Mississippians heard police were shooting unwanted animals so they decided to make a difference

Published 7:42 am Saturday, September 7, 2019

Soon after reports emerged of Columbia police euthanizing animals by shooting them, a Columbia man who saw how much the shelter needed help decided he would step in and do something.

“I was watching all the criticism on Facebook with everybody saying they should or shouldn’t do this, but I’ve not seen anybody step up to actually do it,” said Evan Cleland, who started a group, Adopt a Friend, to benefit the Columbia shelter, which also serves Marion County.

“So I’m going to challenge them. I’ll get out there and do it myself and if they want to step up and do it, they’re more than welcome to show up with me.”

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He organized a group of volunteers who went to work right away at the shelter.

“I’ve got a great team of eight or nine folks right now and several others want to join in,” he said.

Six dogs and two cats were adopted in the first weekend, and others have been adopted in the last week.

Volunteers walk the dogs and clean and sanitize the kennels. Some grounds work also has been done to make the shelter look more appealing to visitors.

“We’ve got the place looking good and smelling good,” Cleland said. “We’re trying to make it all presentable. I’m trying every which way to get these animals adopted.”

Cleland said in addition to improving the shelter’s appearance, he’s working on getting the shelter to stay open later at least a couple days a week and hopes to give it more visibility. The goal is to increase the number of adoptions and decreasing the number of animals euthanized.

He has started the process to establish a 501c3 nonprofit for Adopt a Friend so the organization can accept contributions to help the shelter, so he is committing to helping the shelter for the long haul.

“I want to lead by example,” he said.

Cleland said he has gotten positive responses from the community and the city and wants to continue what he’s started.

He said there are still a lot of critics of the shelter, but he doesn’t pay attention to their remarks since they aren’t doing anything for the animals. He said with two or three volunteers, it takes about three hours to clean the kennels, so little time is needed to help the shelter in a big way.

“I’d like the community to step up and do their part instead of fussing,” he said.

Cleland said he also knows what he’s doing will help the shelter, but he also recognizes it isn’t going to stop animals from being euthanized or change the method of euthanization, but he wants to focus on the things he can do to make the shelter a better place.

“I don’t have a part in that,” he said. “I want to get these animals out and into a home. I’m not going to say complain about something until I am able to say I’ve satisfactorily tried my best to help these animals.”

Columbia Mayor Justin McKenzie did not respond to requests for comment.

Lucedale official glad shelter is no longer city-run

Running a municipal animal shelter is very difficult and expensive, said Kathy Johnson-Anderson, municipal clerk for the city of Lucedale.

“It costs the taxpayers a lot of money,” she said. “It puts a very big strain on taxpayers, especially when you’re a small city like us.”

Mississippi does not have a state agency that regulates animal shelters. Instead it is up to the cities and counties to decide how to handle surrendered, stray or feral animals.

Lucedale officials had to invest a lot of money to obtain the proper equipment and facilities needed for a shelter, and with staffing and maintenance created an ongoing financial burden.

Johnson-Anderson, who has been with the city nearly 30 years, said it is rare these days for a municipality to run its own shelter.

Lucedale ran the shelter until 2016, when it was turned over to a nonprofit group.

“Now Dixie Adoptables runs it and it is so wonderful,” Johnson-Anderson said.

Before Dixie Adoptables took over, Lucedale had to hire an animal control officer and find volunteers to help. They used some inmate labor, but the inmates had no training or experience working at a shelter.

“The decision was made after having so much trouble keeping volunteers and people to help with the shelter,” Johnson-Anderson said.

The city approached Jessica Roberts, who was already running Dixie Adoptables, to see if she would help.

She agreed and soon Dixie Adoptables was the face of the Lucedale shelter. The city pays Dixie Adoptables and they do the rest, Johnson-Anderson said.

“It’s a lot better for the city and the taxpayers because of the money we (used to) put out,” she said. “Plus they properly spay or neuter the animals and give them all of their shots and everything. This is a plus.

“It’s a much better system all the way around and much more fair on the taxpayers.”

Nonprofit group says it’s a 24/7 job

The shelter has seen a significant turnaround since Dixie Adoptables took over three years ago.

The city had an animal control officer but little in the way of resources and manpower to take in and care for the animals that were strays or surrenders.

“We knew the city needed help,” said Angie Green, assistant director with Dixie Adoptables “They had untrained people out to run it.”

Dixie Adoptables, which was formed in 2008, stepped in and made improvements based on their experience with animals and put protocols in place to improve the shelter.

The animals are tested and treated for various diseases and injured animals are treated if possible. They receive vaccinations and are spayed or neutered before they are adopted.

Dixie Adoptables has also strengthened adoption policies and transports some of the cats and dogs to other states where they have a better chance of getting adopted.

George County residents who want to surrender a pet or stray must pay a surrender fee since the county doesn’t provide financial assistance to the shelter.

“(Lucedale) was basically in the same situation (as Columbia),” Green said. “We have a functional shelter now, with animals getting the care they need.”

Running the shelter isn’t a cakewalk, even for those with experience. While Lucedale pays Dixie Adoptables to run the shelter, they still need to constantly raise money to properly provide for the animals.

“I don’t know what the solution would be for (Columbia),” Green said. “But it is a lot of work. This is not an 8 to 5 job. It’s 24/7.”