TUPELO €“ Lisa Smith, 29, and Emilee Bennett, 23, have always felt a love toward animals.

However, the pair had no idea they would help lead the charge for the Union County Humane Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of animal abuse and neglect and bringing a humane society facility to Union County for the first time.

€œIve always loved animals, but I never wanted to be a veterinarian because I couldnt handle the shots and surgeries,€ Bennett said. €œI didnt necessarily decide that I was going to grow up and rescue animals either, but we saw a need for animal welfare and no one else was stepping up.€

Bennett, who was born in Maine, bounced around from place to place before settling with her dad in New Albany during high school. In college, she interned at the Starkville Humane Society, where she was able to see the impact a proper facility could have.

In August of 2015, she and a few others got together and began setting everything in motion. However, several volunteers had to back out due to time management and Bennett needed someone who specialized in nonprofit work.

Smith grew up in South Jersey and went to college in Denver before moving to New Albany with her husband a few years ago. She had worked with nonprofits in the past, but never one focused on animal welfare.

One day, she discovered a stray dog in her backyard. She was surprised to see the lack of effort toward finding a place for the stray to get off the streets. As she dug deeper, she found out about Bennetts efforts.

€œThey had started a couple weeks before and I told them about the stray,€ Smith said. €œWe were both surprised to see the standard of care for animals.€

Smith decided to join the team. By the end of January 2016, the Union County Humane Society was incorporated as a nonprofit.

The organization operates as a foster-based humane society, with around 40 volunteers taking in animals, nursing them back to proper health and finding new homes for the pets.

€œSome of the animals we pick up are in bad condition,€ Smith said. €œWeve had animals shot in the eye, hit by cars and left in a ditch to die for days on the side of the road. (Bennett and I) like to take the worst cases, but sometimes we have animals that really need someone to take care of them and administer medicine.€

However, Smith and Bennett said not just anyone can volunteer. There is an application the organization asks prospective foster parents to fill out that includes veterinarian records of owned pets and closed yards to prevent escaping.

Afterwards, the animals need to be spayed or neutered and kept up to date on their vaccines.

€œWe have been focusing on spaying and neutering because we want to stop the overpopulation in its tracks,€ Bennett said. €œWe have a low-cost veterinarian in Tupelo that people can use. We also provide transportation and some financial help if it is too difficult for someone to go to Tupelo.€

The endgame is to build a facility so that the organization can spay and neuter on a much larger scale and hold more animals. Currently, volunteers in the organization are fostering nearly 40 animals, and there are plenty more that roam the county.

Their best bet, Smith says, is to receive private funding though because they are €œdedicated to be a no-kill shelter.€

€œMost shelters down here are kill shelters funded by the government,€ Smith said. €œAs far as I know, they are required to take in animals beyond their capacity, but we refuse to do it.€