flies, swims, walks, crawls, or slithers, Dorty Necaise can deal with it humanely.
Dorty will soon be celebrating his tenth year as the city’s animal control officer. The "officer" part of the job title is especially fitting. He’s performed his duties with such dignity, compassion and diplomacy, animal lovers in the community hail him as heroic. Calling him a mere dogcatcher would be both risky and revealing, since it might seem disrespectful to Dorty’s many loyal fans and would only go to show the speaker’s ignorance.
Dorty offered to set a trap for the wild dog. Then he explained that since the dog was so unsocialized, the overcrowded animal shelter would probably have to euthanize it. I asked about alternatives. Dorty told me that if I could find a rescue facility within three states that would take on the brown dog, he would trap it and drive it there.
On his own dime, with his own time.
It wouldn’t have been the first time Dorty had transported animals to save their lives. By that point, he’d racked up tens of thousands of miles — and saved hundreds of dogs and cats — in a post-Katrina project. He was part of a local team that worked with national animal rescue organizations to find homes outside the area for animals unwanted here on the coast.
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“My mother was a Cuevas married to a Necaise,” Dorty says, smiling. “It doesn’t get more local than that. I’m a native through and through.”
When his father passed away, the extended family helped raise Dorty. Cousins became like siblings. As a teen, he imagined becoming a teacher or a veterinarian, both careers that would allow him to follow his interests in history and animal care. After graduating from Pass Christian High School in 1998, he attended Pearl River Community College before taking a job with Dr. Jennifer Hendricks at Live Oak Animal Hospital in Pass Christian.
While working as an all-round assistant at the clinic, Dorty discovered the job offered the same fulfillment he’d imagined finding as a vet. Every day, he cared for animals and interacted with their owners. He worked there happily until the clinic was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In the storm’s grim aftermath, he began volunteering with Dr. Hendricks at the Waveland Animal Shelter. The situation there was dire. The small, outdated facility served the entire county, which had a pre-Katrina population of 40,000. That meant thousands of dogs and cats, separated from owners or evacuees who never returned, funneled into the tiny cinderblock building. Many were euthanized for lack of alternatives.
The tragic situation came to the attention of a new organization called Animal Rescue Front (ARF), which focused on rescuing animals in six Mississippi communities, including Hancock County. The group was one of several that helped local volunteers by organizing and providing transport for dogs and cats slated to be put down.
For the next year, Dorty worked for ARF and other organizations delivering unwanted Hancock County animals across the country. He drove as far as Oregon and New England on transport runs. The Bay St. Louis animal control officer at the time, Curtis Quave, also worked closely with the program. In 2006, Curtis told Dorty that he was leaving the job for another and urged his friend to apply for the position. Dorty won the job. At the mayor’s behest, he continued to help out in Waveland, where he learned the ins and outs of shelter management.
Today, Dorty is still involved with the shelter, now housed in a new facility (thanks in large part to a Pennsylvania group of donors and volunteers from the Bucks-Mont Katrina Project). He says, “It’s not the biggest or the most state-of–the-art facility, but by leaps and bounds, it’s better than anything we had.”
He still helps to coordinate adoption efforts and transports, which has had an extraordinarily positive impact. Dorty says that the shelter now has the lowest euthanasia rate in its history thanks to support from the Friends of the Animals local non-profit, PetSmart adoption programs, funding that helps with adoption fees, and the transport work that continues with Animal Rescue Front.
“Except for months when the weather is terrible up north, we do an average of two transports a month, with 5-10 dogs per transport. Over a year, that represents up to 200 dogs a year that are saved.”
Dorty also believes that spay and neuter programs, funded in a large part by Friends, are making a difference on the number of “throwaway” animals. Meanwhile, feral cat catch-and-release programs are beginning to cut down on the numbers of ownerless cats, which can decimate area wildlife.
However, their health continued to deteriorate. County resources are limited and a home or rescue option couldn’t be found for the puppies. After some weeks, the decision was made to euthanize them both. The female one was led out first. The white puppy calmly accepted the deadly shot.
After her heart had stopped, her brother was brought out.
“The brother came out and understood that his sister was dead,” says Dorty, his eyes filling. “He just laid down on top of her body and waited for his turn. He didn’t struggle or resist.
“I’d done that job for years and had never broken down until that day. I had to turn away and started crying.
“Most people see animals as not having human sensibilities. Devotion like that is supposed to just be a human trait. But those puppies loved each other so much. Seeing that changed the way I thought about animals, even though I’ve been around them my entire life.”
Euthanizing dogs is the most difficult aspect of the job. Animal control officers must also be able to read animals who can’t speak to explain that they’re scared, angry, or in pain. Another important skill is being able to deal with pet owners and the public. Dorty laughs when he says that people are generally harder to read, and much more unpredictable than any animal.
“Many years ago, we may have been just dogcatchers, but nowadays, we’re educating people, helping out at the shelter, and networking with national organizations.”
He gives high marks to the staff at the Hancock Animal Shelter and recognizes the complexity of their jobs as well. “A lot of people think I could do that job, I could play with puppies all day. But a shelter worker has to be a caretaker, a social media expert, a counselor, a therapist, a dog trainer and groomer and a bookkeeper. It’s so much more than people think.”
“They’re like my kids,” he says. “I’d lose myself if something happened to those little dogs.”
“Animals have feelings. They know when you’re sick or sad and they will try to make you feel better. Even if a person treats a dog like dirt, the dog forgets that. All he wants is their affection and approval.”
Despite — or maybe because of — the challenges of the job, Dorty finds it very fulfilling. “At the end of the day, I do love my job. There’s been good and bad times.”
He gestures over to a big brown dog, gray around the muzzle. “One of the happily-ever-after stories is right there,” he says. The dog sleeps on the carpet of my living room, where I’m interviewing Dorty. It’s the same dog he offered to help transport eight years before.
After Dorty made that offer in 2008, I spent weeks scouring the Internet, trying to find a rescue group that would take the powerful but cowering creature. I finally found one in Arkansas that would consider accepting him if he was neutered and had up-to-date shots. Which meant I first had to train him to walk on a leash and ride in a car. In the weeks it took to accomplish that, I named the brown dog Buster. We developed a strong bond. I never called Dorty back.
After our interview for this article, I wanted to get a photo of Buster sitting next to Dorty, since he owes his life to the officer's kind offer. But even after years of living in a pampered environment, Buster has never lost his suspicion of strangers. However, eventually, Dorty must have passed some sort of trust test, because Buster stretched out relaxing, with Dorty standing behind him.
You can’t pet me, he seemed to say, but I’m good with turning my back on you.
And that’s as happy an ending as the three of us could ever have imagined.