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Fur Babies

By Melanie Moffett
In Center Block
Mar 30th, 2014
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Springtime is Time for Awareness of Animal Welfare
by Angela Genusa

Gravel crunches under my tires as I slowly approach the Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter in West Monroe, off the Well Road exit on I-20. I ease into a parking spot, and a black cat begins padding toward my car. As I step out near the shelter’s wooden sign and look around, the cat meows and stretches out before me and rolls on the ground, yellow grass clippings sticking to her black fur.

On this overcast, chilly morning in late February, all seems deserted here, but the uproar of dogs barking lets me know right away I’m not alone. In fact, hidden from sight, are pens and cages that today contain exactly 79 dogs and 11 cats. The black cat, named Jinx, is the only one who roams free. Her bowls of food and water sit atop a table, underneath which is a tall stack of dog and cat food bags. A black and white City of West Monroe Animal Control pickup truck is backed into the entrance, and Officer Markus Stevenson shows me the way to the shelter office.

I’ve caught Shelter Manager Roger Laird only one day before what he jokingly calls “the beginning of open season on cats.” “Beginning March 1, we take in about 300-400 cats and kittens per month until November. Last year, for every cat we adopted out, we had 20 people dropping off cats, some people dropping off entire litters of kittens. One man dropped off 60 cats at one time. They all came from inside his mother’s house.”

I open a metal gate past the office and approach two rows of pens on either side of me. The sound of dogs barking for joy at the sight of a human being is deafening. The dogs jump and bark frenetically for attention as I stroll along the first aisle of cages looking at each of them, all available for adoption. Some have been brought in by the Monroe, West Monroe, or parish animal control units; others were surrendered by owners or people who found them wandering and lost. The shelter takes in 30 or more animals on any given day.

Leaping as high as her tiny legs will allow and yipping at me from the first cage on the left is “Fifi,” an adorable, approximately 2-year-old, brown Yorkie mix, wearing a purple sweater. “Fifi was just adopted by a woman from Rayville who saw her picture on our Web site,” Laird says. Two other women had also been vying to adopt Fifi.

Across the aisle from Fifi, there’s a big Basset Hound mix named Gilmore; Willow, a Rottweiler mix; a Jack Russell terrier mix; an Australian Cattle Dog (Blue Heeler) mix; and at the end of the row is a 1½-year-old Boston Terrier mix named “Mimi,” who lies half-asleep on her bed. Mimi stretches her legs out, shivers, and yawns, and then slowly walks up to the fence to lick my outstretched hand. Earlier this morning, Mimi was featured on the Adopt-A-Pet segment on KNOE-TV8. Mimi and any of her fellow shelter pals—whether purebred or all-American “mutt”—can be adopted for only $60, a very inexpensive fee, which includes a first round of immunizations and a certificate for spaying or neutering (a procedure that alone can cost $150-$200) by a veterinarian.

“We get purebreds all the time,” Laird says. “Yorkies, Jack Russell terriers, Rottweilers, Labradors, shih tzus, chihuahuas, miniature schnauzers—these are dogs that belong to somebody. A King Charles Spaniel sells for $1,500 and $2,000. But 80 percent of these animals go unclaimed, and we have to euthanize them.”

The numbers of animals that go through the shelter are staggering. Last year, the shelter took in a total of 7,270 animals. Of those, 1,584 were adopted; 559 were claimed by their owners; 195 went to rescue organizations, escaped, or died. More than 4,860 animals had to be euthanized. And that’s only the number of animals that are actually captured by area animal control officials. “If only people would spay and neuter their pets,” Laird laments.

Many of the estimated 42,725 pet-owning households* in Ouachita Parish are run by responsible animal owners, who spay and neuter their pets; however, there are many who do not. And as a result, the animal population in Northeast Louisiana is exploding. In northeast Louisiana alone, the euthanasia rate is 7,000-10,000 animals every year, says Jo Traylor, president of PAWS. “Every spring and summer, a lot of puppies and kittens are put down at shelters,” she says. “There are just not enough homes for them. Right now, the animals are coming into heat and starting to mate. This is the time of the year to really get those animals neutered or spayed.” The South has typically has not embraced spaying and neutering communitywide, Traylor says. “There are many benefits to spaying and neutering. There are no unwanted puppies and kittens, all of which are a terrible burden on taxpayers and municipal shelters. Your tax dollars are being used to euthanize and care for those animals they can’t keep.”

