By: Terry Simpson
If there is one thing for sure about small towns, most people either long to live there or long to get away.
Over the years, Tompkinsville has seen many youth grow up and move to bigger cities. Some never looking back, while others are drawn back to their home. There are those who visit for weddings and class reunions and those who return every chance they get.
Gary Bowman is one of those coming home often. While he may be visiting family, checking on his farm in the Bushong community, or giving in to a Dovie burger craving, his travels from his home in Louisville, bring him back time after time. It was on a trip last October that Bowman and his wife, Julie, would come up with an idea that would change things in his home town.
Like a lot of former residents, Bowman has a subscription to the Tompkinsville News to keep up with the goings on of his hometown.
After reading a “feel good” story on a local dog, he just knew he had to make the trip home once again, to meet the dog quickly becoming famous around town.
As the story goes, Red, a canine resident of White Street in Tompkinsville, was drawing a bit of attention each day as he followed mail man James Denton all over town.
“Red” was a former stray, abandoned by his family, who took up with the children of White Street, and eventually started following Denton on his mail route each day. Red, unlike a lot of stray animals, had a happy ending and found his “furever” home with the Jones Family of White Street.
The family — Josh, Elizabeth, Austin and Tucker — took the pup in and gave him a home.
However, hard as they tried, they could not keep him contained in their fence or in their home, as he was determined to follow Denton each day on his route.
His antics around town quickly grew quite the following, as everyone came to know, love and feed him. Each afternoon he would return home to White Street and his family.
Just as Bowman returned home on that October day, stopping to visit with a family member, Ronda Elam, at the Tompkinsville News office, and asked to speak to the author of Red’s story.
The Bowmans told the group that they had a special surprise for Red and his home town. Refusing to give details, he smiled and said it was something big and Red would love it.
As it turns out, Bowman had not only taken notice of Red on his visits but many other strays as well.
Meetings began with local officials with Bowman’s idea, and at a special meeting on June 26 to announce the plans, Bowman related their story.
“On a recent trip home Julie and I went to lunch at R&S BBQ. We had been kind of following Red around, well, he is fun to watch—and noticed several other strays as well.”
He continued that he and Julie gave their scraps to three of the dogs and inquired as to where they may have lived.
The dogs, two of which had litters of puppies, lived across the street.
The Bowmans spoke with the owners, who agreed to let them take the 14 puppies with them.
They found homes for those puppies, with Bowman noting that, if each of those had a litter themselves, that an average of 70 more dogs would be in the county. Not only did they prevent this, but they also came back and had both of the mother dogs spayed.
Unbeknownst to Red (and most people in town), a plan was brewing in the Bowmans’ heads that would literally change the lives of many more animals in the future.
The couple quickly set to work, speaking with Elam, the Mayor, the County Judge-executive and members of the Chamber of Commerce, and the Monroe County Animal Welfare Society was born.
A meeting was organized with concerned citizens and those wanting to help,
Karen Koenig, of the Kentucky Human Society, spoke to the group, explaining that having an animal shelter in the county would be many years in the future, if ever.
However, she added, it is possible to begin a welfare program that hopefully, within a couple of years, would have the stray dog issue under control.
The group will mostly work with dogs but did note that they understand cats are an issue as well and will look into including them.
“This will work much faster in a smaller community,” Koeing added.
“Every animal that is pulled off the street and altered will be one less litter of puppies or kittens out there and eventually the problem will be reduced,” she added.
Programs are available, possibly by grants, which focus on education: spade/neuter benefits, animal welfare, what to do with unwanted animals and personal responsibility; developing an active spade/neuter program for Monroe County (which may include stipends to assist with the cost of the procedure) and developing an adoption/foster program.
The goal is to get these programs down to an affordable cost, with the committee being set up to tackle these issues.
Tri-County Animal Clinic, north of Tompkinsville, also currently helps house stray animals that have been picked up around town for the Fiscal Court.
When animals are brought in by the dog warden, they are kept for five days.
Dr. David Baston, who was present at the meeting, noted that his office had been doing this for 25 years, charging $41 for five days to house and feed the animals.
“If it is a very nice animal, we sometimes keep it up to two weeks, but we are not really set up to keep many animals much longer than that and unfortunately, they are put down after that time.”
With that Bowman again addressed the crowd stating, “We have spoken with Red’s family and they have agreed to let us capture and alter him and then return him home” as the ‘poster child’ for the program. We joke that he is fun to watch, but we all know — he’s having fun too — well, he’s out there making puppies and we need to stop that.”
Bowman noted his wife, Julie, and her love for animals was what had spurred the program and they, together, presented a check to the organization for $5,000 to begin the work.
“I want you all to know how serious we are. We have this check for now and we may have more in the future,” he added.
“We are already so far ahead of where I thought we would be. We are now three steps ahead and ready to hit the ground running,” Chamber member Susan Turner noted.
She added they would set up a working group and plan for the next meeting to be held in a couple of weeks.
“He (Bowman) and I have had a few meetings and we are so excited to get started,” Tompkinsville News Editor Ronda Elam said. “We are ready to help get the word out as is the radio station.”
“Several of these volunteers have saved 50 to 60 dogs a year between them, we can do this,” she added.
She told the group that Shelia Gay had volunteered to be the contact person—setting up foster homes, getting pets adopted, educating the public and setting up a Facebook page.
“This is my home,” Bowman said. “I grew up here. I will do anything I can to help. I am impressed with this remarkable turn-out.”
Elam agreed, stating simply, “Gary remembered where he came from!”
And he has, just like the mail dog, who some still call “Boomerang,” he always comes back.
For more information of the Monroe County Animal society, watch the Tompkinsville News for announcements of their upcoming meetings and how you can help.
Also make sure to check out Red’s Rescue on Facebook, and keep informed of the poster pup, “Red the Mail dog,” and his support of the organization.