Animal Shelter of the Week: Episode 33 – Pearl River County SPCA

The Pearl River County SPCA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the care and welfare of animals through various programs and services to the Community of Pearl River County as a whole. Their organization strives to be the model provider of animal-related services to the community. They have many volunteer opportunities including volunteering at the shelter, volunteering at events such as weekend adoption events, and foster home volunteering.


Welcome to the ARPA Animal Shelter of the week podcast where we introduce you to incredible organizations around the country that are focused on helping animals. We’re proud to be sponsored by Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal shelter.

The Pearl River County SPCA has a vision that every pet has a home with the necessary resources to keep and care for their companion animals. The staff works effortlessly to ensure all pets go to good homes by offering resources and services to new pet owners. Some of the main goals at the Pearl River County SPCA is to put an end to the overpopulation of animals in their county as well as increasing their live release rates by exploring all options in their area.

Hey Elizabeth, welcome to the show. Hey, Rachel. How are you? Doing pretty good. How are you today? Good. I’m doing God. I’m really excited to have you today. You are with Pearl River County SPCA in Mississippi and I want to start just by knowing a little bit about your organization. Maybe. What is the history and what is your mission there? While we are a private organization of course, we’re a 501(c)(3). We took over Pearl—oh, well—Picayune City used to manage the animal shelter here. And friends of the shelter group was asked to take over in 1998. So we have been that in the shelter since then.

That’s a longstanding organization. So you definitely have the community support, it sounds like. Especially being a private organization. Yeah, absolutely. And like you said, we’ve been doing this for quite a while now. It surprises us sometimes that people still don’t know that we’re here. We’re kind of tucked into a back corner of our city here trying to stay away with all of the puppy noises that we make. But now we have probably about 3,500 animals that come through our facility every year, and we’re just trying to do the best that we can for our pets.

So you’ve been around for 21 years. The 3,500 animals per year. Tell me a little bit about the community that you guys are in and what that looks like for you. So we service all of Pearl River County, which is about 800 square miles of land, were very rural in this area. And we’re pretty high poverty rate in Pearl River County as well. We’re the only open source shelter in Pearl River County. So we take in anything from within inside our county limits. Yeah, that has to be a huge challenge for you guys.

What would you say the biggest challenges for you being that open admission? Probably that poverty level is a real issue for us. We get animals surrendered all the time. Just simply because owners can’t award their regular veterinary pet services. That’s a great introduction. One of the things that I love talking about are the different programs that organizations have talked to me a little bit about what you guys are doing to help the community with the programs that you guys have. So, of course, we’ll take in any pet that needs our help. We try to ask people to make an appointment so that we can kind of manage the population that we have here at the shelter. Of course, we want to see that we can do the best for every pet that needs our care. One big portion of that is making sure that we have kennel space available for the animal.

So we also offer low cost spay and neuter coupons for members of the public. We have some grant funding that allows us to kind of help with that program, and we’re helping them get those spay and neuter services at a reasonable cost to them. So if somebody is really struggling with that, what’s the process look like for you guys? Tell me a little bit about your low cost spay and neuter program and how that works. And how does one go about asking for help if they need it? Most of the time, what happens is just a community member will come into the shelter. They show their ID that they live in Pearl River County. They purchase a coupon from us. Usually the price for a cat is $60, for a dog is $80. They purchase the coupon with us. We have a lady who works with us, Miss Marion, does all the scheduling. Since we do not have a veterinarian on staff, we’ve partnered with the local that’s in our area, and so they take one vet that may be doing cats and other that might be doing dogs. And so Miss Marion schedules with the community members and the individual vets.

When somebody comes to you and they’re looking to surrender their pet, are you guys doing any sort of educational or providing any additional assistance or material? A lot of times, what I hear is when somebody does an owner surrender, or has to surrender their pet, the shelter of the organization is having a conversation with them to find out where they’re struggling. You know, it’s kind of part of that shelter diversion piece of organizations. And so are you guys doing anything like that when you’re getting those owner surrenders? we certainly try to like you said. It’s just a casual conversation about what’s going on with the pet. What’s going on with the community member. Whatever issues they might be struggling with, we also offer a pet food pantry. If the issue is just, they can’t afford to feed their pet. We receive lots of donations from the community in pet food, and so we put those right back out into the community. And if somebody is just struggling for a short period, we send them home with food, giving away crates or houses, things like that for pets in need when they just really need help for just a few minutes and not really just surrender their pet.

