Since she was a young child on an Indiana farm, Jenn Petermann has always had animals in her life.
“I grew up on a livestock and grain farm,” she said, “but I always had dogs, lots of cats, horses and even chickens. I realized then that was what I wanted to do.”
Following Petermann’s graduation from college at Indiana University with a degree in biology, she and friends moved to Mississippi to further their careers. After working as both a veterinary technician and veterinary pharmaceutical representative, Petermann was approached to become the director of the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society.
“I ran into the person who was the board president for the Humane Society, and she told me they were looking for a new director and asked if I would I be interested in doing it,” Petermann said. “I thought about it for awhile before I said I was interested. It’s big endeavor.”
Ultimately, Petermann decided to accept the position with the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society. She has grown passionate about her job and the continuous effort she exhibits in order to ensure each animal has a chance at new life.
“The biggest thing about the shelter is that there are so many facets that are continuously going,” Petermann said. “You know, the shelter really never shuts down. The animals never leave. We’re up and running seven days a week.”
Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society draws from a 12-county radius as most of the surrounding counties lack animal shelters.
Most of the surrounding countries don’t have true Humane Societies,” Petermann said. “They might have a holding facility where the animals stay for a week, but there’s no one there to try and adopt them. Whoever is there on Monday isn’t normally there the next Monday.”
Because the Oxford-Layette Humane Society draws from such a large geographic radius, their animal intake is much larger than most shelters. This makes their efforts in providing animals with second homes harder.
“We’re a different entity in that we try really hard to give [the animals] a second chance at another life,” Petermann said. “We have people that drive an hour or two hours to get here because they think their animals stand a better chance at going onto another family.”
According to Petermann, in the past year, the Humane Society took in around 4,500 animals, including cats and dogs. Eighty to 90 percent of those animals were able to find permanent homes. This percentage is called a “live release rate” or number of animals able to find second homes. The year before Petermann became director of the facility, the shelter had only a 33 percent live release rate.
“It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make that happen, because the unfortunate thing is, based on where we live, I don’t have 4,500 people lined up to adopt,” Petermann said. “It would be one thing if people were just clamoring to come in here and adopt animals, but that’s just not the case.”
In order to significantly raise the live release rate, the shelter has begun to transport dogs to other locations.
“The biggest way [we raise the live release rate] is through transporting,” Petermann said. “We’ve been transporting animals to Minnesota, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and other areas that don’t face the overpopulation problems we have. Those shelters are clamoring for puppies. We literally pull up to these places, and there are people in line to get them.”
Ole Miss sophomore and Humane Society volunteer Maggie Kelley has noticed the effect transporting has on the amount of animals in the shelter.
“I’ve noticed that I don’t see the same animals week after week,” Kelley said. “At the Humane Society where I volunteer at home, the animals can be there for month after month.”
Educating Lafayette County youth and citizens about spaying and neutering animals has also helped increase the shelter’s live release rate. Petermann often speaks at local schools on this issue.
“We preach about that issue here,” she said, “but personally I think going into the school systems and talking to the kids about it is the best way. Getting into the school system and educating the kids about it saying, ‘If you’re wanting to see puppies, you can come to the shelter and see puppies. You don’t have to have puppies in your own backyard.'”
Petermann believes this information, transportation and student and community adoption have helped diminish the number of euthanized dogs.
Junior Julia Peele, a dog adopter of the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society, believes college students also play a role in live release rate success.
“My roommate and I actually adopted a dog from the shelter together last spring, but we decided to do it because a lot of our friends had,” Neville said. “The majority of dogs I know from college students actually come from the Humane Society.”
With Petermann’s focus on community outreach, she ultimately hopes the community will adjust.
“We want people to understand this isn’t just a dumping ground,” Petermann said. “The little lives take a lot of effort, a lot of care, and a lot of resources to get them somewhere where they can be adopted.”