As large a problem as overpopulation but less visible to the public are the thousands of other unwanted animals in Northeast Louisiana that are neglected, abused, mistreated, and killed by people each year. These animals are hidden in backyards chained to trees, dumped in remote spots or dumpsters, left to roam rural areas where they are eaten by coyotes or city streets where they are hit by cars, and sometimes left in hot, locked cars.

Researchers have found a strong correlation between high rates of poverty and crime and the neglect, abuse, and mistreatment of animals. Louisiana has the second highest poverty rate in the nation. In Ouachita Parish, about 23 percent of the population was below the poverty line, according to 2008-2012 census figures. Domestic violence and child abuse has also been linked to animal abuse.

The good news, however, is that animal welfare has become a topic of huge importance locally, regionally and nationally. Tina Anzalone, chief code enforcement officer for the City of Monroe, says there is a new city animal welfare ordinance in place to help protect animals. She also cites a Farm Bill that President Barack Obama just signed in February with a provision making it a federal crime for a juvenile under age of 16 to be at an animal fighting event. “This issue has reached The White House,” she says. “Animal welfare is a big concern and people aren’t playing anymore about these babies being hurt.”

A huge network of hundreds of animal lovers, pet owners, rescuers, and other volunteers also works to save the lives of animals in Northeast Louisiana every day. Many of these animal advocates do everything they can to make sure that animals they help do not go to shelters where they will be euthanized. They run no-kill shelters like River Cities Humane Society for Cats in Monroe and rescue organizations like Bayou Bully Rescue (for pit bulls, which must, by law, be put down after seven business days if they are brought to the Ouachita Parish Animals Shelter). Before allowing someone to adopt a pet, most local rescue organizations carefully screen potential pet owners.

Anzalone also uses her own personal funds and time to advocate for animal welfare. She is running an ongoing campaign on gofundme.com to raise money to pay for the medical expenses of abused and neglected pets in Ouachita Parish. She cites “Liberty,” a pit bull dog rescued on the Monroe’s southside. “She was found at the first and only pit bull fighting pit I have ever seen in my 28 years at the City,” Anzalone says. “The pit was inactive, and this dog wasn’t a fighter. She was probably a pet of the family that lived in the house in front of the rental property. That dog was discovered by neighbors because neighborhood kids walking by were throwing sticks and bottles at her. She was emaciated, covered in fleas.” Animal welfare officers were called to pick up Liberty and another dog, she was treated, and a foster family that took her in named her Liberty “because she was now free,” Anzalone says. “That’s pretty much the worse case I’ve ever seen. She was close to death. And you see her now, she’s just so happy and loved.”

Volunteer animal advocate Casey Lattimer, president of co-founder of The Delta Humane Society of Louisiana, which covers all the parishes in Northeast Louisiana other than Ouachita, says her organization rescues and often transfers animals to northern states, where there are  people on waiting lists, “waiting for animals like the ones that are dumped off here,” she says. “They tell us, ‘We don’t have enough puppies.’”

“This is a mostly rural community that has no resources, and we’re trying to let people know that there are alternatives out there,” Lattimer says. “We are very selective about whom we allow to adopt our animals. Sometimes, when we say that we want an animal to be a member of your family, some people look at me like I have two heads. By and large, the people of this area think of animals as property, that they are here for your use.” She cites Genesis 1:26-28 of the Bible, which says that God gave man dominion over animals. “I interpret that to mean that they’re here for me to care for in the most compassionate and kind way there is.”

Another animal welfare volunteer and advocate, Ginger Hubenthal Padgett of West Monroe, runs a Facebook page “Lost and Found Dogs of Ouachita Parish,” which has more than 4,500 followers. Since she co-founded page in 2011, Padgett has helped return 2,500 animals to their homes or found them another one, and helped keep them out of the shelter where they might be euthanized. “Facebook has opened a tremendous avenue for us,” Padgett says. “We encourage people to take pictures and post them when they’ve either found or lost an animal (not just dogs) and their contact information. I upload the photo and then share it on the Lost and Found Dogs page, as well on my personal page. People then repost it, and it goes viral.”

