Causes | May 2015
A Cause for Paws
Mississippi district leader volunteer Jenna West on protecting the animals of the MidSouth
Story & Photos by Casey Hilder
Click Magazine: You’re a part-time volunteer at the Tunica Humane Society, but also hold the title of district volunteer leader. What does your current position mean?
Jenna West: I represent the Humane Society as the district leader volunteer for the first congressional district of Mississippi. I basically act as a source to our state director in an effort to pass laws. I do a lot of work with local legislators to instate harsher punishments for animal cruelty and, recently, we’ve been working on an initiative to stop the sale of roadside animals here in Mississippi. This is usually a way that the puppy mills have found a way to funnel animals into the community.
CM: What led you to this job?
JW: I had been a volunteer at the Tunica Humane Society for a while and the Humane Society’s Mississippi State Director, Lydia Sattler, was offering a class on animal cruelty. Sandy Williams, the director of the Tunica Humane Society, contacted me and told me this would be a great way to get more involved. I met Lydia and told her about how I’ve always wanted to work in this field, and she invited me to go with her for an animal rescue operation in Corinth raid a puppy mill. Shortly after that, she told me about the district leader program and how I’d be a good fit. I made a pitch video for the Humane Society and heard back from them soon after.
CM: Have you always had an affinity for animals?
JW: I started volunteering in Tunica about two years ago. Growing up in Kansas City, I guess I was a little blind to the issue of cruelty to animals. We’ve always had animals my whole life, and I thank my parents for that, but our animals have always been indoor animals — my dogs sleep under the covers with me, they go on car rides with us — they’re basically members of the family. So when we moved down here and saw how a lot of dogs are often cast to the side or worse — chained up — it really upset me and drove me to help educate the rest of Mississippi.
CM: What’s it like to accompany the police on a puppy mill raid?
JW: Any time that the police enter a property to seize animals, they usually bring in a team from the Humane Society. We come in with all our gear, take pictures, process evidence, treat the animals and, eventually, find them forever homes. But the police have to call and ask our team to come along — we don’t go out on private property without proper authorization. In my case, someone had called to report puppy mill activity at a local flea market — somebody was selling sick puppies, which is usually the situation with these groups.
CM: How many puppies did the Humane Society rescue from this particular operation?
JW: There were more than 170 animals, and not just dogs. We saw dogs, cats, donkeys, horses. You never know what you’ll walk into on a call like that.
CM: What are some projects that you’re currently involved in?
JW: The big ones we’re working on now, at a federal level, relate to gag laws, North Carolina is attempting to pass one right now regarding the removal of timber wolves from the endangered species registry.
CM: How much ground does the first congressional district cover?
JW: It varies by state, but here in Mississippi we only have four congressional districts, so it’s quite a bit of ground to cover. I am currently the only confirmed district leader for the state, but there is a goal to have a district leader in every district in all 50 states.
CM: How do you balance state and national issues?
JW: We have a Facebook group with all other district leaders in the country. So, say an issue came up in the state of Mississippi that I might need some assistance with — I can post there and get help from the other district leaders, start making phone calls, sharing posts, that sort of thing.
CM: What do you think contributes to the Tunica Humane Society’s popularity?
JW: I wonder this all the time. How does this little shelter in the middle of the cotton fields in Tunica have so many followers not just in the U.S., but around the world? But I know it’s all due to Sandy and Gail, the two directors. We currently have really good relationships with shelters all over the country, even a few in Chicago where some of the dogs that don’t usually do so well in the South are adopted at a higher rate.