The Humane Society was founded in 1952, and originally located on Washington Blvd, by the Tramark Golf Course property in Gulfport. Today, HSSM is housed in a big, beautiful, state-of-the-art building on Hwy 49. In 2006, the existing structure on the property was redesigned to the exact specifications of long time HSSM supporter, Eric Ascchaffenburg. He secured the architectural firm and set up the building fund.
Jode’ Braxton-Hignight is the Development Director of this amazing place. She is responsible for all fund raising and special events, public relations, marketing, advertising, and communications. “No one gets into animal welfare unless it is their passion. You work here because you want to see more lives saved as well as making sure the lives of the homeless pets within the community are improved,” she said. Jode’ was a volunteer at the shelter for three years before taking her job in January, 2010. “Lives are saved through adoptions, transporting animals to other locations in order to find adoptable homes, and by being returned to their owners. Everything we do here is for live release. We work so hard in order to put ourselves out of business,” she added.
This year, Mississippi adopted the first Animal Cruelty Bill, which is a tremendous step toward protecting the innocent creatures that populate our state. Jode’ is extremely proud of the Bill as she has seen dreadful examples of animal cruelty in South Mississippi. Local businessman, Billy Hewes, proposed the Bill which resulted in Animal Cruelty being a second offense Felony. One of the largest and most tragic animal cruelty case was discovered in March, 2011. It involved 302 pets living in cages, outside in the elements with no protection from the sun or rain, in filthy conditions with very little food or water. This was Jode’s first experience in witnessing the horrors of animal cruelty first hand, she had only been in the employ of HSSM for a couple of months. It left an indelible mark on her. “Euthanasia is a terrible thing but sometimes there are worse fates than that. I never understood how bad abuse could be until I saw the condition of these poor creatures,” she said. Several months later, two more large groups of neglected and abused animals were seized from different locations on the Coast. From one home, 121 cats were rescued by Animal Control. Another case involved a local breeder who surrendered 75 “designer dogs” to the shelter in February. Each pup was adopted almost immediately, they all found happy, loving homes during one of the biggest adoption days at the shelter.
At the moment, the shelter is in the midst of the ASPCA Challenge. It is no small feat to place countless animals in loving, secure homes. At the end of August our HSSM was is in first place in the ASPCA Challenge, which is a competition between animal shelters across the country. “We saved an additional 309 lives this year which is just amazing! Everyone who works at the Humane Society is so excited and they are doing everything they can to continue to raise those numbers even further,” Jode’ said. The Challenge concludes on October 31st. On Sunday, October 23rd, HSSM will host the very first Pet Festival and Super Adoption on the Coast! It will be the perfect culmination event for the ASPCA Challenge, taking place at Centennial Plaza. “It is our intention to catapult our adoption efforts even higher, and we will save even more lives. It is going to be extraordinary,” Jode’ said.
A Thrift store is located inside the shelter. Proceeds are used to pay the electric bill each month which is a big help with finances. The HSSM is a non profit that depends on the generosity of the public and South Mississippi businesses to keep it thriving. Everything that is sold at the Thrift store generates revenue for the sole purpose of the good of the shelter. Donations of clothing and household items are always appreciated. If you have a large number of items, perhaps cleaning out a garage or storage facility, arrangements can be made to have everything picked up at your location. An “in house” dog and cat boutique offers a wide array of wonderful treats, toys, accessories, and even clothes for the pampered South Mississippi pet! When you make a purchase, you are not only spoiling your best friend…you are helping support HSSM.
The Humane Society of South Mississippi is staffed by three local Veterinarians, Dr. Morris, Dr. Sutton, and Dr. Pittman. They are not only responsible for doing spay and neuter surgeries for the public, but they care for all the animals in the shelter. “The doctors do an amazing job managing the health of every animal in the shelter from the time they arrive, to the time the leave us,” Jode’ said. The Spay and Neuter Clinic opened it’s doors in 2006. The doctors have performed almost 60,000 surgeries. “The more pets that are fixed before they have litters means the fewer puppies and kittens come through our back door after birth,” she added. HSSM urges people to go to their regular Vet for all pet care. The Spay and Neuter Clinic is for people who cannot afford to do the right thing in controlling pet population, or they do not have a regular Veterinarian.
