Archive for Thursday, October 27, 2005

County 4-H members find pet supply mission changed

October 27, 2005

It wasn't the same mission they thought they were making when 14 members of the Leavenworth and Johnson County 4-H clubs drove 600-miles south. But their efforts still made a big difference.

The group, which included Tonganoxie High School juniors Kelly Yunghans, Nicole Allen, James Bailey and sophomore Shilyn Guthrie, went with three adults to transport some 10,000 pounds of supplies in two trailers to an animal shelter in Bastrop, La. The shelter, run by the Humane Society and designed for a maximum of 120 animals, had more than 300 dogs before four different shelters in Canada, Maine and New Hampshire transported most of the dogs north in the last month. When the Kansas youths got there, the shelter had just over 30 animals.

But the 5,915 pounds of pet food, 3,151 pounds of cat litter, 76 gallons of bleach and 23 doghouses, and leashes, collars, rags, and blankets brought down by the Leavenworth County 4-H group will not be going to waste: The shelter is now assured of having enough supplies for the next year, and will be able to use whatever money it gets in the meanwhile for repairs, said the director of the Morehouse Parish Humane Society, Mary Helen Turpin.

Turpin, who is 78 years old, said, "We're trying to spruce it up for when I hand it over."

Beth Hecht, Leavenworth County Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development, said the trip had been a good learning experience for the four Leavenworth County 4-H members who joined 10 Johnson County 4-H members on the trip.

Hecht and Al Davis, Johnson County 4-H Extension agent, had been looking for opportunities for the members of the Kansas River Youth Leadership program (KRYL) to participate in hurricane relief efforts.

Each KRYL youth was challenged to collect 100 items. The Johnson and Leavenworth County 4-Hers met that goal and then some, delivering more than 12,000 items to the Bastrop shelter.

"It takes the kids to a whole new level of community awareness when they can see where their efforts are being applied," Hecht said.

"It was really an eye-opener for us," Hecht said, "to realize that not everyone has the resources we have here."

The Bastrop shelter, run by volunteers and dependent on United Way donations and a yearly sum of $4000 from the city, was facing hard times. The town's main industry, a paper mill, is rumored to be closing down soon, and with it the source of most of the shelter's United Way funds, through a company-sponsored drive every year.

Turpin said the shelter was "horrendously overcrowded" before the shelters from up north had relieved it of many of its "guests." The shelter had gotten that way because for 20 of its 21 years of existence, it practiced an unusual, "virtual no-kill" policy, which Turpin said was about to be abandoned before help had arrived.

The shelters from up north had wanted to help animals directly affected by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but apparently there weren't many of those animals left by mid-September and early October, so they helped out the Bastrop shelter.

The trip down there was more excitement than Hecht or her 4-H charges had bargained for: A tire on the trailer blew out before they left Kansas, and the group had to wait for a U-Haul employee to come and change the tire.

"That slowed us down about one and a half hours," Hecht said.

James Bailey said, "It was a long drive; a good trip."

Bailey said he'd had a good experience before the trip soliciting supplies donations for the shelter outside Tonganoxie stores for the "Bow-Wow and Meow Animal Shelter Drive."

"Every one or two people responded," Bailey said, while he estimated that a simple, unattended box with flyers would elicit responses from perhaps one out of 50 store customers.

Bailey said the local 4-H chapters met with Morehouse Parish 4-H group to discuss how to save the Bastrop shelter. He said the two groups came up with a solution that relies on donations from the community there, which one of the Morehouse 4-Hers will present to the Bastrop mayor.

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