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    Sanctuary for Strays | Fall 2014 Out Here Magazine

    Contest-winning Tunica Humane Society won't give up on any animal

    Sandy with a couple of rescued dogs
    Sandy Williams, the Tunica Humane Society's director, has made it her shelter's goal to save every animal possible, despite cost.
    Out Here

    By Noble Sprayberry

    Photography by John Tucker

    By the time an animal control officer brought Lilly, a white pit bull, to the Tunica Humane Society, she was just hanging on to life.

    "She was starved beyond starved," shelter director Sandy Williams says. "She was full of parasites. We had to get her stable, and then we had to treat her for heart worms."

    The veterinarian bill for Lilly topped $2,500. The goal for this shelter is to save every dog, even if the animal needs expensive care.

    "Just because they have heart worms, it doesn't mean they don't have the right to live," Sandy says.

    The shelter, with a capacity of about 140 dogs, depends on grants and donations. And last year, the shelter was named a winner of Tractor Supply's Pet Appreciation Week (P.A.W.) "Shelter Stories" Facebook Contest. In collaboration with PEDIGREE and Nutro brand pet foods, TSC awarded $5,000 each to five shelters.

    The money went to provide medical treatment to animals such as Lilly.

    "We were just so honored," Sandy says. "That was such a huge grant for us, because it was on a national level. We were very, very honored to receive it."

    Sandy and her sister, Gale Johnson, built the shelter on similar donations and good will. Until 2008, in Tunica County, Miss., stray dogs did not have much of a chance.

    "The county did not have a shelter and there was no budget for animal control," Sandy says. "They sent a sheriff's deputy out and killed stray animals. That's something that ate at me and my sister."

    An economic downturn left Sandy, a real estate agent, with free time. The sisters decided to open a shelter, cobbling together a rudimentary kennel in a community struggling with poverty, and where animals were often left to fend for themselves.

    "People don't spay or neuter, and they don't even feed the dogs they have," Sandy says. "We just started picking them up, and overnight we had a shelter cram-packed full."

    Initially, though, the shelter was basic.

    "We started with nothing. Our water lines would freeze in the winter and we had to tote water from our homes. Then, there were 100-degree temperatures in the summer."

    However, the local media championed the plight of the shelter.

    "We developed quite a following across the Mid-South and donations began to come in," she says. In fact, the shelter now has more than 46,000 Facebook friends, and grants have exceeded $325,000.

    The money helped expand the shelter, which now has indoor and outdoor runs. The shelter has rescued more than 3,500 dogs, and the adoption rate tops 90 percent.

    Still, some good dogs have lived in the shelter for years, Sandy says.

    As a result, the shelter, which has about 30 volunteers, must feed and provide medical care for existing dogs, as well as tend the often critical health needs of new rescues. For example, treating a dog for the parvovirus, a common and often deadly illness for puppies, may require $300 to $500 per animal.

    As a result, grants such as the one from Tractor Supply's P.A.W. event prove vital.

    "These animals come to us so damaged, and we don't give up on them," Sandy says. "We save them."

    Noble Sprayberry lives with Puck, a wirehaired pointing griffon who loves the water, tennis balls, smelly socks, and afternoon naps.


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