Photos by Darlene Reeves
It’s also the hottest ticket in town, with live and silent auctions, crazy fun carnival-type activities like the “Fetch and Run” dash to doggie dishes filled with gift cards, Wine Toss, cash bar, fabulous food, live music by the popular Delta Drifters, a smooch-a-pooch kissing booth, photography booth, and appealing shelter animals in colorful costumes longing for a home. Live auction specialty offerings include guided fishing trip, theater tickets, Monteleone Hotel overnight, and sailboat cruises. And oh yeah, as if that were not enough, this year’s special guest is Marine Corporal Jared Heine and the bomb dog Spike who patrolled with him in Afghanistan, then was reunited with him back home thanks to his determined mother’s efforts, a story of love and bravery and recovery.
Tickets to the gala are $25 and may be purchased at the Bank of St. Francisville, from shelter volunteers, or online through www.brownpapertickets.com (search Wags and Whiskers). Cut-off capacity is 500 guests, and those interested should purchase their tickets early, because this is one event that is supported by everyone in town. The gala is sponsored by the non-profit West Feliciana Animal Humane Society, whose dedicated and hard-working members coordinate volunteer and donor efforts for the James L. “Bo” Bryant Shelter in St. Francisville, opened in August 2012. Prior to this, the dog pound consisted of a few makeshift pens attached to the parish jail, where the four-legged inmates were pretty much on death row. Only a small percentage, 5% to 10%, were adopted out, mostly thanks to the efforts of a retired state trooper turned sheriff’s deputy, the late “Bo” Bryant; the rest met a sadder fate.
Now the low-kill shelter has a remarkable success rate (into the 90% range, more than 300 animals adopted last year) with reasonable rates for adopting to permanent or foster homes its rescued animals---dogs, cats, even horses---some are homeless strays, some simply lost and able to quickly reunite with owners (58 dogs returned to owners this year), but others have been removed from abusive situations or abandoned because of owner deaths or relocations. This success rate is all thanks to the volunteers who groom, tame, exercise, socialize, medicate, and transport animals in irresistible “Adopt Me” vests to public gatherings and events, as well as to generous local veterinarians who ensure that the animals are vetted, vaccinated and spayed at cut-rate cost.
Inmates from the nearby parish work-release facility voluntarily help, and a new grant pays for part-time employment of a couple of older staff members, but with the springtime explosion of kittens and puppies, there’s always a need, especially for more volunteers to augment the core group keeping the shelter open, caring for animals, overseeing adoptions, cleaning and handling the multitude of requisite chores, plus related efforts in grant writing, fundraising, supply purchasing, carpentry, you name it. More foster homes for animals, especially those too young or injured to stay in the shelter, are needed, too, plus more donations of cash and supplies like collars and leashes, pet carriers, cat litter, old towels, pet food; and of course there’s always the need for more families willing to adopt.
Besides its stated mission to provide a safe, healthy, caring environment for animals under shelter care while searching for original owners or approved adoptive homes, the humane society also works to reduce pet animal over-population and has aTNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) program that, thanks to donations and local vets, has neutered or spayed dozens of feral cats.
Located in St. Francisville at 9946 West Feliciana Parkway going toward the sports park, the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter has a large metal shed with spacious kennels and cages, exercise yards, holding pens and corrals, and a nice new separate cat house constructed almost entirely with volunteer labor. The humane society has a wonderful website and Facebook page full of heartwarming images and videos thanks to its creative and talented volunteers.
The shelter is open to the public Sunday through Friday 9 to 12, Fridays until 2, and every day 4 to 5:30, but volunteers are there every day of the week, twice a day, providing the medical care, grooming, maintenance and love. Some of the volunteers are children, who provide plenty of loving attention for animals often starved for affection. For shelter or humane society information, telephone 225-299-6787, 225-635-5801, or online http://wfahs.felicianalocal.com.
Tickets to the gala are available online (www.brownpapertickets.com and search for Wags and Whiskers), or locally from Bank of St. Francisville or shelter volunteers. The West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter are particularly grateful for corporate and individual financial donors (Dare and Belton Didier, Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling, Joe and Pam Malara, Peggy Lucky and John Rose, Red Stick Armature), as well as those donating auction items; the shelter is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
Another fundraising event, called Night At The Museum, benefits the West Feliciana Historical Society, with costumed presenters entertaining the crowd, plus fine refreshments at the Ferdinand Street headquarters/museum/tourist information center (call 225-635-4224 for details). The museum, in an 1880s hardware store, has fascinating exhibits recently professionally redesigned to show off the society’s extensive collection of artifacts. Proceeds benefit ongoing preservation projects and maintenance on restored historic structures.
And on August 22 the popular annual Polos and Pearls evening event puts the sizzle into summer shopping and entices customers to St. Francisville’s National Register downtown historic district and outskirts beginning at 5 p.m. All the interesting little shops (and there are some wonderful new ones to complement the more established outlets) and galleries offer lots of extras---refreshments provided by local restaurants or caterers, live music or other entertainment, and plenty of bargains, making shopping after dark just plain fun. Visitors can drive or hop on the trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).