Owners still suffering aftermath of invasion
I was preparing to start Round 1 with the animals before the sweltering heat of July set in. I take my first break at 9 a.m. to handle the business. I own and manage 45 rent- al houses in Lamar and Jones County. It’s a job I have had since 1992 when I bought my first house. I’m not that sharp, so I keep my business plan simple — take care of my tenants, grow revenue and control expenses. I’ve been lucky — David and I are comfortably financially.
My love has always been caring for our animals. The furry family mem- bers come from a variety of sources, including desperate grieving folks who lost a human family member and couldn’t care for the four (and sometimes three) legged creatures the deceased left behind. Sometimes it was an anxious call from a vet offering an ultima- tum — “Mary Ellen, find a home for _______ or euthanasia will take place at the close of business.
Animal rescue organizations, such as Southern Cross Animal Rescue, called frequently when they were at capacity.
With occasional volunteers and a steady stream of animals coming in, I found my days were starting earlier and ending later. Good news, though, folks, I am as healthy as a horse and only take a statin drug ad a baby aspirin. The way I figure it, with such good fortune, I must make frequent deposits into “the book of life,” as I call it.
About a month before the July 11 siege, a strange car drove up to my property. My con- tractors were in the final steps of our new home on the other side of the property. They had asked me to stop by for some decisions on the color scheme.
“I wonder who those ladies are?” said to the workers, telling them I would return after I spoke with the visitors.
The trio introduced themselves as from the group I previously mentioned. I was so happy to finally meet them. SCAR members usually dropped off new furry family members at our property after a phone call with the latest “hard- luck case.” The reason for requests for help varied. Sometimes, it was an “occupancy” issue and sometimes the creature needed costly care the organization simply could not afford.
The morning of the visit, I was particularly rushed and had o talk to my contractors, then take my “big-breed canine” morning rounds and make it back to my office by noon as I had a call to a government inspector planned for that time.
“Oh, we won’t take long,” one of the ladies said. I was surprised they weren’t smiling. This place I call “Wonderland” usually brings out people’s “sunny side” even if they are having a dark day. It’s really some- thing — a full-size paddle wheeler, Ferris wheel, pirate ship, 1940s fire truck, double-decker British bush and a home with a full-zee carousel inside.
“Can you ladies take a minute and peek in at my latest venture,” I asked them, referring to my round house.
“No, we really need to talk to you,” they said.
“OK, let’s walk and talk.”
Tell me, how can I help you and we broke into a brisk walk toward a 90-pound mixed breed with severe heart worms. “You do remember Snowman, don’t you ladies?” I asked as we walked.
“Listen, Mary Ellen,” one said as dogs barked from their kennels. “Can we step aside and talk to you?”
I agreed and it was at that moment that I realized this was definitely not a social call. “We want to ask you one last time to not go through with the shelter for Ellisville.
If you want to spend your obvious loads of money helping animals, how about buying the lot next to our facility.”
I answered “yes” and “no” playfully, trying to be cute. “Yes, I’d be glad to negotiate with the land owner. Get me his name and phone number and
I will call him. But, no,
I fully intend to build a municipal shelter in Ellisville. My vet, Dr. Marnin, had graciously agreed to help and my friend Mike Carpenter, “Mr. Ellisville” as I call him, had already spoken to the new mayor about it.
The visiting trio got quiet and headed back to their vehicle. “Remember, ladies, I am just the money behind this, you can take all the credit for it if you wish.” As I went back to feeding Snowman, Vanna White and the others, I remembered a valuable lesson my dad taught me — “follow the money.” SCAR receives a stipend from each animal they care for that came from the City of Ellisville. I placed those worries on the back burner of my brain and went back to the day-to-day business of Mary Ellen Senne — caring for the animals, my husband and my company.
Now, let’s get back to July 11. I got David to sit down and try to calm himself as he clutched one of the little dogs, Miss Poo, a 20-year-old blind, deaf (but healthy) poodle. I attempted to deal with the two very determined individuals who had invaded our privacy at sunrise. With the dogs pacing and barking at our feet, we were ordered to get some clothes and leave the property. We were asked if we had any weapons and we said, “no.”
Mr. Dave then started pacing again and asked e if he was back in Vietnam and they were the enemy. I assured him the man was a Lt. David Ward with the Jones County Sheriff’s Office and the lady was with a national animal rights group. The lieutenant turned to the lady from HUSA and said, “Do we really want to do this to them?”
I could see tears in his eye. I did not know if by “them” he meant my husband and I or the aging pets shaking a our feet.
“I smell urine,” said the lady. “I’m not going to bring my group all the way down here for nothing. Let’s go!”
Mr. Dave and I were led up to the pool house and were guarded for the day by a very sweet lady from the sheriff’s office. I believe her name was Clara. She was nervous and kept stepping outside to smoke and talk on her phone. I think she felt sorry for us, but she had her orders.
At 9:30 p.m., we returned to our home — no animals, our gate torn down and contents of drawers emptied onto the floor.
The next week was a blur. We were arrested at our home and hand- cuffed. Ward and two deputies came to our home that morning to arrest us. Once at justice court, we were split up. Mr. Dave went his way and I went mine huh a nice lady who said I needed to bend over before I put the green and white suit on. She commented on my caftan, the same one I was wearing the day of the raid. We engaged in small talk. I told her she could order one like it for $9.79 in the Blair catalog. She told me a bit about her family.
Then, of course, the “perp walk,” as they call it. They advised us not to be mean to the gaggle of reporters who had gath- ered outside and we could speak to them if we wish. Mr. Dave slumped behind me, his eyes focused on the ground. But I looked straight at the media folks and thanked them for coming and not to worry about us. We each ap- peared in front of Judge Billie Graham and were told we were charged with one count of torture to an animal. We were released on our own recognizance with no bail ordered.
Our lives now are like that of most traumatized folks — just putting one foot in front of the other every day. I still have to buck up and focus on the business because all of our assets are tied up there.
I go to the Dollar General on Saturdays — $5 coupon day — and buy big stuffed animals each week. Seems like every time I go, someone stops me to say how very sorry they are. I smile and say, “thank you” and quickly race to the truck to try to stop the flow of tears.
I then have a very stern talk with myself. “Stop it, Mary Ellen! What about the fine family in Stringer who lost their precious child to a four-wheeler account or the family coping with the death of the 2-year0old who drowned a couple months ago.”
I then straight up and walk to my truck taking in deep, cleansing breaths.
I NEVER let my wonderful husband see me cry. If I feel I’m going to lose it, I do some laps in the pool or take a walk around this magnificent property.
As for Mr. Dave, well, sometimes in the middle of the night, I will find him with a flashlight calling out to the dogs to come now because we are waiting on them. I’d help this nice, brave fella I used to call “Colonel Wonderful” back to our bed.
When Lt. David Ward and his sad face knocked on our door that July 11 morning, it was the very first time ANYONE from his department made contact with us. “A three- month investigation” that included no phone calls, wellness or welfare checks — nothing.
On July 11, 2018, at 7 a.m., the torching of our beautiful Wonderland and all the lives that reside hear had begun.