Yeah, and do you find—how do you find that those conversations are handled from those in your community? Is that something they appreciate? Or do you still find that even being that resource for your community are you finding that they’re still struggling to ask for help? As humans were proud and it’s hard to ask for help. I think it is something that we’ve struggled with a little bit. You know, animal sheltering in the past has been super judgmental, and I think it’s hard for people to get away from that stigma. If they have a pat that’s losing hair, they’re sometimes afraid to talk to animal welfare, for fear that the animal will be taken from them rather than them being given the help that they need. We’re trying hard to change thoughts so that they understand that we’re here for them, that’s what we’re here for, for pets in need. And if it’s something simple that we can help them with to keep the pet in the home. By far, that’s the best answer.

Maybe I’m so bold as to go to 90% of the people that I talk with often find that the community is afraid, if that’s the right word, to come to them and ask for help. If it’s fear of judgment or just, you know, they feel terrible because they need help. Like you said, it’s that stigma and it’s been around for so long. How do we change that? How do we get into the communities and let them know that organizations are there for them to be a resource for anything? Even if you guys can’t specifically help them, right, you have relationships, and you know other groups within your community that you might be able to reach out to.

I think part of it is to be really open and honest with people when they come into the shelter, if it’s something that we can help them with. That said, we would much prefer to help them than to take the animal in. We do still struggle, sometimes with people not being completely honest with what’s going on with this pet. Look, you said for fear, I guess is really the reason they just the times don’t explain well, what’s going on with the pet.

You know, I’m curious of the animals that you guys are taking in annually. How many of them are strays versus owner surrenders? For years with our animal tracking software, we put in animals that somebody has had her less than two weeks as a stray. So our numbers are kind of skewed compared to some other shelters. We’re trying to adjust that a little bit. So it’s a little hard for me to give you a number, but a significant portion of the animals that come in we’re at least hold are stray pets.

That’s definitely interesting. So you think maybe some of them are coming to you by people, and they’re saying they’re strays and they might be owner surrenders. Is that kind of what we’re thinking? Yeah, we do see that from time to time, and I think it goes back to that situation where people are afraid to ask for help and, like they would get less judgment if they say the litter of puppies was found on the side of the road rather than they were not able to get the mom fixed in time. Or that kind of thing. It’s not easy to put something together when it comes to that.

So are you guys doing any educational programs? Whether it’s in schools or community outreach? Are you guys doing anything like that? We do not have any things sort of official, especially as far as like getting into the schools. Occasionally we have schools who reach out to us and ask if we can come in and do it a demonstration and we generally have some pretty dedicated volunteers who will do that for us. We do get lots of community groups that come in 4H Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts. So in a kind of more organic way, we are doing some of that education. But we don’t have, like a set in stone program that we could just plug into any school anywhere.

I think it’s really cool that the schools recognize you as a resource, and even if you don’t have anything formal, I love that they’re the ones reaching out to you and saying, “hey, we want to do something for the kids, educational-wise teachings,” and you guys are on board for that. You know, what I think is even cooler is that you guys are using volunteers to do that, which shows me the dedication of the volunteers within your organization, and I think that’s really cool. Usually it’s a staff member of some sort, right? As part of a program that kind of does that. But I love that you’re getting those like you said organically and then you’re taking and turning those to the volunteers and saying, “hey, does anybody want to help with this? Here’s the request we have. Here’s what they’re looking for.” And your volunteers, they’re saying, “Yeah, sign me up.” I think that’s pretty cool. Yeah. So do we.

We had an interesting situation the last several months. Facebook fundraisers have become a big thing where people are doing fundraisers for their birthday. And we had one local school, which they must have been running some sort of contest because it seems like every week there was another child with a birthday and all they wanted to do. They wanted donations for the shelter. Wow. That was really something special to see. Obviously, it sounds like there was a huge commitment level with that.

