SEARCY — The dark cloud that has been hovering over the Paws Inn No Kill Animal Shelter in Searcy for the first half of 2014 has finally lifted, and members of the organization are ready to celebrate. A grand opening for the facility’s new location at 1136 S. Benton St. will be held Friday and Saturday.
Paws Inn President Sandra Briggs said a number of local merchants have contributed door prizes for the event. They include a $50 gift certificate from Blackbird clothing boutique in Searcy and a $25 gift card from Byron’s Jewelers, as well as coupons for free items from area restaurants.
“The local businesses have really come through for us,” Briggs said. “Our new location is brighter, prettier, and we have more room now, so we can sell furniture and a bigger selection of household goods.”
Paws Inn had been operating a mini flea market on Hawkins Drive in Searcy for four years before they were forced to relocate after a string of vandalism incidents that culminated in a burglary on March 9.
“We were under siege,” Briggs said. “Our windows were being busted out just about as fast as we could replace them.”
In an effort to identify the parties involved, Paws Inn installed two surveillance cameras that were subsequently torn down by one of the assailants. Soon after that, the break-in that decimated Paws Inn occurred.
“They really cleaned us out,” Briggs said. “They even took our refrigerator and our trash can and quite a bit of the clothes for sale that were hanging up.”
One arrest has been made in conjunction with the destruction of the surveillance camera. However, no suspects have been identified in the theft or the other instances of vandalism, Briggs said.
The group uses the flea market as a fundraising tool to facilitate the building of a proposed state-of-the-art no-kill shelter that will serve all of White County. In addition to helping raise funds for the shelter, the flea market has also become a mainstay for affordable clothing for the community. Briggs said Paws Inn supporters have helped members of the group stay focused during their stressful ordeal.
“The community has been very generous, and we have received an outpouring of support,” she said. “It has been a struggle mentally to keep going, but we have a regular customer base, and they have been encouraging and kept us going when it was really hard to function.”
In addition to raising funds for the future shelter, Paws Inn has also organized a program to help stem the tide of unwanted and abandoned animals in which the shelter works with a local veterinarian so that low-income individuals who want to have their pets spayed or neutered can do so for a fee of just $25. To participate, pet owners need only fill out an application at Paws Inn to make sure they meet financial requirements. Briggs said 482 pets have been spayed or neutered as part of the program.
The group utilizes volunteers to help run the flea market, which is open from noon to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. A variety of tasks have to be done, including sizing and marking clothes for sale and sorting items.
“They just need to show up on Fridays and Saturdays when we are open, and we will show them what to do,” Briggs said of prospective volunteers.
“It takes manpower,” Janet Berkley, public relations officer for Paws Inn, said of the mini flea market. “We would like to have more volunteers so that we can open on a third day.”
Berkley explained that having enough people to operate the flea market for three days would require that volunteers select a day that they are available to commit to on a regular basis.
Paws Inn has paid for the property that will be used for the no-kill shelter and has raised approximately 45 percent of the $575,000 price tag of the building, Berkley said.
“When it’s done, it is going to be the best shelter ever built,” she said. “We went to a lot of shelters to figure out what we did and didn’t want.”
Berkley explained that animals, not people, will take precedence at the shelter, with a majority of the space to be used for animal enclosures and play areas as opposed to office and break-room space.
Having the right people in place to assess the compatibility of animals with prospective new homes is also a focus of Paws Inn and will continue to play a major role when the new shelter becomes a reality.
“We will have people in place who are knowledgeable about pets’ personalities and matching them with the right people,” she said. “Just as an example, it isn’t a good idea to let an elderly person adopt a puppy.”
While they work to raise funds, the members of Paws Inn foster stray animals at their homes. Briggs has been rescuing German shepherds for almost 50 years and now has two shepherds and one lovable “mutt” under her care.
“German shepherds are my favorites because I’m painfully aware they are often abused because people don’t understand their personalities,” she said.
For more information on volunteering at Paws Inn or to donate items for the weekly flea market, call (501) 230-3342 or visit the group’s Facebook page.