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 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, though 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 that 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 equipment such as carriers used to transport animals for veterinarian visits. The shelter has had a no-kill status for the last four years, and only animals that are ill or overly aggressive are euthanized.
"I was surprised, but at the same time we were thrilled that someone would care enough to leave money for all the shelters," said Newton. The shelter, which houses about 140 dogs and cats and has a $147,000 annual budget, depends on donations, he said.
Even small rural counties with no facility 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."
The county's animal control program, which runs on a $42,500 annual budget, will use the money to feed animals kept overnight before they are transported to Lewis County, Foxworthy said.
Hardison also left $2,590 to each of 235 cemeteries around Kentucky for maintenance and upkeep, said Kathy Gish with Sacramento Deposit Bank in Calhoun.
"He was interested in helping maintain cemeteries for these small churches," Jonell Hardison said. She said her husband's father was a Methodist minister and Bland Hardison was concerned about the cemeteries' need for lawn-mowing and other upkeep.
Hardison worked with a local bank for several years on the details of his donations, which included gifts to The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Arthritis Foundation, Gish said.