The Humane Society of South Mississippi: A Beacon of Hope
The Humane Society of South Mississippi's building before the storm.
If I had not been told that the coast of Gulfport, Mississippi used to be lined with casinos, restaurants, and gift stores I probably would have assumed that it had always been a barren stretch of shoreline. Today the only sign of many of the old stores is the slabs of foundation and occasional rubble piles under the overgrown lots. The once prevalent barge casinos are nowhere to be seen, many of them were thrown from the sea onto the main drag. Although most of the attention after Katrina focused on New Orleans, the damage was no less devastating, and in some places more so, to people and animals here. Over 2,300 animals were rescued from the Gulfport area. Like most of the animals rescued along the rest of the Gulf Coast, many were found sexually in-tact.
Spay/Neuter has never quite taken off in this part of the country and groups like the Humane Society of South Mississippi and Mississippi Spay & Neuter (SPAN) have been working to bring affordable and accessible sterilization to this community before the storm hit. The effects of the storm with large quantities of in-tact animals roaming the streets, indiscriminately breeding, likely straying farther and often less friendly and therefore more difficult to capture than their sterilized counterparts, are still being seen today in the form of their offspring.
At one point during the storm HSSM took in four feet of water at its humble and already decrepit facility and with no one able to get there during the storm the lives of 23 animals were lost. Instead of moving into their new state of the art facility in February of 2006 the hurricane-battered shelter was forced to continue routine operations in addition to search and rescue for several months. The weekend before moving to the new facility they hosted an adoptathon where they filled out paperwork by flashlight while water leaked in the roof as another storm battered the fragile building. The inside ceilings fell down soon after they moved.
The new shelter is a testament of respect for animals. Every section is kept nearly immaculate. The spay-neuter clinic, partially funded by IFAW and the other groups in the Katrina & Rita Spay/Neuter program (ASPCA, PetSmart Charities, HSUS, and UAN), offers low-cost sterilization to hurricane impacted and low-income companion animal owners and guardians. This will not only decrease overpopulation in the region, but will make for happier, healthier pets and likely improve the relationship between animals and guardians. It will also reduce the number of animals that need to be recovered in a future storm.
Seeing the tiny ill-suited facility with a high euthanasia rate that HSSM has come from to this state of the art facility that is actively seeking to reduce euthanasia of healthy and adoptable homeless animals is a reminder that some good may have come out of the storm. I hope that Tara High and the rest of the staff at HSSM can see how much good they are providing to the animals in Southern Mississippi and that the community can rally behind this beacon of hope.