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Aberdeen seniors find shelter in saving animals
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Some people believe that 65 is over the hill, but staff and students at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine know this assumption is false because they have interacted with senior citizens who built and now manage Aberdeen’s animal shelter.
Shelter volunteers, who average 72 years old, have given many homeless animals in their area a second chance at finding loving homes. They established a facility after waging a public campaign to replace the city’s old pound.
More than 85 percent of the dogs who come to the shelter find good homes, and the success rate for cats is even higher, said shelter manager Astrid Peterson.
“We have the highest animal adoption rate in the state,” Peterson said. “We name the animals, love them, look after them and work with them so that they can adjust to life with a new family. We also encourage visitors looking for a pet to touch and interact with the animals.”
This intention may explain the high adoption rate at the Aberdeen shelter, said Dr. Kimberly Woodruff, a medical resident who works with the animal shelter medicine program at MSU’s veterinary college.
“We enjoy working with the Aberdeen volunteers because they have really healthy animals, and they take time to develop the personalities of the dogs and cats,” she said.
There is more to this story, however.
Three years ago, several seniors were moved into action after discovering Molly, a starving Great Dane-bloodhound mix with 18 newborn puppies and six relatives. Peterson received a phone call from a friend who found the dogs and pups huddled together in a yard. She knew the young family’s survival odds were not good if she took the dogs to the pound because the facility had no heat, air conditioning or side walls.
“We had no place to put Molly and her puppies, so we built an enclosure on a member’s side porch,” Peterson said. “Members of a local church donated dog food, and we were able to save nine of the pups.”
After nursing the dogs to health, the seniors found good homes for most of the puppies. Peterson decided she could not part with Molly and one of her daughters, Gertie. Both went to live with Peterson, but their plight prompted the seniors to campaign for a city animal shelter.
They appealed to the city for the $15,000 needed for construction. E.O. Fike, a retired Monroe County crop duster, donated his plane hangar property for the building. The shelter is named in memory of Fike, who died before its completion.
Two more seniors, Roy Pounders and Bobby Barrett, drew up building specifications and enlisted volunteer labor. Barrett said a simple gesture from another volunteer reinforced his desire to move the project forward.
“There was the cutest rat terrier at the old shelter that someone picked up and put in my arms,” Barrett said. “I gave her a home, and that little dog we named Miss Molly is still the love of our lives.”
The seniors enlisted local veterinarians Dr. Henry Watson of Aberdeen and Dr. Carol Crawford of Hamilton, along with the Amory Animal Hospital, to provide health care for shelter animals. They approached MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine about being included as one of the student practicum sites for shelter medicine rotations. The college accepted because of the opportunity to train veterinary medical students and have them experience shelter medicine firsthand.
The seniors, as well as the dogs and cats, were happy to receive assistance. A bond among all participants grew from that point.
“We treat shelter animals just like we would treat our own pets, and sometimes we have nursed them back to health like we would do for a new-born baby,” said Ginny Pounders, who lost her husband, Roy, nearly a year ago. “Animals, like people, need socialization and attention.”
Word soon spread in northeast Mississippi that Aberdeen’s shelter was a good place to find well-adjusted animals. A mother brought her 11-year-old daughter all the way from Memphis to find a cocker spaniel for adoption. The young girl, Alexandra Fuelling, was thrilled with the experience.
“Alexandra wrote us a letter to say she had raised $1,000 for our shelter,” Peterson said. “We used that money to build a rehabilitation area for animals that need additional health care or socialization skills, and we named the building in her honor.”
Shelter receptionist Daisy DeVauld, a retired schoolteacher, keeps her eye out for other animal lovers she can recruit as volunteers.
“I usually can tell whether people really love animals or not,” DeVauld said. “The people who come here do.”
Contact: Dr. Kimberly Woodruff, (662) 325-3234