“What people need to understand is that they aren’t collectibles.”
This was a comment made by Corinth City’s ACO, Stephen, in reference to the number of pit bulls that populate the shelter and that he picks up in his work.
“They all want certain colors. They should get a box of crayons.”
We met Stephen shortly after we arrived at Corinth-Alcorn Animal Shelter. We’d just sat down to interview Charlotte, the director, when he arrived with a little hound mix who was young, terrified, and pretty adorable.
Stephen is an exceptional Animal Control Officer who feels his job is not just to keep the public safe, but to educate them. He even visits the local schools to teach children about safe dog interaction and how to take care of their dogs. Despite his difficult job and the fact that as an ACO, he undoubtedly sees the worst of people, he is a very positive person, convinced we can solve this problem of too many unwanted and undervalued dogs.
The Corinth-Alcorn Animal Shelter is the only shelter for the six counties in this corner of North Mississippi and West Tennessee—a mostly low-income area with a serious homeless animal problem. Between 1995 and 2010 the shelter killed more than 45,000 animals.
And then Charlotte arrived on the scene. With a masters in business from Harvard, Charlotte and her husband Luke, an executive chef with degrees in Criminology had moved to Corinth to own and operate The General’s Quarters Inn Bed and Breakfast.
Nancy and I had the extreme pleasure of staying at the inn and being treated to Luke’s cooking. We’ve never had such nice accommodations on a shelter tour!
Since Charlotte has been in charge, the shelter has made steady improvements, investing in spay and neuter, finding several rescue partners, and with Luke’s help investigating and resolving hundreds of abuse cases. More importantly, in the last nine years, they’ve saved twelve thousand animals.
Charlotte has put organizational processes and smart shelter practices in place. Her employees work incredibly hard and are dedicated to the shelter and its animals. Currently, they are housing 156 dogs and plenty of cats (I didn’t get a headcount).
Technically, a limited intake shelter, Charlotte is obligated to take in animals that arrive from city or county animal control situations, but she manages to find a place for most animals that arrive at the shelter, putting owner surrenders she can’t fit in on a waitlist.
The building was literally crammed with dogs and cats, but another hundred dogs were housed outside in additional covered kennels, in many cases two to a run. When I’d asked what their most pressing need was, Charlotte had mentioned that they needed a new building. When Nancy and I arrived that morning it was more than clear. The entire roof was covered by a series of tarps.
Recently the shelter took in puppies brought in by a school bus driver. The driver found them in a box at the side of the in an area with no housing or businesses. She put the box on the bus, finished her route, and then drove by the shelter and dropped them off. They were so terrified of people they wouldn’t come out of their box, so Charlotte put them in a small room for new arrivals and cut a hole in the box so it could remain their safe place.
Charlotte opened the door to the room to introduce us to the puppies and they came barreling out to see us—tiny, fuzzy, wet butterballs. As if to illustrate the fact that Corinth-Alcorn needs a shelter, a new leak had sprung in the roof and water covered the floor of the puppy room.
After we helped catch, snuggle, and move the puppies to a crate, we went to see the dogs. They were literally crammed in every available place. In what was likely supposed to be a small dog room, dogs of every shape and size lived in a bank of double-decker metal cages. The dogs get out for a walk every day and when the weather is good, they get out to play, most in groups. I know they sound loud in the video, but that’s only because I was walking through, otherwise it was quiet in there.
Charlotte explained that these were the newest dogs and they would move out to the bigger outdoor covered kennels as soon as there was room. The average stay for a dog at Corinth is 117 days, but some have been there for almost two years. 50% of the dogs move out through adoptions and 25% through rescue.
One dog was in a large crate in the hallway. He will need to have his leg amputated.
Corinth-Alcorn is blessed with a local vet who does all of their vet work at a much-reduced cost. Dr. Jobe, (who also does the vet work for Midsouth Animal Foundation), treats the shelter’s heartworm positive dogs and preforms all their spay and neuter surgeries.
We had the opportunity to meet this remarkable man when he stopped over to the shelter and found his opinions on the south and the animal issues it faces very interesting. He feels that in addition to the struggling shelters and rescues being unable to get monetary help from the larger foundations and companies, they battle a cultural problem of income and ignorance. Hopefully, you’ll get to hear more from Dr. Jobe in a future podcast.
Meeting the outside dogs was more difficult for me than anything else we’ve seen so far. They were healthy and had all their physical needs met – plenty of food, water, and a doghouse inside relatively large dog runs and most had a roommate. What I couldn’t get out of my head or my heart is that they live like this for months, some for years.
As I walked down the rows and one after another dog jumped up frantically trying to get my attention, I realized that’s what they were starved for—attention and love. In a shelter this size, that spends its limited money and manpower keeping the kennels clean and the water and food buckets full, there is not much leftover for individual dogs. How do you love and entertain and exercise 156 dogs?
And yet, as one Facebook friend pointed out, the fact that these dogs were eager to meet us and wagging their tails means that their needs are being met on some level. In many shelters, you see shut-down dogs and fearful dogs.
One dog is struggling, though, and Charlotte wanted us to see her. Wilma is desperately in need of a senior dog rescue. Wilma is an 8 or 9-year-old black lab mix who is still dog and people-friendly, but beginning to suffer in the shelter atmosphere.
The shelter goes through 1400 pounds of dog food a week. Yes, a week. Charlotte commented, “I find if you feed them plenty, they don’t fight.”
I imagine that Charlotte has learned a lot of tricks to stretching her manpower and money. She is doing an incredible job with the resources she has been given. And maybe the most amazing part is that she is so positive and hopeful– she loves these dogs; she believes in her community.
The shelter has raised $340,000 for a new building but that is not nearly enough to build a facility to care properly for this many animals. What they need is grants or donations or a miracle.
The shelter is a private nonprofit on county-owned property. The city gives them 70K and the county gives them 50K. The additional $100,000 it takes to keep the shelter running each year must be raised by the shelter.
I asked how they do that and Charlotte looked at Nancy, the shelter secretary (and board member) and they laughed. “We do pretty much everything.”
They get some of that money through grants and adoption fees, but the rest they get anyway they can – through a stall they run at a local antique mall, crafts made and sold in the lobby, and even sitting outside the grocery store on a regular basis collecting donations.
The county also gives an additional 10K for spay/neuter. The shelter runs ACSpay, a low-cost program that will spay/neuter (and give a rabies vaccine) to pets that belong to low-income families in Corinth and Alcorn counties.
The Corinth-Alcorn Animal Shelter’s building was built before the civil war. It has been a school, a hospital (during the Civil War), and a Pauper’s Home (there’s even a Pauper’s cemetery out back).
And now this history-laden building is quite literally falling down around them. It is WAY past time for them to have a new facility. Imagine what Charlotte and Luke and Stephen and their remarkable staff could do with a building designed to save animals.
They certainly can. Now all they need is the money to make it happen.
If you’d like to help, here are a few ways:
Send much-needed items through their Amazon Wishlist.
Donate directly to the shelter.
Until every cage is empty,
Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes. If you’d like to contribute to our work, we encourage you to click on the how-to-help link above and give directly to a shelter. You can also donate to our work via OPH’s donation page by designating Who Will Let the Dogs Out in your comments.
My upcoming book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, July 7, 2020) tells the story of not only our foster experience but how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. A portion of proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.