Mayflower City Animal Control is tucked away in the back corner of a fenced-in property that houses the street and water departments (the sign says EMPLOYEES ONLY). It’s so tiny and unmarked that we had to call for directions when we were only 50 yards away.
The tiny shelter has only nine outdoor kennels beside a small shed (that houses the cats). That’s where we met Lisa, the only Animal Control officer for Mayflower. She runs every call, cleans every kennel, cares for every animal, and makes sure each one finds its way to safety. But Lisa is a woman who knows how to make the most of a situation with a smile on her face.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been to such a tidy shelter. There was a ton of stuff (bowls, carriers, hoses, pressure washer, cleaning equipment, etc.) all stacked neatly beside the shed. The gravel and dirt ground was swept clean and strewn with straw to soak up the mud.
To get to the kennels, we had to step over knee high water pipe for the washing machine that runs above ground to a drain (Despite being literally only steps away, Lisa can’t get the water department to bury the pipe!).
The dogs live outside 24/7 under a small pavilion with cement floors and chainlink fences. Thanks to a small grant Lisa applied for and got, they have karunda beds. Each kennel has an igloo dog house with a small hole in the top where a heat lamp can be placed during the colder month to keep the dogs warm. During freezing nights, Lisa lowers the metal sun shade on the back and covers the front and sides with tarps.
Behind the kennels is a small narrow play yard with plastic children’s toys for the dogs to climb on (Lisa scavenged for them out of people’s trash). The grass is mostly gone so the ground is mud and straw, and Lisa would love to put down some AstroTurf, but like so many other things, there is no money in the budget for it.
In fact, the city does not even give her money for dog food, so she must work to get it donated. In order not to attract rats, she keeps the food in her office, which is up near the front of the property (on the other side of the water department’s building) in the highway department trailer.
It was simply astounding how much she has packed smartly into this tiny space to give the dogs the best life she can – it reminds me of people who live in tiny houses (or shanty towns) who have to be deliberate about every object.
The shelter handles about 300 dogs a year. 90% of the dogs go to Connecticut to a rescue that handles the adoption applications for the Arkansas shelter. Once dogs have a home, Lisa drives the dogs to Little Rock to meet a transport at 5am (she lives an hour from the shelter, so you can imagine how early she must get up for this regular run).
All of the vet work is handled at a local vet and spay/neuter clinic and once Lisa runs through the $6700 budget for medical, everything is paid for by a local rescue, Dana’s Dog Rescue. Because most every animal is heartworm positive, the shelter dogs are treated with quick-kill before leaving. Every dog in the shelter is started on preventatives the moment they arrive.
Mayflower stays full year round. Thanks to her Connecticut pipeline, and a handful of fosters, Lisa has only euthanized two dogs in her three years at the shelter and both were for medical reasons. A few of the dogs we met had been at the shelter for quite a while, as Lisa is experiencing the rescue bottleneck that everyone else is experiencing. She’s had to put dogs in a friend’s boarding operation and take a few home to make space, but she does it. She’s also successfully placed a few dogs in the Paws in Prison program.
Lisa would love some local volunteer help, but it’s tricky because the city’s rule says volunteers can only be there if she is there. As the only employee (besides a part-time employee who works ten hours on the weekends) and the ACO for the city, she has to leave often and unexpectedly to handle animal emergencies, so that makes it challenging to have regular volunteer hours.
What Lisa would really love is a shelter building and some grass. She worries about the dogs on the cold nights and she wishes they had more opportunities to run around and for their feet to touch something besides cement, gravel, or mud.
Despite the challenges, Lisa loves her job. “I just love the animals; how can you not?” she asked me with a grin on her face.
Prior to working at the shelter, Lisa was a welder’s helper for twenty years working on pipelines all over the country, and after that she worked in lawn care, but she considers herself lucky to have fallen into this job. She was first hired to come work at the shelter for a weekend when the shelter director went away, but after that director never returned, she got the job.
We unloaded as much as we could give her but wished we could do more. I told her what a great job she is doing and how lucky Mayflower is to have her, but I wondered, what happens if something takes her away from this job—a health crisis, a better offer, a family move? When I asked, she flashed her trademark smile and shrugged. She can’t imagine leaving the animals.
And that is the problem with so many of these tiny municipalities that take advantage of smart, passionate, committed people like Lisa. The welfare of their animals depends on one individual—not a protocol or plan or budget. The previous director just came to the shelter once a day to dump some food and squirt out the kennels with a hose (with the dogs in them). The dogs sat for years.
Lisa is hopeful after the recent election. The candidate who won had actually visited the shelter and talked to her about it prior to the election. Maybe he will bring the help that is sorely needed. A real shelter building and some grass would be a start – or even a sign. And maybe a budget to properly feed and care for the animals, and a policy that trusts citizens who are trained as volunteers to help Lisa care for the animals, even if she isn’t there.
The city of Mayflower is blessed.
Lisa’s dedication, energy, and incredibly positive attitude is remarkable considering her situation and the lack of support she gets from the places and people that ought to support her.
We can do better by people like Lisa and the animals in our care. It seems crazy to me that there are so many places that can’t even do the minimum – house the animals indoors, pay for their food, medical care and spay/neuter surgeries, post a sign so the public knows where to come to adopt an animal.
Instead, all of that is left on the shoulders of private citizens like Lisa who is dependent on friends and connections to save the animals. It is not fair, and it is not right and it is just so darn fixable.
And more than that, it isn’t even that expensive or difficult. All it requires is that you (pardon my French), give a shit. See these animals—and these people who save them—as valuable. Give them the money, support, and resources to save the animals without sacrificing everything.
At the very least Mayflower could bury the washing machine pipe so that Lisa doesn’t have to trip over it all day long, post a sign that says “Animal Shelter- Come Adopt Your Next Best Friend”, or for heaven’s sake, give this incredibly talented and dedicated animal control officer a decent building and a little patch of grass. Mayflower is not an impoverished area, they can certainly do better than this.
If you’d like to support us as we prepare for another shelter tour in January to North Carolina, you can purchase a calendar or notecards, which make great holiday gifts or make a donation to help us raise awareness and resources for people like Lisa and the thousands of heroes who care for the animals too many have forgotten.
For calendars and notecards, email info@WhoWillLettheDogsOut.org and to donate, click the button below.
Until each one has a home,
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Learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Watch our Emmy-nominated, award-winning short documentary about rescue in western Tennessee here.
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