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For years, Sherry Stamper was haunted by something she saw during her first home visit when she worked as a school nurse in her hometown of Hazard, Ky.
It was more than the filth that permeated the home – and the vision of a baby crawling through that filth, putting into its mouth old potato peels and anything else it found on the floor.
“What really got me was, when I was leaving, I saw a little puppy in their yard. It’s back was obviously broken in the center; it was dragging it’s back end,” Stamper recalled, adding that she felt there was nothing she could do to help the animal. “I couldn’t sleep for two nights. I knew then where my heart was.”
She acknowledges that some people would say that she should have been more concerned for the child. But, she reasoned: “Kids will grow up and make choices for themselves and go on. Animals can’t do that.”
At the time, she was a wife, the mother of two children and working full time in the school system. There was little time for helping animals in need; the most she could manage was volunteering herself and her two children for two summers at the local animal shelter.
“My son loved the dogs and would play with them,” she said. “My daughter and I would walk them and clean out cages.”
At one point in her role as school nurse, Stamper became embroiled in a sex-abuse case, in which a male teacher was abusing students in his fifth-grade class. It took a long time, and she put herself at the wrong end of the political spectrum at work – butshe and others were able to remove him from the district and make sure the man never taught public school again.
“That’s when I realized I was a ‘cause’ person,” she said. Taking up for a cause she believes in, “that’s what makes me happy.”
But it would be years later – and require a move to Carrollton in 1991 – before Stamper would be able to pursue her dream of championing the cause for abused, neglected and unwanted animals.
As owner of The Blossom Shop, Stamper said she had gotten to know Tammie Crawford, executive director of Carroll County Animal Support, when donating items for the group’s fundraisers.
Even then, though, Stamper didn’t get involved with the group. Like others, she said, “I knew there were animals who needed help, but I guess I knew if I didn’t look at [the problem], I wouldn’t have to see it.”
It wasn’t until early this year, while brainstorming marketing ideas with her then-part-time employee, Robin Caldwell Welch, that she finally made the leap. Welch had advised Stamper to get involved in the community to help promote the business, suggesting she donate and plant flowers to beautify city or county property.
“I told her I wanted to do something for the animals,” Stamper recalled. So, instead, the two concocted a Mother’s Day promotion, from which a portion of the proceeds were donated to the group. That was just the beginning. Since then, Stamper has sponsored two pet food donation drives and a yard sale to help raise money for the group. She and Welch also were among CCAS volunteers who worked at Kentucky Speedway during the Sprint Cup weekend to earn money for the group.
Stamper and Welch started attending CCAS meetings, bringing some much-needed new energy to the group, which was founded in March 2003 and was running low on volunteers.
“I jumped in with both feet,” Stamper said. “That’s just how I do things; it’s all of me or nothing.”
Stamper is now serving as the group’s president, working closely with Crawford and Welch – the group’s new secretary. Rounding out the executive committee is newcomer Cheri Martin, who was elected treasurer.
“It has rejuvenated me,” Stamper said of her involvement with CCAS. “I feel better than I have in a long, long time.”
With the help of Stamper and Welch, the group has revised its bylaws and is applying for tax-exempt status. Already a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the group also has added a new board of directors with the hope of bolstering fund-raising and grant opportunities.
The group also is on the verge of opening a storefront at the corner of Fourth and Main streets, a space where CCAS can facilitate adoptions, recruit foster homes and other volunteers, host educational seminars and hold board meetings. The group also plans to offer the SNIP Clinic – a low-cost spay/neuter program operated by the Kentucky Humane Society in Louisville – at the new location.
Stamper said she hopes the building will be ready in early 2012.
“I’m very excited about it,” she said. “It’s a visible thing that people can see. Up to now, CCAS really hasn’t been visible.”
While Stamper said she is able to see the “big picture” when it comes to the needs of animals and what CCAS can do for them, she credits Welch for having the “gift and experience” for planning how to get where they want to go. “She’s the backbone.”
Stamper hopes the increased visibility and community involvement in CCAS will help the group attain new heights, and she encourages anyone interested to volunteer.
“Everyone has their faults, but everyone has strengths,” she said. “We have to draw from those strengths” to meet our goals.
Phyllis McLaughlin is past-president of Carroll County Animal Support and a member of the executive committee. She and Executive Director Tammie Crawford co-founded the organization in March 2003.