Hernando Animal Shelter

Kizzie Reynolds of Hernando pets a small beagle in the outdoor play area at the Hernando Animal Shelter behind Hernando Fire Station No. 2.

Kizzie Reynolds trekked down to the Hernando Animal Shelter on Friday to check on her family dog which had been attacked by a pit bull earlier in the day.

"They had to take him to the hospital," Reynolds said, adding that the pit bull was taken away by animal control officers. "I'm glad we have the shelter here. I feel like it needs more support."

The Hernando Animal Shelter is located in a converted garage behind Fire Station No. 2 that was designed to store fire and emergency equipment, not dogs or cats.

But at the time, Hernando's former animal shelter was located outdoors, constructed of two-by-fours, plywood and bailing wire, and was open to wind, rain and the elements.

Housing Hernando's stray and abandoned pets in a converted garage was only meant to be temporary, according to Susan Huff, Hernando Animal Shelter Executive Director who spoke passionately about the need for a safe, humane shelter before Hernando aldermen on Tuesday.

A total of $275,000 was funded and designated for construction of the city's new animal shelter but that effort was basically ground to a halt when Renasant Bank intimated to city officials they did not approve of locating any planned new shelter on the 40-acre Renasant Park property, which they donated to the city for a park.

Huff explained there is great support for a shelter at the tree-shaded park, so that it could be a high visibility no-kill shelter with easy access to adoptive families, rather than being "hidden away in industrial areas" as was done in most cities and counties decades ago.

"The trend now is not to put them in industrial areas or out of reach of access," Hernando City Attorney Kenneth Stockton said. "They (Renasant Park) didn't believe that it was a proper facility for a park. We (City of Hernando) had asked them to meet twice."

Ward 6 Alderman Jeff Hobbs said he was aggravated that Renasant Bank would "not even talk to the city about this."

Renasant Bank has let it be known that in their agreement with the city for donating the property it states the land is to be utilized for purposes of a city park.

While there is no prohibition of an animal shelter on the property, it is not expressly permitted either.

Some city officials are openly wondering aloud why the bank should have control over plans for a shelter, which animal advocates say would fit in nicely with the city's new dog park, also located at Renasant Park.

"Legally, can we put this at Renasant Park?" Alderman at-large W.I. "Doc" Harris asked.

Mayor Tom Ferguson said based on his understanding there is nothing in writing that states whether an animal shelter could be in a park or not in a park.

"It would be nice if they would just talk to us," Hobbs said.

"They spoke through their contract," Ward 3 Alderman Gary Higdon said. "We have to honor that contract."

Resident Michelle Dunn McFarland rose to speak and suggested that perhaps an overture or gesture to Renasant Bank, or a bridge to defuse the impasse, as she referred to it, would be to email the attorney representing the bank and request they have a date certain in which to respond to the city.

Ward 4 Alderman Michael McLendon noted that veterinary bills were running $6,000 to $7,000 a month since all of the veterinary care has to be outsourced and cannot be performed at the cramped shelter.

Hernando Police Chief Scott Worsham said some bills had simply stacked up and had not been paid. Animal control in the city has been placed under the auspices of the police department.

Worsham also spoke passionately about the need for a new animal shelter.

"On April 16, 2016 we earmarked money for the animal shelter," Worsham said. "Two years later we still don't have an animal shelter. We have nothing. I don't think we are doing justice to earmark money and do nothing with it. I know there has been a lot of talk about Renasant Park and putting it there."

"Renasant Park has been very gracious by donating property for the park," Higdon said. "I don't think we should put the blame back on them."

"Yes, it is gracious," Hobbs responded. "But don't think they are pro Hernando for a second. All they did was get it off their books," said Hobbs of the bank dispensing with bank-owned property following the Great Recession of 2008.

"Modern-day shelters are built in parks," said Huff, equally perplexed that Renasant Park is exerting what she feels is undue influence on any plans for a shelter on property the city now owns.

Katie Millican has worked as a volunteer at the Hernando Animal Shelter for several years. Her husband is a DeSoto County deputy who has been deployed to the Middle East in the past.

Millican said a shelter in Longmont, Colorado that began nearly as small and incomplete as Hernando relocated its helper to a highly visible area that drew parents and children and it is now flourishing.

"It is in a building that is attractive and accessible," Millican said. "Our volunteers jumped to 200 people and that shelter now has about 800 volunteers. Hernando deserves a safe, smart place to house animals. Currently our shelter is housed in a garage behind a fire station."

Huff echoed Millican that Hernando's animal shelter is woefully inadequate.

"Our big challenge is that it's too small," Huff said. "We don't have a phone. We don't even have a restroom. We don't have anywhere to keep our vaccines. Our shelter is unsafe. It's a garage with corrosion. The porous concrete floors retain a urine smell. The shelter is unsafe for puppies. We only have two animal shelter staff. The city doesn't pay one penny for food. We have it all donated. When I came, animals were sleeping on a cold wet floor."

Worsham again pleaded for city officials to take action and do something.

"Two-and-a-half years later, we need direction from you," Worsham said. "I will support the decision that you make. I ask you strongly to give me direction on how to proceed.”

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

(1) comment

Dirk Diggler

Thank you Chief Worsham and Director Huff for being an advocate for the shelter and its occupants. Hopefully, Renasant Bank will see the positive aspect of allowing the shelter to be placed in a highly visible, public place.

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