By Dustin Barnes
Photo: Officers of The Animal Rescue Fund (from right) Nancy Branton of Brandon, holding Brando, Kathy Lewis, also of Brandon, holding Waldo, and Elizabeth Jackson of Jackson with Gumby get together outside the Belhaven University Center for the Arts where the organization on Saturday will hold the Miriam Weems Memorial Dog Trot. The Animal Rescue Fund and its Rankin County shelter rescues and restores to health companion animals. Both Brando and Waldo are available for adoption. / Barbara Gauntt/The Clarion-Ledger
Supporting local animal rescue organizations was a passion for Jackson artist Miriam Weems. The 69-year-old painter, who died Aug. 20 after complications from an infection, was well-known for her love of animals.
The Animal Rescue Fund, a Rankin County-based organization that worked closely with Weems, has decided to pay tribute to her memory, naming the group’s shelter in honor of its longtime supporter.
The Miriam Wilson Weems Sanctuary, located at 1963 Holly Bush Road near Pelahatchie, will stand as a testament to Weems’ dedication to local animals, said Elizabeth Jackson, executive director and founder of ARF.
“We hope this tribute to her memory will fill that void in our hearts and provide some of the warmth she shared with her blazing smile as she would discuss the success of yet another rescued animal,” Jackson said.
Going one step further, Jackson has put Weems’ name on one of the shelter’s annual fundraisers, a 5K walk/run where people can bring their animals.
Now known as the Miriam Weems Memorial Dog Trot, Jackson said the event will be Saturday at the Belhaven Center for the Arts on Riverside Drive.
Registration will begin at 7 a.m., with the event starting at 9 a.m. The registration fee is $35 per person, but dogs can participate for free, she said.
ARF President Kathy Lewis not only helps the organization reach its goal of helping animals in the metro area; she fosters two dogs who are looking for a home.
Speaking about one of the animals, a dog named Waldo, Lewis said when she first got him at her place, he was very afraid of people.
With her help, the puppy has become a happy and healthy one, a key mission in Weems’ life’s work that sought to help all animals have a chance.
“She was always our cheerleader,” Jackson said of Weems and her lifelong support of animal rescue efforts in the state. “Many of our (animal) adoptions happened because of Miriam.
“She always donated art to our fundraisers,” Jackson said.
This year, the 5K walk will have T-shirts bearing artwork of the late artist.
A neighbor of Weems, Jackson said she would often go to speak to the artist about the shelter, using her as a sounding board for ideas and problems.
“We’d cry together when something sad happened, and we’d rejoice together when the news was good,” Jackson said. “She was just always there, always helping.”
ARF is the only animal shelter in Rankin County. After facing noise complaints from the shelter’s neighbors in August, the county Board of Supervisors initiated an investigation into the property.
The investigation was concluded and presented to the board earlier this month.
District 4 Supervisor Walter Johnson, who had made a successful motion last month to investigate the shelter based on neighborhood complaints, said during a Sept. 1 meeting that he was encouraged by Jackson and her commitment to working with the county and residents .
“I think we’re making great strides resolving this issue that’s been festering for a long time,” he said.
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