Residents march for tougher animal cruelty laws

Published 12:51 am Monday, November 20, 2017


NATCHEZ — Approximately 60 local animal lovers marched down State Street Sunday with signs demanding stronger animal cruelty legislation in Mississippi.

The people — and the pets — came from as far as Monterey and Ferriday and as close as just a few blocks from the march’s starting point.

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Most people came armed with a dog of some sort — droopy-eyed basset hounds and energetic pugs comingling with Great Danes and massive mixed breeds.

The marchers walked from the bluff to the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, where they delivered a thank-you note to deputies that discovered one of the largest suspected dogfighting rings in the history of the county two weeks ago.

As they went, marchers held signs calling for better protection for animals and harsher punishment for abusers, often with a leash in hand.

For those who did not bring a pet, Lena McKnight with the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society brought 11 young dogs to lead in the march.

Tank, a young, black pit-mix with ears crudely cut close to his skull and ribs jutting from his emaciated sides, stuck close to McKnight throughout the event.

Tank, McKnight said, was taken in by the shelter on the same day the Adams County Sheriff’s Office found the suspected dog fighting farm.

In some ways, Tank was a reminder of the true cause for the march.

The crowd was laughing and talking, but underlying the light atmosphere was a conviction that animals in Mississippi deserve better protection under state law.

“I wanted people to know that this wasn’t a one-time deal, the dogfighting,” McKnight said. “I wanted them to see that we get this every day.”

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, attended the march Sunday and said grassroots organization such as the march would get the attention of legislators.

“This is great,” Dearing said.

Dearing has pushed for better animal rights for years, he said, but said maybe now, with such public support, things can finally change.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, too, came to the event with his large, grey poodle, Callie, leading the way.

“We want to show support for animal cruelty legislation,” Grennell said. “One of the biggest obstacles is getting the legislators in Jackson to change, but the support is growing each year.”

Grennell said public displays of support — such as this one — show Mississippi leaders that the voters care about this issue.

Judy Curran said she believed action would change the mind of legislators and business owners who block tougher animal cruelty legislation.

That is why, in March of this year, Curran switched insurance companies. Though she had been a client of Farm Bureau since 2003, Curran said she would no longer support an agency that blocked animal cruelty laws in the capitol.

“We see time after time where they’ve blocked us,” Curran said. “I knew they were instrumental in stopping this bill.”

Curran said her new insurance bill is a little more than the old one, but said she believes the symbolic measure is worth the money.

Many of the animals in the march were themselves rescued, such as Scratch, the massive bulldog mix that had come to Lydia Wilson’s front door as a starved, nearly hairless creature.

“He was sitting on my front porch,” said Wilson, who is vice president of Concordia Paws rescue. “We’re all big on animal rights, and we’re trying to help them here.”

Wilson said the animal abuse problem in Louisiana is just as bad in Mississippi and that she wants to march, volunteer or advocate anywhere she can to stop it.

Former Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield, on the other hand, said he does not come often to events such as Sunday’s rally.

His dog, a large cur-mix named Gypsy, also wandered up to Mayfield’s front door on his farm outside of town.

“It was cold and dark and she was tiny,” Mayfield said.

Though he intended to give Gypsy up for adoption when he first found her, Mayfield said that quickly changed.

“We just fell in love with her,” he said.

When he heard about the march, Mayfield said he thought now would be a good time to bring Gypsy to town for the first time.

Mayfield echoed the sentiment of many marchers, saying punishment for animal abusers should be stronger.

“It should be a felony on the first offense,” Mayfield said. “In my opinion, if someone has no respect for animals, they have no respect for humans. It’s dangerous.”

When the marchers arrived at the sheriff’s office, Deputy Karen Ewing stood before them and thanked them for gathering.

Ewing said she and others in the sheriff’s office were doing all they could to prosecute animal abusers, but without tougher laws some of that work is for naught.

That, she said, is where the support of the public comes in. If the public wants the laws changed badly enough, maybe legislators would hear it, she said.

“Thank you so much,” Ewing said. “But now we need your help, too.”