Friends of the Animal Shelter
A dynamic local organization proves that people really can better the lives of Hancock County's animals.
- by Ellis Anderson
photos courtesy Friends of the Animal Shelter
While the organization’s name is Friends of the Animal Shelter, it could also be Friends to Animals, Friends to Pet-Lovers and Friends to the Community. Perhaps that’s why in conversation, the group is usually referred to simply as “Friends.”
Founded in 2001, Friends, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, has thousands of supporters and 200+ members. Dr. Christina Richardson has served as Friends president for the past two years and one of her goals in office is to create more public awareness about the group and exactly what it does.
Richardson says that Friends was started in 2001 by Mickey Hemsley and Paula Leone, animal lovers who were concerned about the soaring rate of euthensia of unwanted pets at the Waveland animal shelter – which at the time, served as the only animal shelter for the entire county with it’s human population of 40,000 people.
One of the group’s early goals remains in place: To end euthanasia as a viable means of control for the pet overpopulation problem in Hancock County. To achieve that goal, Friends works as a support group for the County Animal Shelter.
Richardson says there’s a lot of confusion about animal welfare and rescue groups and explains the difference.
There are several national groups like that work animal issues, rescue and educate people, like the Humane Society of the U.S., and the ASPCA.
There are also many humane societies and rescue organizations that work locally. The Humane Society of South Mississippi runs the Gulfport Shelter is a good example – most people on the coast are familiar with that group and their work.
The Hancock County Animal Shelter is run by the county, using county employees and funds. The cities of Bay St. Louis, Diamondhead and Waveland also provide some financial support. In many places, communities have their own shelters. Here, there is one shelter and it’s supported by the communities served.
The problem is the county’s annual budget sets aside a finite amount of funds each year to run the shelter. Meanwhile, there is no limit to the number of strays or surrenders (dogs/cats that are dropped off at the shelter by people) that come into the shelter each month. No one can predict how many injured animals will be brought in each week. And even a psychic couldn’t foretell how many animals might be adopted in a given year.
So frequently, the shelter runs into shortfalls. And in the sad world of logistics versus life, dogs and cats are put down.
Friends of the Animal Shelter works to fill that gap and save animal lives. The organization does that through a number of programs.
SNAP – The Spay/Neuter Assistance Program is set up to primarily help people in the community who already have animals. In 2014, Friends gave out over 1000 vouchers for low-cost or free spaying or neutering of pets. Several area vets work with Friends and accept these vouchers.
Trap/Neuter and Release Program – Since feral cats are a big problem in Hancock County, Friends volunteers trap the cats and after they are neutered or spayed, the cats are returned to their colony (if there’s someone willing to feed them). Non-breeding cats in a colony actually keep out new ones, eventually ending the cycle.
Richardson says that the spay/neuter programs help the problem of pet overpopulation more than most people realize. Statistics make her point. In seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats. One female dog and her offspring can produce 99,000 dogs.
Shelter Support – Friends help out by purchasing medical supplies and equipment that the shelter can’t obtain on its own. Friends also collects supplies and food for the shelter and provides transport and volunteers to take adoptable dogs and cats to area Pet-Smarts each Saturday, where many find their “forever homes.”
The GUMBO fund – Donations to Friends can be designated to help injured or sick animals brought into the shelter.
Community Outreach – Events like Barksgiving, Tea With Friends, the Holiday Tour of Homes and the Second Saturday baked goods table help bring awareness to the public, as well as raising funds that will be funneled into local animal welfare.
Currently, Friends has a grant that allows them to purchase pet food that is then donated to the Food Pantry, so people struggling with budgets aren’t forced to surreneder their pets to the shelter. Owners and pets stay together and pressure is taken off the shelter.
The old Waveland Shelter was badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina and has been replaced with a new facility built in the county with help from the Bucksmont foundation. Yet, with room for only twenty dogs, it was already too small by the time it opened.
However soon, the Animal Rescue Site will be offering funds and volunteers that will work with Friends. They’ll actually triple the current capacity of the shelter by building addition (see details and donate here!).
According to Richardson, one reason Friends has been so successful is that they provide a way for people to make a difference.
“Friends tries to present a positive approach,” says Richardson. “We don’t play on emotions. Our calls to action give people a way to change things for the better.”
Richardson has several animal companions of her own, including miniature horses. Her seizure-alert dog, Daisy Mae Delray has written and published articles about animal awareness for years – and is a regular correspondent for the Cleaver with her “Puppy Dog Tales” column.
Although, of course, Richardson writes the columns herself from Daisy’s perspective, she jokes that when Daisy Mae is not feeling well, the writing just doesn’t flow.
“There’s nothing wrong with treating animals with the same depth of empathy that you treat a human,” says Richardson. “Studies show that there’s a strong tie between the way we treat our animals and the way we treat our children.”
“Everything is interrelated. It’s respect for life, period.”
Friends is currently looking for volunteers, especially to help with the feral cat trap catching program, but all the programs need helping hands.
“We want people who really love and care for their animals and want to help improve the lives of other animals in Hancock County. And have a great time working with Friends.”
Check for the Cleaver's monthly updates from the Hancock County Animal Shelter!