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Field Trip: Hidden Blessings

Mississippi shelter survives hurricane and fire, expands spay/neuter efforts

In the three days following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Southern Pines Animal Shelter lost electricity and had no running water. Located about 65 miles north of the Gulf Coast, the shelter didn’t take the brunt of the storm, but still struggled in its wake.

Virginia Cheatham, who’s managed the Hattiesburg, Miss., shelter for the past 12 years, remembers that she and her husband, who live about halfway to the coast, gathered water from a creek in garbage cans, brought it to the shelter, and gave it to dogs by flashlight.

But Southern Pines officials say some good rose out of the devastation, as Katrina set in motion a chain of events that led to the shelter partnering with national humane organizations and, last summer, opening a spay/neuter clinic.

After Katrina, Southern Pines was “blessed” by a visit from representatives of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other national animal welfare organizations, says Valerie Rachal, who was then a board member and now serves as the spay/neuter clinic director. The visit allowed the group “to see the reality of Mississippi shelters—that we have wonderful, adoptable, healthy pets that are being euthanized by the thousands,” Rachal says.

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