Of the eight animal shelters in the region, four operate under what's commonly referred to as a "no-kill" policy. That means they won't euthanize healthy pets to make room for new arrivals, although sick or aggressive animals can be put down.
A fifth agency, the Corinth-Alcorn Animal Shelter, announced this week it wants to become no-kill by late 2013. It already practices minimal euthanasia, said interim director and board president Charlotte Doehner.
While the policy keeps current shelter residents alive, it limits the number of pets those facilities can house and means new arrivals routinely are turned away. Some then are dumped alongside roads, abandoned at a neighbor's house or shot and killed, according to representatives of no-kill shelters citing what jilted pet owners have told them.
Hundreds of other unwanted pets, though, surface at the two shelters that accept animals from any county and will euthanize to make room for more. The Tupelo-Lee Humane Society and the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society operate under what's known as an "open door" policy, and it has taken its toll.
"It really puts an overload on the open-admission shelters," said Tupelo-Lee Humane Society Director Debbie Hood. "What if everybody went no-kill? Where would all the animals go?"
TLHS receives no government funding outside Lee County, yet one-third of the 712 cats and dogs it took in in June originated from neighboring communities. Most came from Pontotoc, Itawamba and Union counties.
Pontotoc County resident Linda Ruth brought three more dogs in Thursday because she couldn't afford to keep them. It was costing $200 per month, she said, and she already has three kids to feed.
Although Pontotoc has a start-up animal rescue agency, Tupelo continues to be the go-to place for unwanted pets.
"It was either that or shoot them," said Linda Ruth's husband, who declined to give his first name.
Slightly more than half of Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society's intakes last year came from outside the county, according to its statistics. Many animals never leave either shelter alive. TLHS euthanizes about 55 percent of its pets because drop-offs exceed adoptions. Although OLHS didn't immediately provide its euthanasia rate, it's likely the same as Tupelo's based on Oxford's intake, adoption and rescue figures.
Hood said she hates putting down healthy animals but feels it's more humane than abandoning them in the woods or shooting them in the backyard. She also has worked to lower TLHS' euthanasia rate, which sat at 75 percent just five years ago.
"But our intake keeps going up," she said. "It's still an ongoing struggle."
Directors of no-kill shelters say they understand the hardship faced by their open-door peers but are restricted themselves by small facilities and tight budgets. They struggle to care for the animals they already have and don't want to euthanize to make room.
"We have people come in all the time, people from out in the county who want us to take a dog or a cat," said Dianna Stargel, director of the Aberdeen Animal Shelter, which accepts pets from city residents only. "We're such a small shelter that, if we did, we'd have to become a kill shelter."
Lisa Henley, director of the West Point-Clay County Animal Shelter, said people have yelled at her for refusing to accept pets past capacity or from outside the county. She always asks what they would have done prior to the shelter's 2010 opening.
"What would your plan have been then?" she wants to know.
Doehner, of Corinth-Alcorn, called it morally wrong to euthanize healthy animals but stopped short of criticizing open-door shelters for their policies. Until recently, Corinth-Alcorn operated the same way.
"I'll tell you something, though," she said. "When we stopped taking every animal, it put a lot more pressure on counties outside Alcorn to open a shelter, because they can't bring animals here.
"The citizens of Alcorn County should get first priority here at the shelter."
THE REGION’S two shelters with open-door policies with no residence restrictions carry the burden for other counties by taking in hundreds of additional pets.
TUPELO-LEE HUMANE SOCIETY
Total intakes for June: 712
Inside Lee County 480 (67.4%)
Outside Lee County 232 (32.6%)
OXFORD-LAFAYETTE HUMANE SOCIETY
Total intakes for 2001: 4,325
Inside Lafayette County 2,144 (49.6%)
Outside Lafayette County 2,181 (50.4%)
No Kill vs. Open Door
NO-KILL SHELTERS won’t euthanize healthy pets to make room for more, while open-door shelters will. Although four Northeast Mississippi
shelters have open-door policies, only two take animals from outside their counties. Others have residence restrictions.
• Aberdeen Animal Shelter: No Kill; Aberdeen only
• Amory Humane Society: No Kill; Amory only
• Choctaw County Animal Shelter: No Kill; no residence restrictions
• Corinth-Alcorn Animal Shelter: Eying No Kill; Alcorn County only
• Oktibbeha County Humane Society: Open Door; Oktibbeha County
• Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society: Open Door; no residence restrictions
• Tupelo-Lee Humane Society: Open Door; no residence restrictions
• West Point-Clay County Animal Shelter: No Kill; Clay County only