Victory! Troubled Shelter in Mississippi is Exposed and Closed
It’s unimaginable that any animal shelter run by a “humane society” would treat the animals entrusted to them so horribly, but it’s an unfortunate and heartbreaking situation playing out at Mississippi Critterz, which is funded by both the City of Oxford and Lafayette County. Now, however, thanks to the dedication of local activists who refused to stay silent and support from our Justice for Animals Campaign, there’s real hope for change.
City officials have been through previous closings of this shelter in recent years over concerns about euthanasia and crowding. Several issues for it were that the humane society that ran the shelter didn’t turn animals away, and was simultaneously being slammed by the public for refusing to adopt animals to people who would chain dogs, or who may not have been able to provide for the animals they wanted. Even the best of shelters in Mississippi have faced these issues.
With a new director, what happened this time was entirely different, and raised serious concerns about the welfare of the animals at this facility. The public was not allowed in; animals were not posted for adoption; there was no record keeping of intake, disposition or veterinary care.
This all came to a head, and past volunteers and employees who had reached out to the city with complaints only to be ignored came forward when a social media post condemning the facility was made on February 15, 2021.
What is known is that healthy but difficult to manage animals were being “euthanized” in the back of the shelter’s van in the parking lot. Sick and injured animals were left suffering in cages. Cats were stacked high in cages in a storage room that was to become a spay and neuter facility.
Peter, a critically ill kitten who was missing from his cage, was found weeks later decomposing on a hot pad in a closet. A board member took a photo of him like this, but never disclosed it. Peter’s sister’s fate is unknown.
The shelter director performed what may turn out to be illegal “euthanasia,” reportedly using a needle that was too small; animals who were docile received no sedation, and the fighters were given Ace or Benadryl, neither of which are approved sedatives for euthanasia, and they were stuck in the heart or stomach in a cruel attempt to hit the liver. These practices are firmly opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Oxford citizens who learned of the crisis at this shelter formed the group Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs. They approached city officials who turned deaf ears, except for Capt. Rusty Raspberry of the Oxford Police Department, and Alan Wilburn of the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department, who together initiated an investigation.
We also joined the effort through our Justice for Animals Campaign. Doll Stanley, the campaign’s director, enlisted the help of Phil Bushby, DVM, MS, DACVS, Marcia Lane Endowed Chair of Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare at Mississippi State University and co-author of Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters for the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. Joined by Kathy Kvam, DVM, of Oxford’s Crossroads Animal Hospital, the two were allowed into the shelter for an inspection on March 4, 2021, following a vigil held by Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs and In Defense of Animals.
Vigil held by In Defense of Animals and Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs.
Their inspection came after Stanley, Dr. Kelsey Hansen, also of Crossroads Animal Hospital, and Leigh Ann Hubbard, who founded Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs, had the police called on them when they were told to wait outside the shelter to see if they could be admitted.
The report that was released as a result was scathing. Even with ample time to prepare for the inspection, the shelter still failed miserably. Dr. Bushby reported that the shelter’s executive director could not be found during the inspection and that there were sick animals, dogs in cages too small for them to even stand or lie comfortably in, and animals with no identification, among many other serious problems. He stated, “Put briefly the shelter violates even the most basic standards of care for animals in shelters.”
The next day a board meeting was held and the shelter was officially closed. The city was unclear about its commitment, and the closure was to be temporary, but officials hinted they wanted to get out of funding the shelter.
This week, Stanley spoke to Tim Woodward of Animal Rescue Corp, who is planning to send an assessor to determine how many animals they may be able to take in at their facility in Tennessee.
While this is a big step in the right direction, we hope you’ll stay tuned for more developments. Along with Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs, we’ll soon be issuing an alert to help keep the pressure on and urge the city to contract with an organization that has the skills, knowledge and will to operate a truly humane shelter that a city like Oxford could clearly benefit from.