While Louisiana attracted the lion’s share of public attention after Katrina struck, Mississippi sustained a direct hit from the hurricane. Many communities, and their structures, were flattened, flooded or otherwise destroyed.
Among the hardest hit was the Humane Society of South Mississippi, based in Gulfport. The storm surge flooded the facility, and a number of dogs in cages drowned at the shelter.
Tara High, one of the board members, stepped in to fill the breach and to rescue the animals of her community. She rallied her board, her staff and her community. She left her real estate job and assumed the role as executive director of HSSM.
© The HSUS/Petros
A cat at the new Humane Society of South
She’s a natural. Yesterday, as I toured HSSM, I was just amazed by what she, her staff and her board have accomplished. They now operate from a beautiful new 41,000-square-foot facility, with a large spay/neuter clinic, a pet products store and a thrift store. They are on track to spay and neuter more than 10,000 animals at their facility—an astonishing accomplishment.
The HSUS and Maddie’s Fund, in our joint tour of the Gulf Coast, provided a check to Tara and HSSM board president Dr. Andy Parker for $20,000 (we had previously provided $965,000 to HSSM since Katrina struck). We also announced grants to 22 other Mississippi animal shelters this week, and several leaders from those organizations were present for our ceremony yesterday morning at HSSM.
After our uplifting visit to Gulfport, we traveled north to the city of Hattiesburg—driving right past the scene of our Hattiesburg emergency shelter, which operated for more than five weeks following Katrina’s landfall, saving more than 1,650 animals—en route to visit the Southern Pines Animal Shelter. There, we spent time with board president Karen Reidenbach, board vice president Valerie Rachal, shelter manager Ginny Cheatham and other staff and volunteers. These folks, too, are stellar human beings, working so hard to help the animals of their community and the 11 surrounding counties. They handle more than 6,000 animals a year at their workmanlike facility. They keep the operation spotless, and there is lots of love coursing through.
Today, we are off to Vicksburg and Jackson for our final set of visits. In all, Maddie’s Fund and The HSUS will have committed $852,500 to 54 shelters this week. On Monday, The HSUS also gave a check for $600,000 to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to establish an emergency pet shelter and veterinary clinic at the Dixon Correctional Institute.
And we are preparing for a $2 million marketing campaign to promote spaying and neutering in Louisiana and Mississippi—to provide long-term assistance to the states and to help the animals and the people who care about them.
It’s exciting to find dedicated, selfless people in all corners of the country. The HSUS and Maddie’s are both so proud to help these people and institutions. They are partners with us for the long haul, and we cherish their commitment.