- Associated Press - Monday, July 7, 2014

CLARKSDALE, Miss. (AP) - The Clarksdale Coahoma County Animal Shelter looks a bit odd from the outside. A large mailbox shaped like a smiling cat welcomes visitors into the small parking lot. In what was once a petroleum distribution center and then a bar, now dwells the shelter.

“It wasn’t designed to be a shelter, but they’ve been here for numerous years now and we can definitely make it work,” Rob Harris, the director of the animal shelter said.

The structure doesn’t immediately seem to be the temporary haven of a torrent of cats and dogs, but that is just what it is.

Animals are brought in from miles around to find transitory residence before, hopefully, finding new and more permanent homes. The large building is bordered on one side by a well-maintained yard containing multiple enclosures for the animals. Five or six dogs roam around the fenced area, barking excitedly at anyone visiting.

“All the dogs are happy,” Harris said. “Not to say we’ve never had any problems, but you can tell when a dog is happy. For the most part, all of these are happy dogs.”

Harris said that, though he wanted the dogs to be as comfortable as possible, life in a shelter was not the same as having a home.

“We want to make it the best that it can be for them while they’re here, but the main goal is to find them homes,” Harris said.

The shelter receives an average of five or more dogs and cats per week.

“I’ll say five a week because, though some weeks we won’t have any new ones come in, sometimes we have seven in one day,” Harris said.

The animals are then given their shots and de-wormed before put in separate cages for the mandatory isolation period. Once the animal has proved not to be infected with anything that could affect the other animals, it is assigned a temporary kennel.

“I would like to have every animal that we have here spayed or neutered,” Harris said. “At the moment, we are not able to do that. We’re trying to get to where, if someone adopts the dog or cat, that we can get it done before the adoption.”

However, the influx of animals is far more than the adoption rate, which leads to an abundance of cats and dogs on sight. Unlike some shelters, the Clarksdale-Coahoma unit does not put down animals after an extend wait for adoption.

“There is no shelf life,” Harris said. “We aren’t a kill shelter.”

To compensate, Harris takes some of the animals to rescue groups, who organize large adoption fairs and help find good homes for animals across the nation.

“Being in a small town, the adoption pool is only so big,” Harris said. “That’s where the transports come in. We’d like to adopt them out locally but our main goal is to find them homes. It doesn’t matter where, as long as they have a good home.”

The shelter has not always been in such working order, however. In January, extensive work was done to the shelter to produce better conditions for the animals.

“The volunteers that came in the first of January, they are the ones who gutted this place,” Harris said. “They got it into the condition that it is now. All of the ladies and men who volunteered at that time, they get all the credit, and deserve it.”

It was at this time that Harris first came to the shelter.

“I started volunteering at the end of January,” Harris said. “I didn’t get too involved until the first of February. It just so happened I was at Delta State and taking a few classes and had the free time to come up here and help out. Before I knew it, I was hooked. “

After much thought, Harris decided to turn in a resume for the available director position.

“Around the first of March my wife and I decided that it was the right thing to do,” he said. “At that time in my life it is what I needed to do, what I was put here to do. So, I withdrew from school. If this was a gamble, we went all in. Next thing you knew, we received the job. I am very grateful and fortunate that the board and the mayor have given me this opportunity.”

Harris said he didn’t claim to be the best candidate for this job, but that there was no one who could love it more than he did.

“I had a lot of people calling and writing letters on my behalf and I didn’t realize I had that many people out there that supported me at that time,” Harris said. “It was really nice to see that they supported me.”

Harris could not be happier with his position, and looks forward to the continued renovation that the shelter will go through to give the animals the best and happiest environment possible.

“I feel like this is where I belong,” Harris said. “I couldn’t be more excited or happy about a job than I am here.”


Information from: The Clarksdale Press Register.

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