The most expensive fee at the clinic is $70.00 for the surgical procedures in large dogs because it takes longer. HSSM does administer rabies shots or update vaccinations, as well as the insertion of a micro chip, while the animal is under anesthesia. Wellness care is not offered by HSSM and must be addressed by a Veterinarian. Currently, HSSM is offering a special rate of $10.00 to spay or neuter adult indoor cats in Harrison county. In addition, the shelter will come and “catch” any feral cats that you know of, they will be spayed or neutered and returned to where they were found. One more option is that you can bring them to the shelter on your own accord and there will be no charge for the surgeries.
Sadly, adult cats are at the highest risk of Euthanasia once they enter the shelter. Adult, large dogs are at the next greatest risk of being put to sleep because people do not adopt them as often as they choose smaller dogs or cuddly, fuzz ball puppies. “There is no clock that ticks for our animals. The only clock running is for the five day hold for animals that are picked up. We give the owners as much time as we possibly can to come to the shelter and reclaim their pet,” Jode’ said. Please always check with HSSM when your pet gets out of the yard or becomes lost. It is the FIRST place pet owners should check when their dog or cat is missing. It isn’t even necessary to make a trip to the shelter, as pictures of the latest dogs and cats taken in are posted on the HSSM website, under the Lost and Found section. If a dog or cat is not claimed within the five day holding period, they are moved to the Adoption Floor. “Often we get animals here that are quite obviously loved and cared for, wearing beautiful collars and are freshly groomed. It is a very sad day when the owners do not contact us and bring their beloved pet home. It is so traumatic for the pet, they have to start all over again with someone they don’t know and of course sometimes they are also never adopted,” Jode’ said.
HSSM handles all the animal control contracts for all of Harrison County and it’s municipalities. That includes Gulfport, Biloxi, Pass Christian, Long Beach, D’Iberville, etc. It is the only shelter that takes in pets in all of South Mississippi, it is a tremendous undertaking. HSSM pays the Animal Control division of the Police Department to assist them in gathering up strays. HSSM is open every day of the week except Sunday. After hours or Sundays, you must call Animal Control if you have an issue with a stray in your neighborhood. “It is the Animal Control and the police dept who are responsible to protect people from animals, and it is our responsibility to protect animals from people,” Jode’ said.
HSSM will do anything within their power to make it easy to adopt. Every weekend, a representative with HSSM, brings adoptable animals to the Gulfport Petsmart store. It is a very successful way to join loving people with lonely dogs and cats. The Sun Herald and WLOX introduces pets in need of homes on a regular basis which also helps bring animals and people together. A very generous donation of $50,000 made it possible to run an adoption campaign this year, which has increased the adoption rate by 31% each month. The shelter has most definitely felt the pinch of the current economy woes. It is a stand alone, non-profit with no government, state or local funding. There is no parent company, and no sister companies that support it.
The pets at the Human Society of South Mississippi are fed on a Science Diet feeding program. The good people of Science Diet developed a way to feed animals in United States shelters, providing the very best in nutrition for each and every dog and cat being cared for across the board. Jode’ explains how the system works, “A consistent, high quality diet is so important, otherwise digestive issues can arise. We pay the shipping charges plus a minimal charge per pound. It is very fair and it ensures our animals get great food that will not upset their digestive tracks by changing from one brand to another. That being said, we are very grateful for the pet food donations and everything we get is put to very good use,” Jode’ said.
All donated food goes into a pet food bank which is distributed to people who cannot afford to feed their beloved pets. The program is called, “Wagon Train.” It was set up for people who have reached the point where they have to surrender their pets simply because they can’t afford to buy pet food anymore. In order to qualify for Wagon Train, the pet must be spayed or neutered, and if they are not, HSSM will provide the surgery for as low as $10.00 and possibly free of charge if the owner cannot pay. In addition, grants have been provided to assist low income families with spaying or neutering their pets.
In order to be a responsible pet owner in Harrison County, you must do the following: a) spay or neuter your dog or cat. b) microchip your pet c) make sure your pet always wears a collar with a name, address, and phone number clearly listed on the tag. Be sure your best friend can always come home to you. The Humane Society of South Mississippi is a spanking clean, joyfully decorated, expertly run animal shelter. It is a model for animal shelters throughout America and everyone who works at HSSM deserve our sincere thanks. Please visit the shelter soon and give a lonely, unwanted dog or cat a new lease on life…the best friend you ever had could be waiting there for you right now.