A mild-mannered western Kentucky farmer who never turned away a stray cat left a portion of his estate to every county-run animal shelter in the state.
County officials received checks earlier this month for $1,432.47 from a man they never met, a Muhlenberg County dairy farmer named Bland Hardison.
Hardison died in 2008 at age 86 and had set up in his will a gift for the state's animal shelters, said his widow, Jonell Hardison. In total, Hardison set aside nearly $1 million in donations to various charities upon his death, and the estate took years to settle.
Jonell Hardison said Wednesday that her husband loved his pets and even the strays that would wander onto the farm.
"We often would take in any stray cats that came along, we'd water and feed them," Jonell Hardison said. "He loved his pets."
Bland Hardison would often take pet food to the local animal shelter, although he sometimes needed a hand lifting it because of his age, she said.
The donations were a much-needed windfall for county-run shelters around the state. They often struggle with overcrowding and small budgets.
Rusty Newton, who runs Shelby County's animal shelter, said the money from Hardison would be used to buy new carriers used to transport animals for veterinarian visits. The shelter has had a no-kill status for the past four years.
"I was surprised, but at the same time we were thrilled that someone would care enough to leave money for all the shelters," Newton said. The shelter, which houses about 140 dogs and cats and has a $147,000 annual budget, depends on donations from the public, he said.
Even small rural counties with no shelters for stray animals received the donation, including Fleming County, which sends its strays to neighboring Lewis County.
"That was a big surprise," said Fleming County Judge-executive Larry Foxworthy. "It's a wonderful gesture that someone would be that caring."