Did they just reach out to you and say, we want to do this? Can we do this, or did they just do it? And you guys happen to see it. Did they tag you on—walk me through how that worked. So I don’t think that these children actually had Facebook accounts. But for their birthdays, instead of having birthday parties, they chose to collect donations from their fellow peers. We actually didn’t know about it until children kept showing up at the shelter with arms full of supplies for us, and then it just kept happening over and over again. So I don’t know if it was a particular teacher or a particular child that started it, but it was really amazing just see it happened over and over again. It just goes to show you the impact that they can make and the importance of involving the next generation, and I think that’s really, really special.

So I want to talk a little bit about other programs that you guys have their in Pearl Rivers What else are you guys doing? That either impacts the animals or the community? We have a bi annual wellness clinic that we do for the public, so local to Picayune. We have a street fair that happens twice a year, usually in April and November on two weeks after that is when we do our shot clinic. So we close the shelter for the day. We go out to one of the local parks, get everything set up. There’s a veterinarian who volunteers for us, and we do wellness, vaccines, Rabies. Sometimes they do heartworm testing. They’re doing bordetella and things like that that we do that twice a year.

How is that being funded? You’d mentioned that you have a vet that dedicates their time to kind of help you out with this. Tell me a little bit about how that came about how long that’s been going on. Well, we had a crazy volunteer who just up and decided that she wanted to do a wellness clinic. And was like, we should figure out how to do that. We talked to several of the vets and we found somebody who would dedicate the date with us. And it started out very small. It used to just be in the parking lot next to the shelter. I think the first year they had maybe about 70 pets. Now we do 500 pets, in that day. We’ve applied for grants to help with collecting over supplies and vaccines and everything that we need. But most of it is volunteers who come and just spend the day either helping to fill out Rabies tags or helping people fill out the forms and take money.

It’s usually shelter staff who are doing the heartworm testing. They do microchipping on that day. We have several volunteers who baked goodies for us, so there’s little bake sale table, as well. We have a volunteer who does most of our social media platforms, and she will ask local businesses to donate things. She puts together a raffle basket for us, so it’s really interesting to see the whole community come out for that day to make sure all of the pets get their vaccines that they need. By the way, when did this program start, Elizabeth? This year is going to be our 10th annual. We’re looking to expand that a little bit this year as well. We’re partnering with animal advocates, They’re another rescue organization in our area, they’re based more out of Poplarville, which is about 30 minutes north of where we are. That’s pretty cool.

So one of my favorite things about these conversations with people is the relationship building. And I love that you’re working with animal advocates from a neighboring town and you’re sharing what you’ve done in what works and you know, the tips and tricks that you guys have and you’re incorporating them with that. How did that come about? Was that also organic for you guys? Or have there been conversations leading up to this? Tell me what that looks like.

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Well, there have been conversations leading up to this, but actually the president of Animal Advocates Organization, essentially the vice president of Pearl River County SPCA. Ah. So we’ve been a little partnered for a while now, and we just kind of felt like the pets in Poplarville are at a disadvantage when we do our shot clinic here and Picayune. Transportation is sometimes an issue, and we feel like partnering with them and helping them set up a secondary clinic up there will really make a difference for the pets in that area. Yeah. Transportation can be a bit tricky, right? Especially in rural locations. And I think it’s cool that you see the challenge and you have the partnerships and you’re having the conversations to figure out how to expand that reach.

Tell me a little bit about your adoption and how that works in your community. Sure, so that’s another thing that we do pretty organically. We’re here at the shelter wer’e open from 8 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday, and people are always welcome to come in. Find a pet that they’re interested in adopting. It’s just some simple conversation, a little bit of paperwork, and as long as the animal has already been spayed and neutered, they can go home the same day. I definitely like the ease of that. You know, sometimes we put a lot of barriers in place that make it really, really hard to adopt animals. The goal is to get animals into loving homes. Sometimes it seems counterproductive to sit down for an hour and then come back and bring your animals and make sure you’re doing home checks and visits, and then you have this four page application, right? And then before you know what people are walking out the door because they’re frustrated, like they have a home and they have a fence and they know that they would be good pet parents. And now all of a sudden, we’ve put all these barriers in their way, and it really just hurts the animal.

