The Humane Society of South Mississippi (HSSM) has a rich history of struggles and triumphs throughout our 60 years of service to South Mississippi’s pets.
Harrison County Humane Society, circa 1952
HSSM was incorporated as the “Harrison County Humane Society” in 1952. HSSM staff, volunteers, and supporters were integral in establishing Harrison County’s first leash-law, which was highly controversial at the time.
HSSM also opened the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s first devoted low-cost spay/neuter clinic. From 1952 to 2005, both HSSM’s shelter and spay/neuter clinic were housed in a World War II armory bunker located on Washington Ave between a golf course, a sewage treatment plant, and the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.
When the shelter was at this original location, it had the capacity to house just over 100 animals, but was often home to 300 or more. Climate controlled, indoor space was limited and most dogs were housed in outdoor runs, subject to the harsh heat and flash-cold common to South Mississippi.
Many community members remember HSSM as the Harrison County Humane Society or they may even recall HSSM’s previous logo, which featured a red line drawing of a cat, dog and rabbit!
A Dream for Something More
However, HSSM board members and other community members had big dreams for this little Gulfport shelter. A capital campaign was undertaken to build HSSM a new facility, to be located on the busy southern section of Highway 49 in downtown Gulfport.
Spearheading these dreams of a bigger better shelter and the capital campaign efforts was Eric Aschaffenberg, namesake of the Aschaffenberg Animal Campus, HSSM’s current location. Eric was integral in securing funding and construction began on HSSM’s new shelter in 2004.
However, on August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, decimating much of our beloved Mississippi Gulf Coast. HSSM was just three short months away from moving into our new facility when Katrina hit.
HSSM’s shelter near the golf course was expected to get 18 inches of water instead, we received four feet and lost 48 animals… dogs and cats who had drowned because they were left in their kennels to weather a storm of a magnitude no one could have predicted and surely that no one expected. Following this great tragedy, HSSM Executive Director Tara High (then-acting Board President) vowed to never be caught off-guard by a storm again and extensive efforts are made each year to prepare HSSM and the pets we serve for Hurricane Season.
In the wake of this disaster, HSSM’s new shelter (which, at that point, was only an exterior and some steel studs) was made the center of operations for animal-related services. Much help was sent to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Animal welfare organizations from across the United States sent transport vehicles which took adoptable pets out of our area to their shelters for adoption. Thanks to these transports, HSSM saw our Live Release Rate (the number of pets we save / the number of pets entering the shelter) rise from a mere 25% to nearly 100%. Thus, the Love Train was born.
Triumphs Through Tragedy
While Katrina’s blow could have been crippling for a lesser organization, HSSM rose victorious from the rubble. In March of 2006, HSSM moved into our new facility and South Mississippi was made an ASPCA Mission: Orange community. The ASPCA invested time, effort, and money in helping our community get back on our feet.
Then, in 2011 HSSM was again given an opportunity to prove that South Mississippi is a community that loves and cares about our pets through the 2011 ASPCA $100K Challenge. This contest, sponsored by the ASPCA, was a head-to-head competition vying 50 shelters from across the United States to compete for three months to see which shelter could make the biggest increase in lives saved over that three-month time period compared to the same period in 2010. The winner of the Challenge would get a $100,000 grant to support lifesaving programs.
HSSM was overwhelmed by community support, finishing the qualifying voting heat in first place with over 30,000 online votes which got HSSM in to compete in the Challenge. And when all was said and done, HSSM clinched a Second Place finish overall by saving 2,183 pets in just three months (835 more than that same period in 2010). HSSM lost to a shelter in Austin, TX by a mere 15 lives and was reminded through this humbling finish that every life saved truly does count. HSSM’s Second Place finish raked in $45,000 in prizes that have all been re-invested to support HSSM’s lifesaving efforts.
2012: A Momentous Year
Following the success of the 2011 ASPCA $100K Challenge seemed a daunting task. How could HSSM possibly top a year during which we saved so many lives and won Second Place in a national competition?!
By setting our sights high: In 2012, HSSM aimed to not euthanize a single, healthy pet for lack of space–something that had not been done in the history of our organization.
Through creativity and tenacity, HSSM staff, volunteers and supporters achieved this amazing goal and NO healthy, adoptable pet lost his or her life needlessly during 2012!
Hope for a Better Tomorrow
Now HSSM is at a true crossroads. We have reached a point in our community where we can become a shelter that no longer euthanizes healthy and treatable pets. In January of 2012, HSSM’s Board of Directors adopted an initiative, entitled Countdown to Zero, that commits HSSM to this idea by 2015.
Imagine: a shelter in a Deep South community where no healthy or treatable pet is ever euthanized. HSSM is excited, honored, and proud to be putting many programs and steps in motion to make this a reality for South Mississippi’s pets. We hope that you will join us in our fight to make sure that every pet in South Mississippi can live out his/her life in a loving forever home.