October 19, 2013 10:31:17 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Several days ago, Karen Johnwick stepped into the dingy, cramped and cracked building that only a few weeks ago was home to the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society.
"When I walked in I wondered again -- how did we work here so long?" the shelter's executive director said. But those days can be relegated to the past because just a short distance down the road, a new era has dawned.
It didn't come easy. The fundraising road to a new shelter has been long and paved with setbacks. But a bright, clean, spacious facility is up and running at 50 Airline Road. To say thank you, the Humane Society hosts an open house Tuesday, Oct. 29, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
"Everything has been enhanced by 10," said Johnwick, proudly noting the new shelter's dog adoption area, cat adoption area, surgical room, indoor/outdoor dog kennels, multi-level cat condos (some with access to outside enclosures), roomy dog wash shower and much more in the facility that can reasonably accommodate about 68 to 75 dogs and 50 to 60 cats. More can be housed if necessary.
"If anyone who knew the old shelter walks in the new one, they'll be like, 'Oh, my!'" Johnwick said. "It's all just bigger, brighter and more inviting."
CLHS Board President Juliaette Sharp and board members put their shoulders behind the shelter project years ago. They were determined to be good stewards of monies raised by previous boards and volunteers and to see things through to the finish line.
"The animals need help, and they can't speak for themselves, so we said let's get in there and do something," said Sharp, a lifelong animal lover and dedicated shelter advocate. "It's been a good 15 years or more we've been saving, keeping it very close, knowing that one day we could get the ball rolling."
As Sharp recounted the long process of plans drawn and re-drawn and fundraising in a tough economy, it was apparent many people were instrumental in turning a distant dream into brick-and-mortar reality. People like the Ralph Williamson family, who long ago donated the six acres the shelter sits on to the CLHS, which was organized in 1971. And contractor Darwin Holliman, whom Sharp calls "a Godsend to us," going above and beyond. Or Web Gholson and his sister, Mimi Gholson Roberts, who were among the first to substantially contribute and contact others.
Every dollar to build came from the community, not government, the board president stressed. Some donors gave a few dollars every month; others made one-time tax deductible contributions to the nonprofit organization. "It's the caring people and the business folks in this community that have built this shelter," Sharp said with gratitude.
The end-goal is in sight. The remaining debt for what is described as a million-dollar building is about $60,000, and the board and staff are eager to pay that off as quickly as possible.
More improvements, like dog play areas, a dog-walk track and additional fencing, are on the drawing board as funds allow. But what is needed most now are contributions to clear the debt, volunteers to walk dogs and socialize the animals, loving homes for homeless dogs and cats, pet owners who spay and neuter their animals to avoid overwhelming populations of wanted offspring -- and a community-wide heart for supporting the shelter in future.
Supplies are always welcome, too. A list of the most-needed items is available at clhumanesociety.org. Follow the shelter on Facebook as well.
Sharp recalled driving up to the newly-completed facility for the first time not very long ago.
"I looked at that building and I thought, 'Oh God, have we really done this? Is it really real?'" she said with emotion. "We truly want this to be a community effort; we need folks to support this place and keep it going. These animals are here and somebody has to take care of them, and it looks like it's going to be us."
Everyone is invited to the open house Oct. 29. For more information, contact the CLHS at 662-327-3107. Tax-deductible donations may be mailed to the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, P.O. Box 85, Columbus, MS 39705. Learn more at clhumanesociety.org
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.