You know, one thing that really sticks with me from a previous conversation is somebody had said in a shelter, even in a rescue, you can love animals to death. Meaning you keep them with you because you don’t find, in your opinion, that perfect adopter. Absolutely. That’s something that we had struggled with for a little while when our adoption regulations had been much more striped. And then we had gone to a seminar and we had a class and they had everybody stand up and then they said, “okay, if you don’t have a fence. Please have a seat you’re not eligible to adopt. If you don’t have a vet reference, please have a seat you’re not eligible to adopt.” And by the time they got through all of the common barriers that shelters put up there was nobody in the room who was worthy enough to adopt an animal. I’ve just come to the realization that you know people are not perfect. Lives. are not perfect. They tend to be a little bit messy, but we would rather our pets have someone to go through life with them than to be stuck here at the shelter.

Every organization has their own set of requirements and rules, and based on the community, there are certain things that work and don’t, you know? I’m sure it’s not something that happened overnight, but you were able to make that transformation. That’s a hard thing to do, is within an organization and shelter staff and even volunteers at the shelter, right? That’s a hard mind shift. I don’t know if that happened before your time with them or not, but how is that transition taken by staff and volunteers? It was difficult, and it did take time. You know, it wasn’t like we just overnight changed all of our rules and dropped everything and just said “anybody can have any pet they want.” It did take time, but we realize that we’re in a very rural part of Mississippi, so asking every person “do they have a fence?” is not really going to work in our area because so many people own 18 acres and they’re not fencing in 18 acres. Right. So that really doesn’t mean that they would not be good pet owners, responsible pet owners. It just means their dog doesn’t have a fence. So it did take some time for the staff and the volunteers to come to that realization that we were loving pets to death.

Yeah, so do you know what your average length of stay is for the animals in your care by chance? Off the top of my head, I want to say around 10 days. You know, there’s always room for improvement. Anybody can say that, but I’ve seen organizations that hold animals for a lot longer than 10 days, so I’m going to say, great job for 10 days. For me, that’s relatively on the short end, especially for a rural community. Actually I think that’s pretty good?

So talk to me a little bit about the volunteers that you guys have there. How many volunteers do you guys have and how are they helping you in your day to day? And maybe what are some challenges that you see? Well, volunteers are a little tricky to pin down to a number. Our director is a volunteer, and she’s here all day, every day. But that’s a volunteer position. The volunteers aren’t necessarily in the shelter and cleaning kennels, but the number of dedicated volunteers we have is probably in the neighborhood of about 20. And these are people who is at the shelter every week, either physically by being in the shelter or things that they’re doing off site for us. We have dedicated volunteers who come and pick up puppies that have already been spayed or neutered, and they take them to offsite adoption events. That happens every single week, and that is completely volunteer run program.

You mentioned that the volunteers are taking them to adoption events. Do you guys have relationships with the businesses for the adoption events? How does that work for you guys? Every Saturday, we’re going to a local pet smart, and she takes in the neighborhood of about 30 pets almost every single week. And they do the adoptions offsite, there at PetSmart. So they—Miss. Connie Freeman is the one who runs this program. She calls the volunteers and make sure that she has enough people for all of the pets. They come into the shelter and bathe everybody the morning before. Get them all loaded up and taken over there to Petsmart and then at the end of the day they come back with anybody who’s not been adopted and they do this every single week. She’s been doing it or 15 years now. That’s pretty incredible. Actually, I mean, every Saturday you talk about dedication, right? I mean, volunteers, Air definitely dedicated. And to do that every Saturday. And what a cool relationship that you guys have with the local PetSmart. We really enjoy it. The community has really reached out to us and yeah, we think that we have a pretty good working relationship with most people here. Yeah, definitely sounds like it. The support that you guys have is pretty incredible.

Do have a foster program? We do. Typically speaking, we’re only fostering out either puppies or kittens that are too young to be at the shelter. And they’re too young for spay and neuter. They just need a little bit more time to grow. Or maybe older adult dogs that have had some sort of injury or illness that they need to recover from. And what does that program look like for you guys? How many foster homes do you have, whether they’re active or not active at the moment? What’s the size of that program look like for you? Probably 50 years 60 that turn over very quickly, whereas they foster pets now and we might take a week off and then get another litter or another single dog from us. It just kind of depends. We have some ladies who strictly do kittens or some who do mothers with litters.

