STARKVILLE — Peter, a 2-year-old black and brown brindle terrier mix, ran around the play yard Friday, chasing tennis balls and tossing ropes into the air.
If anyone looked a little past his jovial nature, they would see half a tail steadily wagging. When Peter came to the Oktibbeha County Humane Society three weeks ago, he needed part of his tail amputated, and he may still need more.
However, he is happy, cared for and more than willing to cuddle up to anyone in his vicinity. He is one of the many animals that has come through the shelter this year, and he certainly won’t be the last.
The Humane Society has secured another five-year term for its lease with the city of Starkville for its shelter property on Industrial Road and Miley Drive. This week, aldermen also approved a 20-year lease for OCHS to use an adjacent two acres of municipal airport property to the north to expand its facilities and services.
The new property will include a facility for its OCHS Express Program, as well as provide overflow space for its primary animal shelter. The existing shelter can hold about 50 dogs and 50 cats, said OCHS board member Michele Anderson, which isn’t large enough to accommodate daily operations, the OCHS spay and neuter program and the OCHS Express.
The OCHS Express takes animals from OCHS, Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, West Point-Clay County Animal Shelter and many grassroots animal rescues across 13 counties in North Mississippi to shelters in the northern U.S. that have a waiting list of people ready to adopt animals but not enough animals in their shelters.
“We could keep building buildings and increase our capacity, but that’s not our goal,” board president Rick Welch said. “Our goal is to decrease our capacity. We’re one of the few organizations out there that is trying to put ourselves out of business. … Our shelter is more full than it’s ever been, and we need more space. But we’re trying everything we can to not need more space by transporting out, trying to help the community keep their animals if they can with our second chance fund.”
Since 2009 when the OCHS Express began, more than 20,000 animals have been taken north to new shelters to find homes, Anderson said. That’s an average of about 1,540 animals being moved each year.
The plans for the new building include 20 half-indoor, half-outdoor stalls for animals, an exam room, a lobby, a storage room and a drive bay for the OCHS Express van and other cars to load animals in their carriers into. From there, the animals will either go to their new homes via car or plane.
“Animal relocation is critical to providing a second chance to the unowned and neglected animals in the community,” Anderson said. “As it became obvious that there was this need for relocation, the only way to do it is to have more space.”
So far OCHS has raised $300,000 for the new facility, but the group currently does not have a hard quote from a contractor for what the total cost will be. The group also will use grant funds it receives from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other sources.
Welch said the next stages are to have the land surveyed, get the trees removed and approve a contractor in order to start construction.
Both Welch and Anderson expressed thanks to the city and county governments, the airport board and community for supporting the humane society. They said community support has been instrumental in getting donations for regular operations and raising money for the new building.
“This is an aggressive goal, but we hope to have an official groundbreaking ceremony in a few months,” Welch said. “Then hopefully, we’ll start clearing land (in the) spring, and depending on the contractor’s schedule, maybe have it ready by the summer. But then again, we are post-COVID and everything’s backed up and material cost is up, so we’re just going to have to play it by ear.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill said the decision to lease the land to OCHS is important because the volunteers and staff perform an “extraordinary public service role” in taking care of the animals that need new homes.
“Of all the things we get calls about, garbage and animals are a large portion of what we hear from our residents as complaints or concerns,” Spruill said. “This is a really good way for us to make sure we are taking care of those animals and that we are doing our best to create a humane environment for them. … To me, I have dogs and a cat, and they’re my family. It’s kind of part of that role of taking care of family and creatures that can’t take care of themselves.”
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