The late artist Miriam Weems would be proud. A cause she cared so much about is coming home to Jackson by November’s end. Weems’ neighbor and friend, Elizabeth “Pippa” Jackson, is moving her Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi (ARF) to Mayes Street, just west of Fondren. The 54 year old full time realtor and ARF executive director says she will name the kennel in honor of Weems who passed away last summer. “Miriam was one of our biggest cheerleaders,” Jackson says. “She was compassionate and cared for everyone, particularly rescued animals. This is my way of honoring her and keeping her memory alive.”
Jackson has been rescuing animals passively for many years, often footing the bills to heal and house them at local vet offices and boarding kennels. But an upset husband and a hurricane helped to solidify her mission. Began in 2005 just after Hurricane Katrina, ARF started in a leased spot in Community Animal Rescue Association’s shelter. “My husband came home to find the power off one day and realized I hadn’t paid the bill,” Jackson remembers. She says it was not uncommon to spend $5,000 a month on vet bills. “He said ‘if you’re going to rescue, you need to do it right and find help.’” With 35 dogs and two birds left homeless after the storm, United Animal Nations helped Jackson to take on these strays and help them find homes.
With a non-profit organization formed, ARF purchased property in Rankin County in 2008. Jackson says the organization has invested over half a million dollars into the Brandon property. “We thought our former location was best,” she says. “We were incorrect.” Jackson says there is strong support here and a city that supports and understands business. Her new property comes in at just under three acres and her buildings total nearly 37,000 square feet. After the building of cinder block kennels, new plumbing, ADA accessibility, cosmetic changes and landscaping, ARF plans to be in business on Mayes Street by November 30.
The Miriam Weems Kennel will provide boarding and adoption services but Jackson says their growth means adding new programs. “We’re rewriting our business model here,” she tells us. Plans are to board animals for military personnel at no cost and train dogs as therapy animals. These animals can go into nursing homes, help a young child feel comfortable while reading aloud or help a troubled adolescent reclaim their role in society.
That in turn, Jackson feels, will provide volunteer opportunities for the public. She calls Fondren, Belhaven and North East Jackson a “progressive” community. “They will want to come here and serve, adopt animals and participate,” she believes. “It grows like a spider web, outward. People here will do those sorts of things.” Like Brown’s Fine Art and Framing’s Allison Simmons and her mother Mary Grace Brown who took in a mother dog and her nine pups recently. That’s a kismet thing to me. It was really sweet, like God saying ‘here’s where you should be’,” Jackson says. Friend and supporter Jill Conner Browne has also rallied her own supporters to help Jackson. “She is a huge believer in what we are doing and a huge Fondren ally. Her being a voice will be helpful.”
When asked what she needs, Jackson says the answer is money. “All of this is very costly,” she adds. Jackson is calling for volunteers to hang sheet rock, set posts and paint. But, she says again, ARF needs cash. “We are a non-profit and all donations are tax deductible.” Grants, she says, are few and far between, especially in these economic times. According to Jackson, every little bit helps. “Some people may think ‘I can’t give but $5 or $20 a month,’ but enough of those add up.” And with a tight deadline to have the kennel move-in ready, time is not on their side. “We need to raise a lot real fast.”
At first resentful of the move, Jackson reiterates a spiritual connection. “This is a God thing,” she says. “This is better. It’s a part of our growth (that would have been) 10 years down the road.” She says the change will benefit the animals, too. “They’ll be housed in calm, healthy, happy environment that’s easy to get to, safe and welcoming.”
ARF is at 395 West Mayes Street, just west of Fondren. If you would like to be a part of transforming the new space, contact ARF on Facebook.