Good Neighbor - Prima Luke
contributed by Pat Saik
Ardent animal activist, creative entrepreneur, excellent cook, savior to aging dogs and cats. No question. That’s Prima Luke.
If you don’t know Prima, well, you just haven’t lived around here long enough to know anything.
No exaggeration. Prima knows everybody in town. And just about everybody in town knows Prima.
Born and raised in Bay St. Louis, youngest daughter of Leroy and Lucille Luke, Prima Luke is a living encyclopedia of Bay St. Louis’ goings-on for at least the last fifty years. Who was so-and-so’s mama and daddy? Who lived in that house on the corner of Third and Ballentine? What’s the name of the old movie theatre that used to be at the end of Washington Street? It’s almost impossible to stump her on questions about the place and the people.
Taking a walk with Prima through parts of Old Town Bay St. Louis is like having your own personal tour guide.
And talk about a cook! Prima ran the kitchen for 20 years or so at Dock of the Bay, the popular hometown restaurant that closed just before Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, people from New Orleans and all along the Mississippi coast enjoyed the seafood gumbo, seafood platters, burgers, po-boys and pasta that Prima prepared with unstinting excellence. A dish named “Prima’s Pasta,” a luscious combination of mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes and roasted pine nuts atop angel hair pasta lives on still in the food memory of many Bay Rats.
Prima herself has been a vegetarian for ages. One knows this if only by reading the bumper sticker on her jeep: “Be kind to animals. Don’t eat them.”
Prima and Melva in Mardi Gras garb The Dock was a family-owned and operated business. Prima’s older sister Melva Luke Fisher and brother-in-law Jerry Fisher started “The Dock” as a bar in the mid- 1970s that grew into both bar and restaurant as time went on. Like her sister, Melva grew up in Bay St. Louis and can match Prima story for story when it comes to talking about the Bay.
If Prima has a mission in life, it is to save animals, especially dogs and cats, from pain and suffering, abuse and neglect and even certain death.
For years, Prima has given refuge to geriatric dogs and cats who nobody else wants. Whether sickly, blind, arthritic, incontinent or deaf, Prima gives them a home.
“I want whatever time they have left to be the best that it can be. No dog or cat is a throwaway. They deserve to be loved and respected, especially in their old age.”
Prima has buried many a beloved companion over the years. How does she do it? She gives a four-word answer: “It’s not about me.”
Prima, who drives with the expertise and stamina of a long-haul tractor-trailer driver, puts those abilities to work when she transports adoptable dogs (sometimes from the animal shelter, sometimes rescues from a puppy mill) to parts of the country where the demand for adoptable shelter animals exceeds the supply.
Unlike so many shelters in Mississippi that remain jam-packed, shelters in many states have a waiting list of people who want to adopt a shelter animal. Shortages result from stringent enforcement and public adherence to strict spay and neuter laws on the books in these jurisdictions.
Among the many transports that Prima has made, she has traveled to Maryland and Maine, New York and Missouri, Pennsylvania and Florida. On one trip, she may be responsible for 25 or 30 animals. On another trip, it may be just one. In all, Prima has driven over 350 animals, mostly dogs, to places in the United States where they will find a loving home. Often the demand is so great that people on the receiving end are waiting with open arms and big smiles when Prima arrives with her precious cargo.
Prima doesn’t mince words: “It’s a shame that so many pet owners in Hancock County don’t spay or neuter their dogs and cats. It’s irresponsible and heartbreaking. Too many unwanted litters of dogs and cats may face a death sentence because nobody chooses to adopt them.”
“And don’t tell me you can’t afford to spay or neuter your pet,” Prima continues. If you live in Hancock County you can get a voucher for a low-cost spay or neuter by a local vet. To get one, just call “Friends.”
“Friends,” short for “Friends of the Animal Shelter in Hancock County” is a local nonprofit organization of dedicated volunteers that has advocated and supported programs to spay and neuter since the 1990s. Prima recently received from Friends a special commendation for the work Prima has done in saving the lives of so many four-legged creatures.
There is more. Should Prima see anybody abusing an animal, she does not mess around. She calls the police. Since she probably went to high school with whoever gets her call, or else went to school with their mama, action on her complaint does not go unattended.
“Reporting abuse is one important thing anybody can do to help a suffering animal. All it takes is a phone call,” she says. “It says something about a community that will not tolerate abuse. I want Hancock County to be that kind of place.”
These days Prima keeps her dance card filled, busy taking care of other people’s companion animals when their humans are required to be out-of-town.
“I’m doing what I love,” Prima smiles. “How good can it get?”