We have one lady, who’s pretty dedicated. She does bottle feed puppies. We have another lady who her specialty is bottle feeding and kittens. How fun is that to have your fosters primarily doing puppies and kittens? I mean, I hear about that, you know, with organizations. But it also takes a toll. You’re not just taking one animal. You’re taking puppies and kittens and as fun as they are, that’s a lot of work for them. And so how have you been able to kind of maintain that number of fosters with puppies and kittens? I see that is very challenging just because the amount of work that goes into that, including time. You know, I’m always surprised by them. For me, taking home a litter of puppies would be very difficult. It would be very hard. Yeah, so many who were just dedicated. That’s what they want to do.

We have one lady who will take multiple big litters, but for the most part, people are taking two or three puppies at a time. So if we have real good litters that many, would do get them split up just to get a little bit more manageable work. Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s one of those things I feel like again, organizations have, and there are fosters that specifically, like the puppies and kittens. I guess until you said it, I didn’t really think split up a litter. But that logically makes sense. I’ve just never heard it talked about like that before. So I think for those that are challenged in finding fosters for a litter of puppies or kittens, I think that’s a great way to look at it. And you kind of gotta talk to your foster is your volunteers and find out what they’re capable of, what they can take on, and part of it is you help them and they help you. And so I think that’s a great approach.

So one of the things I’m curious about, it seems like a lot of my latest conversations have kind of revolved around transporting, being in Mississippi, you know, and in one of those Southern States that has a high overpopulation of animals. Do you guys work with other organizations to send animals out of state to maybe organizations who have space? Absolutely. We do. That’s another partnership that were involved in Southern Pines is an animal shelter about an hour north of us, and they’re kind of the transport hub and they kind of hand select who they know they can get adopted quickly, and then they set up transport dates and drop up to seven times, and they kind of handle the rest for us.

So do they work with the organization’s for you guys? It almost sounds like Southern pines. Is that middle man, if you will. And maybe that’s inaccurate, but sounds like you work with them and then they’re working with other organizations to transport the animals. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that works? Yeah, you’re exactly right. They are the middleman for us. We had previously worked with PetSmart Charities Rescue wagon. And when that sort of dissolved, we were a little bit of a panic about how we were going to be able to transport animals. At the time, we were not in a position to sort of create the whole protocol and run the program ourselves. But Southern Pines they were in that position on. So they kind of did all the legwork in, created the protocols and then invited us to participate with them. Yeah, that’s kind of cool when they’re the ones reaching out to you saying, “hey, let us help you.” And you probably had a moment where you’re like “yes, please. What can you do to help me save these animals?” Usually that’s not the case. Absolutely. It’s been amazing. We definitely would not have the live release rates that we do without them and their partnerships.

Is that like a monthly thing? And how many animals are you sending through Southern pines right now? I’m just kind of wondering, you know, you mentioned your live release rate, so I wanted to kind of get a better feel for what that looks like for you guys. Typically, we’re sending about 30 to 50 dogs a month to them and that they send off to other shelters. Of course, this is all no kill shelters that the pets are arriving to. 30 to 50 dogs per month. That’s even with the hand picking right. That’s a lot of lives saved so that you can focus on the new ones coming in that need your help. I mean, that’s incredible, even though that it’s not fully structured. The fact that you’re able to send that many dogs on average is pretty amazing. And how long have you guys been partnering with them? I think it’s been both three years now. Very cool.

One of my favorite sections in the entire conversation is memorable stories. I know there’s dozens, maybe hundreds of a memorable stories, but I’m looking for one that just kind of stands out to you, and either puts a smile on your face or even makes you cry. What’s that one story that you always think about? I guess I’ll tell you the one of how I got involved with our shelter. They got noticed about two hours beforehand that there was a seizure in our area, 76 cat and dogs were going to be seized. And yeah, there was only two hours notice before they came to the shelter. Gosh. But during that whole time, the community really reached out and we had several who donated large crates and igloo houses. The community came to help volunteer and walk those dogs and clean those kennels. And even with suddenly taking in nearly 80 animals, they were able to not only save those lives, but they did not lose any shelter pets. So they didn’t have to euthanize for space. We’ve been taking in dogs with almost no notice. Wow.

