‘I just couldn’t stop helping’

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Richmond County Animal Shelter volunteer Marshall Odell Berry shows off his new friend, a Belgian shepherd he and his wife adopted from the shelter along with six more animals.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal This cat, though completely up-to-date on all vaccinations and sterilized, was repeatedly passed over by animal shelter visitors because of blindness in one eye, so Berry made room for yet another friend.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Here, Berry’s latest adoptee — an adorable black puppy he believes may be a mixture of Chihuahua and Labrador retriever — snuggles up between his new buddies, a pair of rare blue Chihuahuas.

ROCKINGHAM — When Marshall Odell Berry was sentenced to 24 hours of community service over a traffic violation, he paid off his penalty by volunteering at the Richmond County Animal Shelter. Now his 24 hours are up, and the shelter can’t get rid of him.

“I’ve just grown so attached to these animals,” Berry said. “Those people over there are working’ their butts off and folks need to know it. After seeing what I saw I just couldn’t stop helping. Those people need help.”

Berry — not to be confused with Marshall Berry of Pat’s Kitchen — said people seem to like saying negative things about the county shelter, especially since it’s not a no-kill facility. Now that he volunteers three or four days a week and sees things up close, he’s developed a profound respect for the shelter and its employees.

His wife, Sallie Culley, is head kennel technician at the shelter and Berry said it is not unusual for the workers to remain well past closing hours.

“People don’t understand how hard these employees and volunteers work to move animals out of here to other rescues, other states,” Berry said. “They aren’t doing this for the pay. They work long hours under stressful conditions and do everything in their power to avoid euthanizing these animals, but the shelter is full. Full to capacity. Do you know what it takes to get a no-kill shelter? A high adoption rate. And we don’t have that right now.”

Berry said the entire facility is not air-conditioned and that animals have been brought into the more comfortable, air-conditioned space to save them from dying in the seemingly endless heat wave dominating the Sandhills. He said bringing the animals to safety was their only option, but said the entire facility needs air-conditioning — not just the small part that currently has it.

“It’s cramped, but we can’t just leave them in the outdoor kennels,” Berry said. “The people working there can barely stand the heat as it is, so just imagine all the dogs and cats. And last week we got a parakeet.”

Berry believes that the answer to the shelter’s most persistent problems depends on residents of Richmond County taking responsibility for their own pets.

“Get them spayed and neutered,” he said. “There are clinics for that every so often and senior citizens and people on Medicaid can get discounts. There’s just no reason for people in this county to let their pets run around increasing the population of unwanted cats and dogs. To me, that’s animal cruelty and if people would just be responsible, we wouldn’t have all these animals without homes winding up in the shelter.”

Berry believes Richmond County pet owners are simply not doing enough to prevent unintended litters, which has a snowball effect on the population of adorable but homeless animals in the region. Left to their own devices, feral cats and dogs quickly become “nuisance animals” who continue to reproduce, continuing the cycle. Berry said it takes responsible pet owners to break that cycle.

“I’m calling on this community to do its part,” Berry said. “Whether that means just getting their pets spayed and neutered or, especially, come out and adopt these pets. It’s pitiful to see them day after day waiting for someone to come and take them home. I’ve taken in seven already and I wouldn’t do a thing differently.”

To find out how you can help make a difference in the lives of shelter animals, contact Shelter Director Bonnie Wilde at 910-895-0335.

Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.