“Another challenge is achieving a balance between well-meaning people feeding the strays who remain and [the LA/SPCA] capturing them. The only reason animals generally enter a trap is because there’s food and they’re hungry. If they have easy access to food, they’re difficult to capture. There really needs to be a coordinated effort, and we’re trying to coordinate with some of the feeders here.”
Katrina exposed many of New Orleans’ problems, all of which existed before the storm, animal welfare certainly being one of them. But despite many setbacks, including the loss of its 9th Ward shelter and veterinary clinic, and making do with fewer, less-experienced staff and an old, leaky warehouse, LA/SPCA is back on track with its adoption, volunteer and education programs. Discount microchipping events and low-cost spay/neuter events —such as hosting the “Big FIX Rig,” a 53-foot-long, mobile, high-volume spay/neuter clinic—have all generated enthusiastic crowds.
Different Regions, Different Attitudes
Rescuers and animal lovers outside the Gulf Coast were shocked at the number of intact animals in Louisiana and Mississippi, a circumstance that presented an ongoing challenge for animal welfare organizations in the region long before Katrina. Virginia Rankin, media director for St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in Tylertown, Miss., says, “My dad, who is 88, will spay his female but will not [neuter] his boy. There’s no way to argue with him, he’s not going to do it. He’s 88. I’m not going to bang my head on that brick wall.”
However, Rankin will not hesitate to raise the issue with others if she thinks she can get through. “In Lakeview [a neighborhood in New Orleans], an intact dog came running up to me. There shouldn’t be an intact animal for a thousand miles!” The dog had a collar and tags so she was able to find the owners and ask why he wasn’t neutered. When they said they hadn’t had a chance to do it, she offered to make the appointment.
Spay Louisiana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making high-quality sterilization more accessible for all, estimates that there are more than 425,000 intact pets in the state, and of those, more than 88,000 live in low-income homes. These numbers do not include stray dogs and cats. Thanks to generous grants from larger national humane organizations, such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, Spay Louisiana is offering spay/neuter vouchers, which are available at distribution partners such as the LA/SPCA. Residents of the four parishes most severely affected by the hurricane can take these vouchers to participating area veterinarians and have their animals altered for only $20 per dog and $10 per cat. In addition, Spay Louisiana plans to open a Southeast Regional Spay/Neuter Clinic in late 2006 or early 2007 to further its mission over the long haul.
On August 31, 2006, the LA/SPCA broke ground on its new 11-acre campus in Algiers, on New Orleans’ West Bank. It will be built in three phases, starting with the Phase I, state-of-the-art animal control facility in January 2007. Phase II will feature an adoption and education center, and Phase III will offer community programs as well as obedience classes and competitive agility trials.
While the LA/SPCA is starting to look toward the future, some animal welfare organizations, such as the St. Bernard Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Louisiana, are still scraping by with emergency facilities. Jeff Dorson, executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, says the society’s rehabilitation center for abused animals was ruined by wind and rain, forcing the modest group to work out of “Camp Katrina,” a temporary rescue center in Tylertown, Miss., two hours north of New Orleans. A generous $50,000 grant from the North Shore Animal League has helped, but HSLA needs far exceed it.
Prior to Katrina, the Humane Society of Louisiana, which is a private, licensed investigation agency, already faced many challenges, including cracking down on the state’s thriving dog-fighting culture, monitoring substandard animal control facilities, and investigating animal cruelty cases and ushering them through the legal system.