St. Francisville’s Got A Cure For Those Summertime Blues
By Anne Butler
Think there ain’t no cure for those summertime blues? Well, the town of St. Francisville has a new promotional slogan, “We Love It Here,” and that holds true even for that most maligned and hottest month of the year, August. The month’s menu includes smoochin’ pooches, shopping ‘til we drop in the cool cool cool of the evening, and helping veterans while mooning over hotrods, old cars and motorcycles that remind us of drag races and assorted other automotive thrills from way back when.
Hottest ticket in town is the Wags and Whiskers Gala on Saturday, August 6, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville. This fun event is the major fundraiser for the West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the “Bo” Bryant Animal Shelter, featuring live and silent auctions, crazy carnival-type activities like the “Fetch and Run” dash to doggie dishes filled with gift cards, Wine Toss, Corn Hole Toss, cash bar, fabulous food, dancing to live music by the popular Delta Drifters, Paws Boutique, a smooch-a-pooch kissing booth and photo ops with your own cellphone. Appealing shelter animals in colorful costumes longing for a home escort patrons through the entrance gates across the courtyard to elegant Hempstead Hall where all the action takes place.
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. On-going operating expenses are staggering, even with parish reimbursement for food and cat litter, and the shelter hopes to be able to afford make a few needed improvements, including roll-up doors, better insulation, more kennels, so funding provided by the gala is crucial.
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 fees for adopting to permanent or foster homes its rescued animals---dogs, cats, horses, pigs, even a snake!---some are homeless strays, some simply lost and able to quickly reunite with owners, 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, shelter director Josette Lester says. When Fourth of July festivities meant extended periods of loud explosions for several nights near the shelter, volunteers arrived at dark and spent hours calming terrified animals. When hard freezes or extreme summertime heat make open-cage living uncomfortable or downright dangerous, volunteers take the more fragile animals to their own homes to temporarily foster them. On a daily basis they 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. Some of the volunteers are children, who provide plenty of loving attention for animals often starved for affection.
Inmates from the nearby parish work-release facility voluntarily help and are especially needed for exercising the larger dogs; a grant pays for part-time employment of a couple of older staff to supervise them. But with the springtime explosion of kittens and puppies, there’s always a need 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 (the new separate cat house was built with mostly volunteer labor), 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, the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter is open to the public Monday through Saturday 9 to 4, Sunday 9 to 12 and 2 to 4. For shelter or humane society information, telephone 225-299-6787, 225-635-5801, or online http://wfahs.felicianalocal.com. The West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and the Bo Bryant Animal Shelter are particularly grateful for corporate and individual financial donors, as well as those donating auction items; the shelter is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization.
And on August 20 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 Highlands Bank trolley to visit participating stores throughout the downtown area on Ferdinand, Royal and Commerce Streets.
As an exciting added attraction for the Polos and Pearls event on Saturday, August 20, the Town of St. Francisville and Pointe Coupee Cruisers join to host a Car and Motorcycle Show from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Most vintage vehicles will be displayed along Commerce Street around oak-shaded Parker Park, the roar of revving motors echoing through the historic downtown area. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised through entry fees go to the Louisiana Veteran’s Foundation to benefit military vets. Registration fee is $25 and early registration is rewarded with a T-shirt; awards will be military collectible memorabilia. Registration forms should be mailed to Town of St. Francisville, Box 400, St. Francisville, LA 70775; for information, telephone 225-635-3873 or 225-287-4068, 225-718-4583 or 225-718-1111; online www.stfrancisville.net.
Another salute to veterans takes place August 31 through September 4th when the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall will be set up in the West Feliciana Sports Park. A 3/5-scale replica of the memorial wall in Washington,D.C., it is 288 feet long and stands six feet tall at the apex. A total of 58,227 names of servicemen and –women appear on the nation’s capitol wall, a simple, touching tribute to those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, and this scaled-down traveling version draws respectful crowds of visitors as it moves across the country.
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 (weekends only), 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).
Photographs by Darlene Reaves