The Jackson Animal Shelter sits closed.
In October, animal rescue organizations that include CARA (Community Animal Rescue & Adoption) in Jackson, Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Hattiesburg and Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society took the last dogs and cats from the shelter at 140 Outer Circle, near Hawkins Field in west Jackson.
The animals were removed because there is no running water at the shelter.
Marlin King, director of public works for the city of Jackson, informed the city council at its Dec. 21 meeting that the Jackson Police Department, which is responsible for animal control, plans to use funds from an auction of stolen, abandoned or seized vehicles to pay for repairs to the shelter located west Jackson.
He provided no details about the repairs or when construction bids would be let for them and did not give a timeline for reopening the shelter.
In August, a water leak began in the parking lot of the shelter and continued unchecked and is said to have caused foundation problems for the shelter. The building had a design flaw that kept water standing in the area where dogs were housed, and that’s just one of its defects.
Record keeping at the shelter appeared to be poor at best. The shelter lacked a computer to keep up with information about animals that are taken in.
Jackson animal control officers drop off injured or diseased animals and animals involved in animal cruelty cases at the Mississippi Animal Rescue League (MARL).
“We can’t take in all of the strays because we don’t have room,” said Debra Boswell, who planned to step down as longtime executive director of MARL at the end of the year and shift her duties to focus on animal cruelty case and donor relations.
Boswell recalls 25 years ago when the city’s animal control consisted of about 20 employees and had four trucks, each staffed with an animal control officer and helper, plus a fifth truck with an employee who provided assistance as needed. Now, it is just a handful of employees.
She fears the Jackson animal shelter, which in 2006 replaced the dilapidated one built in the 1950s on Jefferson Street, will remain permanently shuttered.
“When they closed the shelter, I told Lyn Crawford, who directs Jackson Friends of the Animal Shelter, ‘I’m afraid the shelter won’t re-open,”’ she said.
Crawford and Boswell along with Pippa Jackson of Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi (ARF) and representatives of the mayor’s office, the Jackson Police Department and the staff of the shelter had numerous conference calls during the last year to discuss the shelter.
Several months ago, Best Friends, a nonprofit, national animal welfare organization, provided a written report about what needed to be done to improve the shelter and offered to provide free help with some repairs and operation of the shelter.
“We’re anxiously waiting to hear yay or nay about whether they would let us in to help,” said Lisa Barrett, senior strategist for Best Friends for the East Region, which extends from Maine to Florida.
The city of Jackson would need to address major problems such as the shelter’s foundation problem, she said, but Best Friends would offer help improving the shelter’s operation.
“We’ve offered to bring in our own staff free as a director, a manager and kennel staff, if they need it,” Barrett said. “We’ve offered free computers and software and to teach them how to use it. Whatever they need, we could help with just about everything.”
The offer amounts to $100,000 to $300,000 in free services, said Barrett, noting that Best Friends has helped cities across the country.
Barrett hopes the city will accept the offer.
“With Jackson being the capital of the state, it should be a shining example of how to treat animals,” she said. “It should be more than what it is. We do realize the city is battling crime and infrastructure problems. We want to take this off its plate. It would be one less thing to worry about.”
City Council President Virgi Lindsay, who represents Ward 7, believes city officials are still in conversation with Best Friends. “Best Friends has made a generous offer to help the city of Jackson improve its animal shelter,” she said.
Lindsay has volunteered at the shelter and has seen the neglect of the shelter. “It’s past time for us to address the issue,” she said.
She has received many phone calls from Jackson residents about the shelter.
“I have been the council person that folks have contacted about this. It’s really important,” she said. “We have to step up our animal shelter services.”
Ashby Foote of Ward 1 would like the city to take advantage of the help Best Friends is offering.
“We need to have partnerships with nonprofits and organizations that share our goals and want to improve Jackson’s quality of life, whether it’s addressing the city parks, the zoo or the animal shelter,” he said. “I appreciate their interest.”
Linda Templeton, a volunteer with the Jackson Friends of the Animal Shelter for four years, questions how important the animal shelter is to city leaders, admitting that issues such as the aging water infrastructure and crime rise to the top.
“The city has a huge number of stray dogs,” she said. “When the shelter isn’t operating it puts huge burdens on smaller rescue organizations.”
Jackson does not expect the city to respond to the offer of Best Friends, saying she doubts anyone in the city’s administration has read the contract that it has had since July.
“They don’t consider it a priority,” she said. “I don’t expect anything to come of it.”
Both Phil Bushby, Ph.D., a retired professor at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine who established the shelter medicine program at the veterinary school, and Best Friends have written reports that detail problems at the shelter.
Bushby visited the shelter on May 20, 2021 at the request of Crawford as well as Boswell and with permission from the office of Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and the office of the Jackson Chief of Police.
He said on a scale of one to 10, “with 10 being a great, great shelter,” the Jackson shelter ranked as a negative number.
Bushby’s assessment of the shelter reads:
“Put briefly, the shelter violates even the most basic standards of care for animals in animal shelters. There are several operational approaches that put the health and wellbeing of the animals at the shelter at risk:
- Failure to properly identify each animal at the shelter.
- Failure to vaccinate animals on admission to the shelter
- Hosing out runs with the animals present in the runs.
- Standing water in the runs with the dogs present.
- Porous surfaces in the runs that do not allow for adequate cleaning.
- Use of food and water bowls that cannot be adequately cleaned.
- Failure to use the outdoor exercise pens, leaving dogs in small wet runs 24/7.
- No ability to isolate sick animals.”
Scott Giacoppo, director of national shelter support for Best Friends, former president of the National Animal Care Control Association, said animal control has evolved beyond the days of dogcatchers and dog pounds.
Animal control officers post notices on social media, put up fliers in the neighborhood where they find a dog or cat and partner with fence building companies to receive scrap materials so they can help pet owners mend fences, he said, noting that it is no longer about merely capturing animals, containing them and waiting for their owners to claim them.
Simply repairing the Jackson animal shelter will not fix the problems it faces, Giacoppo said.
“They’re operating with outdated policies,” he said. “They don’t have the staffing or infrastructure to operate as animal control.”
Boswell would like the city to update ordinances about animal control, to establish a licensing program for pets that would generate funds for a shelter and for more pet owners to be ticketed for violations.
Bushby agrees issues at the shelter go beyond the maintenance of the building.
“Yes, the building is in need of repair, but the true issue is the management and operation of the shelter,” he said.