Gulfport residents confused over whether Humane Society still accepts strays

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania told WLOX News contract negotiations have ended between his department and the Humane Society of South Mississippi. He said to save money, the city is moving forward with plans to build a permanent shelter.

That means animals seized by Gulfport officers won't be taken to the Humane Society anymore, but there is still confusion over whether the Human Society is still accepting unwanted pets that are dropped off by residents.

On Friday, seven dogs went up for adoption at the Gulfport Police Department's first Adopt-A-Thon. One black puppy caught the eyes of Sean and Claire Tindell. The couple came looking for a first pet for their three children.

"They don't know yet. They're all at school. We'll surprise them when they get home. They'll be very excited," said Claire.

The dogs have been held at the Police Animal Welfare Shelter, or PAWS. The Gulfport Police Department opened the temporary facility on 8th Avenue after it couldn't agree on a contract with the Humane Society.

PAWS was only supposed to hold animals that have been seized by officers, but Dena Graham dropped off a big stray dog at the adoption site after she said she tried to leave him at the Humane Society.

"They told us if the dogs are from Gulfport, they won't (take them). They said the police department is the ones that have a new program," said Graham.

Another man told the officers he also tried to drop off a female dog and six newborn puppies at the Humane Society.

"They said they can't, by law, take them," he said.

Papania said taking in homeless or unwanted animals is not the responsibility of his department.

"What we want to keep our facility focused on is the number of animals we're encountering as we enforce ordinance. If someone wants to surrender their pet, they find a homeless animal, that is the role of the Humane Society," said Papania.

Papania said PAWS will hold on to the strays that were dropped off on Friday until both sides can come to an understanding.

"I speak regularly with the board members, and this is something we need to address. Even though we didn't establish a contract, we established a good line of communication to problem solve," Papania said.

Papania said the ultimate goal of PAWS is to find the animals a forever family. He actually adopted the very first dog when the Adopt-A-Thon opened.

"We named it Uno. He was the first animal collected and taken to PAWS," said Papania. "It would be really neat to get them all adopted, and we're going to give the best effort possible to get all these animals into a good home."

Papania said a permanent shelter would go up on 8th Avenue. It's estimated to cost about $100,000 and be able to hold up to 50 animals. If the project is approved by the city council, he hopes to have the shelter up and running within a year.

Papania said operating a shelter will save the city money, because the city does not receive credit from the Humane Society.

"It's calculated for us to pay $120 per animal delivered, whether it's adopted back out or picked up by its owner. None of that money moves back to the police department. We believe if we establish our own facility, we'll be able to capture some of that," said Papania.

WLOX tried to talk with the Humane Society Board Chairman, but he has not returned our phone calls. A spokeswoman at the shelter told us they are following state statutes and city ordinance that say the shelter can't take in any animals without a contract with the police department.

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