No Room at the Inn

Story by Jeannie Stone

And it came to pass that a great despair had washed over the countryside and there was gnashing of teeth. The mayor was discouraged, the city council was prone to fits, and the people were greatly troubled. 

A wise woman from across the waters traveled to the land and gave the evil a name. You are called, “Apathy,” she said, and she bent her head to the task at hand.

Many important people ridiculed her and called her crazy. She can’t carry the burden alone, they said.

But others came to work alongside the woman. The fellow believers agreed with the woman that killing healthy, homeless dogs was wrong. They agreed that people should practice responsible pet ownership. They believed that, given the chance, many dogs could be saved through adoptions, and they formed an organization and dubbed it, “Furry Friends In Need.”

Jan Plant is that patron saint of unwanted dogs in Pope County, and the eight-year-old organization she formed, with the help of like-minded supporters, has now morphed into The Humane Society of the Greater River Valley.

Located on 40 lush acres on a hill just south of Hector, the Humane Society gathers homeless dogs – and some cats – at an alarming rate. So fast, in fact, that Plant and her tiny legion of volunteers don’t have time to mow the grass, move the dumped washing machines and other ubiquitous reminders of country living off the property, or even man the telephone (just leave a message).

Currently 132 rescue dogs live on the property, once a hog farm, in concrete pavilions which, blessedly, have grilled trenches to catch the droppings. Plant hoses each floor morning and night, and every dog gets his daily allotted time to roll in the green grass.

“There are a lot of animal lovers here,” Plant said, “but this is hard work, and a lot of volunteers just won’t stay with it. You have to really love animals. It’s certainly not a glamorous place.”

To lessen the rising cost of caring for the dogs, Plant, who retired from Tyson’s, retains her paper delivery job. She bought the farm with her savings and runs the daily operations from the generous support of a short list of donors and her retirement income.

“It’s what I want to do with my life,” the visionary said, matter-of-factly.

A 33-year resident of the River Valley, Plant always had a soft spot for animals, dogs in particular. She always owned a dog growing up and began donating to the Russellville Animal Shelter many years ago.

When she learned of their practice of putting dogs down for no other reason than lack of space, she changed the nature of her involvement.

“I was donating food and money,” she said, “but I decided rather than donate to them I would help the animals myself.”

Her dedication deepened when she received a phone call from a hysterical boy reporting his friend was drowning a litter of puppies.

“By the time I got there, he was on the 11th puppy, and I saw him kill it,” she said. “He was laughing and having a great time. His parents told him he could kill them, at least that’s what he said. I saved the very last one of the original 12 puppies,” she said. “I would really hate to see what kind of person that boy has become today.”

There are plenty of sob stories in the rescue business. Plant has rescued dogs from trash cans and worked with four other volunteers to coax a frightened dog from under a shed. There are the cases without happy endings. Some animals just couldn’t be saved. Some suffered so much that they perished soon after the rescue.

“It can get frustrating,” Plant said.

There are plenty of success stories, too. Over the years, Furry Friends has been responsible for adopting out hundreds of dogs they collected, as well as dogs from the Russellville Animal Shelter.

Of course, the raucous barking which greets Plant as she drives up the gravel road is success in itself. These dogs, and recently cats, are cared for and loved.

Plant has aggressive plans for the facility and grounds. She envisions an educational center with a library where prospective pet owners and visiting students can learn proper nutrition, grooming and health for their pets, as well as the particular traits and needs inherent in specific breeds.

She also hopes for a veterinary room to provide on-site preventative treatments and corrective procedures and, of course, spaying and neutering with separate quarantine quarters. Dr. Davis in Dardanelle has been so supportive of us,” Plant said.

She’d like a hospitality room where pets and prospective families can interact and get to know one another, a volunteer building complete with showers (a necessity considering the nature of the work) and a dog park.

“This is such a beautiful area. It would be wonderful, if one day, we could even develop walking trails to enjoy the woods,” she said. “Of course, we’d need walkie talkies for safety reasons.”

If it sounds like Plant has some mighty big plans, you’re right. But standing on top of the mountain with the Ozarks embracing the compound, and bear, wild turkey and deer already thriving in the habitat, one can believe a sanctuary of national caliber could sprout up one day.

Nothing will happen without the community’s support, however. Joining the ranks of the Humane Society doesn’t have benefits except in name at this point.

“They offer support for educational purposes,” Plant said. “That’s what we’re striving for.”

The Humane Society organization does maintain that its members adhere to strict rules, however. “There can be no chaining at all,” Plant said. “And there are lots of other restraints on how we structure our kennels and care for the animals.”

Recently, Mike Vernon, 21-year- veteran director of Animal Control and Russellville Mayor Tyrone Williamson indicated (to this writer) their intention of approaching county Judge Jim Ed Gibson to discuss the potential opportunities the city and county might be able to offer Plant.

Vernon notes the primary duty of the Russellville Animal Shelter is to handle animal control issues.

“We enforce laws and regulations and impound animals,” he said. “If the animals are outside the city limits, we put them on a waiting list.”

The Humane Society of the Greater River Valley accepts animals from the county as well as from Russellville, Hector and other towns.

“Many folks who have happened upon strays have experienced, first hand, the lack of space at the Shelter.” Vernon noted the rate of killings have decreased and are primarily intended for ill or vicious dogs. “That’s not to say we don’t need some help,” he said.

“We’re just responding to the citizen concerns we have received for so many years and trying to put our heads together to solve this problem and work together as best we can,” Williamson said. “The city council is cutting back on expenditures and won’t give raises to city employees, but we owe it to our people to concentrate on what we can do, and I’m praying for a miracle.”

“I have always wished ‘Furry Friends’ success,” Vernon said. “We need them. I know there are a lot of hurt feelings in the community, but we are wanting to work with them and are committed to seeing things change.”

Thanks to the devotion of several members in our community, we now have recycling and a one-hauler garbage pick-up. We are getting closer to where we all want to be. It’s time to pick up your phone again.

It’s time to make room at the inn. People of Russellville, hear the call. You have before you government workers who want to serve you. Make sure they hear you roar.

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