Monday, January 25, 2010

Clarksdale, MS Shelter

Getting out of the van, the smell of the shelter was overpowering and sickening. I’d asked the City Attorney, Curtis Boschert, for a tour of the shelter with Sherri Norquist, an experienced shelter director, and Sherri’s daughter, who also has shelter experience. It had been a couple of months since renewed complaints of overcrowding, aggression, and emotional and physical distress were reported to Project Hope and we were just following up to ensure improvements had been made.

Today’s tour was very disheartening. The entire facility had gotten much worse since the last time we toured. Clearly the jail inmates who were tasked with cleaning the facility had not been doing so. I actually left unable to speak with my nose running, eyes burning, and throat swelling and irritated. The stench, thick with ammonia, permeated the entire shelter and irritated my sinuses and throat.

Overcrowded, dilapidated cages lined the walls of the rooms. Sick animals were intermingled with healthy animals. Pens held too many juveniles and puppies together. Nearly every cage held dogs with hot spots, mange or a myriad of other untreated illnesses or wounds. The cattery shared this small room and the deafening sound of dogs barking bounced off every wall.

Outside, loose dogs chewed on paws, legs, hips, and backs dotted with hot spots. Dogs were haphazardly placed in runs with many cowering in fear of their cage-mates. The uncovered runs held too many dogs and not enough shelters, leaving the most terrified dogs standing or lying in the mud, muck and feces of the run floor.

During the tour the Director pled her case for the sacrifice of her time, energy, and money for the thirteen years she'd been there. So many own the responsibility for this failed “no kill” shelter. Complaints to the city had fallen on deaf ears and community members had fostered the situation with lack of interest and support. The Director clearly gave everything of herself, as did her husband for what they believed was a noble effort, but warehousing animals with no hope of a better life is simply unacceptable.

The Director, burdened beneath the weight of a tough, thankless mission and now with public scrutiny bearing down on her, she surrendered her position to the City Attorney.

We turned our attention to trying to help the animals who were languishing in the shelter. We met in the mayor's office and hatched a plan. We contacted several local vets to come in and help. New volunteers from the community came in as well.

When animal loving people come together, share their resources, and give unselfishly we can move mountains. Sadly it sometimes takes a crisis for caring folks to realize their potential.


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