So how does that even happen? Because I know no organization out there, not even the ones furthest North can take on 70 dogs within two hours notice without euthanizing for space. So how did that happen? Our shelter’s organized, I think a little bit differently than others. Lots of other shelters have small runs with guillotine housing. Ours is a little different. We have big 8 x1 0 or 10 x 10 kennels that the dogs are in outside and they have coverings over them and concrete pads that they’re on. Okay. And so,  with the donated crates that were given to us. They created for dogs to each kennel on then because the community came out and were willing to walk dogs constantly. There’s always a volunteer to take the dogs out and to do potty breaks and to get everything cleaned first thing in the morning and then go back later in the afternoon and continue to clean and feed and all of those things.

Yeah, that’s a pretty incredible story, and one that definitely is about the people in the community and rallying around. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with this conversation in just hearing how great of a community you guys are in, it just seems like they’re fully in tune to what you guys are doing. And obviously we always want more. I feel like everything that you’ve shared with me today has definitely been about how supportive they are and how in tune they are with the needs and how quickly they’re responding to what you’re putting out there. And that’s honestly one of the things that I think is really special about you guys and you’ve been around for quite a while, and part of it is due to that and the other part is just the dedication from your organization and board and all the members kind of being on the same page and knowing what the goal is and working towards a common end goal. I guess I could say so. I think you guys are just doing amazing work.

So you had mentioned the bi annual vet clinic coming up in November. Do you guys have any other fundraising events or any other programs that are coming up that maybe you want to tell everybody about? We’re always doing small fund raising events. We don’t have a big gala or anything like that. Like I said two weeks before the shot clinic we’ll be out at the Picayune Street Fair and we’ll have our little booth and our items for sale and raffle items that we do out there as well.

Have you guys always not done fundraising? Is it just because fundraising takes so much time and effort and energy? Or is that just something that you found that you may be tried and it wasn’t really accepted by the community, but like because normally with organizations, that’s a huge piece of what they do. But for you guys, it doesn’t seem like that’s the drawing force for the community to have these big galas and, you know, fundraising events. And it seems to work for you. We do lots of little fundraising events we don’t have, like a big annual thing. Most of everything that we’re doing is through donations. And so we find that a little bit of trickling in donation works for us. just as well as the huge ones do.

And so we always have some sort of little fundraiser going on a lot of times on our social media or raffles inside the shelter or little things that is selling. Yeah, that’s interesting. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that before, but I like that. It probably keeps it consistent. So you always have something going on versus every three months you’re planning the next one or every six months you’re planning the next one. I kind of like that. You always have something to engage the community with. That’s an interesting one I’ve never heard of.

Honestly, I think for the big gala sort of thing would take a lot of staff member time that we don’t have. We prefer to spend our time in the kennels, in the cages with the cats taking care of their needs. And the community has really been great about supporting us in all of our endeavors. Definitely sounds like you’ve thought about it. And you’ve kind of gone the route that works for the community. So I think you have to do what works for your community. And I think you guys have found what that is for you.

Is there anything that we may be missed that you wanna talk about before we start to wrap this up? I can’t think of anything that we haven’t already hit. I definitely have appreciated my time with you and learning more about Pearl River County and the amazing work that you guys are doing. We would encourage anybody, volunteers or otherwise to reach out and show some support. And if anybody needs animals vaccinated, right? November. Absolutely, and we encourage people to keep an eye on our Facebook in our website, we are in the middle of a big cat renovation right now. And as soon as things are finished, we’re gonna open up for an open house and invite everybody to come see our new facility. That’s awesome. Very cool. Well, we’ll definitely be sure to link to your Facebook page, and we encourage people to check that out. So, Elizabeth, I’ve enjoyed my time with you again today, and we wish you nothing but the best, and we hope to stay in touch. Thank you so much. Perfect.

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