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BARL gets help from the Queen

Mississippi author Jill Conner Browne is THE Sweet Potato Queen and will be the guest of honor at the annual BARL Celebrity Dinner in just a few weeks.

“I give a highly motivating, hopefully hilarious, totally G-rated account of how I came to be THE Sweet Potato Queen and my resulting contributions to world peace,” says Browne in her website’s bio.

The Jackson native’s alter ego is a very colorful, flamboyant character who is eager to entertain and help raise awareness — and funds — for causes about which she is passionate.

“It’s a really easy cause to get behind,” said Browne of the Brookhaven Animal Rescue League’s annual dinner.

“Everything I do with the Sweet Potato Queen weekends is for our children’s hospital in Jackson, the only one in the state,” she said. “No matter your cause, babies trumps it.”

“Right behind that is animals, who love us for no reason. God gave us dominion over all the earth and all creatures and we need to do better by them.”

Browne and her husband have three dogs — all rescues — and a cat that came with the house. The previous owners thought the cat was feral, but Browne said she came right up to them and now sleeps in their bed.

The dogs are all Labrador mixes, though Browne says that was not by deliberate design. Edie is a Lab-Weimaraner mix given to her daughter by a friend who discovered she couldn’t have a dog where she lived, just after purchasing the puppy. Edie, who was very small as a puppy, grew to be “a big girl” and now lives with the Brownes.

Peaches came to them via a project her husband was working on, building a handicap-accessible ramp at Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi in Jackson. One of a dozen lab-coon hound mix puppies took a liking to Browne’s husband and the feeling was mutual. Peaches came home with him.

Their third dog, Bonnie, is what Browne calls a lab-party mix — part Labrador, part everything else.

“She had a hard time before,” Browne said. “We never had a dog in the bed with us before, but she sleeps in the bed with us now. With the cat. The ‘feral’ cat.”

Helping raise awareness of the need to rescue animals is something the Queen feels is necessary. When her sister-in-law died unexpectedly years ago, a dog showed up at her mother- and father-in-law’s home on an Arkansas mountainside — “in the epicenter of nowhere.”

Not wanting to deal with an animal in the midst of their aching loss, they couple kept trying to get it to just go away, but it wouldn’t.

“God sent y’all that dog,” Browne said she told them, and her mother-in-law had to agree. The dog absolutely changed their lives for the better, Browne said.

“God sends us what we need when we need it,” she said.

BARL’s 16th annual Celebrity Dinner and Auction will be Oct. 22 at Lincoln Civic Center. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. and the $25 tickets can be purchased by calling volunteer Julie Montalvo at 601-757-1057. The evening will include dinner, silent and live auctions and, of course, the Sweet Potato Queen.

Hometown celebrities — community leaders and business people — will serve as waiters for the event. Any tips they collect will go to benefit BARL.

Organizer Deana Pendley said more business sponsors and auction items are still needed for the event, and a few more volunteers are needed to help as waiters.

“Our waiters come up with clever themes for their tables and show up in full costume,” said BARL board member Rusty Adcock. “They really set the tone for an evening of entertainment.”

Dinner will be prepared by Chef Chris McSweyn of Porches Restaurant in Wesson, who is donating both his time and much of the cost of providing the dinner, said Pendley.

Volunteers are recruiting waiters, collecting auction items and signing up businesses as sponsors. Anyone wanting to contribute in one or more of these ways should contact Montalvo or email Pendley at barl.deana@gmail.com.

The rescue league is a non-profit, volunteer-based, limited-admission animal welfare organization that provides food, shelter and veterinary services for homeless animals until they are adopted. BARL serves Lincoln, Copiah and Franklin counties. All animals are vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Dogs are also micro-chipped.

Browne said she’s looking forward to being at the BARL dinner.

“To rescue an animal, to renew their faith in humanity,” she said, “there’s not a much better feeling.”