To help locate and find lost animals, however, Padgett recommends that people take other measures than just using Facebook. “Not everybody has a Facebook page, or even the internet or a computer,” she says. “We encourage everybody to go out to the shelters in person and let them know you’ve found or lost a dog. We also encourage them to put it in the newspaper, post flyers with the animals’ picture on telephone poles and businesses in the area where the animal was found and at veterinarian offices.”

If someone finds an animal, Padgett recommends first taking them to a humane society shelter or vet to see if they are microchipped with an implanted ID which identifies an animal and its owner. “And I can’t emphasize this enough: Every pet must have a collar with tags, even if it’s microchipped.

“We need stricter laws, we need to have laws where every animal has to be spayed or neutered, and we need the ability to enforce them,” Padgett says.

Anzalone, Laird and others at area animal welfare agencies are passionate about their jobs protecting animals. “The last thing we want to do is put dogs and cats to sleep,” Anzalone says. “This is the Animal Welfare Division now. We’re not ‘dogcatchers’—that’s what people used to call them. We’re all about the welfare of animals, and we are charging owners and taking them to court because they’ve neglected their animals, whether unintentionally or intentionally.”

Some animal welfare officials and rescue volunteers say they sometimes suffer from “compassion burnout,” but saving just the life of one animal keeps them going. “We opened today at 10 a.m.,” Laird says the morning after I toured the parish shelter in West Monroe. “By 11, we had one adoption and 14 surrenders. That gets frustrating when people keep dropping them off, dropping them off, dropping them off.”

“The first thing you realize, though, is that you can’t find homes for all of the animals that need them,” he says. “I kind of relate to ‘The Little Boy and Big Storm in the Gulf’ story… Hundreds and hundreds of starfish washed up on the shore. A young boy started picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. A guy came by and saw what he was doing and said, ‘What you’re doing isn’t going to make any difference; there are too many to save.’ The boy picked up another starfish and threw it out into the water and said, ‘It made a difference for that one.’”

For information on how to promote kindness and prevent cruelty to animals, visit the ASPCA’s web site at http://www.aspca.org/.

Numbers to Keep:
911: Your city police department or sheriff’s office (to report crimes against animals)
Animal Emergency Clinic (after hours/weekends): (318) 410-0555
Humane Society of the United States: 877-TIP-HSUS (877-847-4787) (to report animal fighting events such as dog fighting)
Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter: (318) 323-4032
PAWS of NELA: (318) 397-0007
Thomas Mobile Veterinary Clinic: (318) 614-3050

4 PAWS Rescue Inc (Ruston): 290 Rodeo Rd, Ruston, LA 71270 • (318) 251-3647
Adopt a Pet: http://www.adoptapet.com/
Bayou Bully Rescue (Pit Bull Terriers): bayoubullyrescue@yahoo.com, P.O. Box 2843,
West Monroe, LA 71294
All Hounds on Deck (medium and large dogs, Monroe): (318) 680-1319, (318) 450-8242, http://www.allhoundsondeck.com
The Delta Humane Society of Louisiana: help@thedeltahumanesociety.com, http://www.thedeltahumanesociety.com/
Franklin Animal Rescue (Winnsboro): (318) 435-6471, http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/LA257.html
Havilah’s Animal Rescue (Great Danes): (318) 387-0920, http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/LA86.html
Humane Society Adoption Center of Monroe: 920 Freight Dr, Monroe, LA 71203 • (318) 387-9553, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Humane-Society-Adoption-Center-Monroe/177045365655964
Louisiana Bayou Bullies (English Bulldogs): louisianabayoubullies@yahoo.com,  http://www.louisianabayoubullies.com/
Morehouse Parish Humane Society: (318) 283-0288 http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/morehousepets.html
North Louisiana Weimaraner Rescue: http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/LA122.html
Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter: www.petfinder.com/shelters/parishpets.html‎
PAWS of Northeast Louisiana: http://www.pawsnela.org/
Paws of the Pines Humane Society (Jonesboro): (318) 259-9178
Passion for Pups (Ruston): (318) 777-0784
River Cities Humane Society for Cats: (318) 343-3031, 5302 Desiard St., Monroe, 71203, http://www.rivercitiescats.org/
Rockin Weenie Dogs Dachshund Rescue: MandeJos24@att.net, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rockin-Weenie-Dogs-Dachshund-Rescue/676236889060279
Tina Anzalone’s Saving Lives of Abused and Neglected Animals  (Fund-raising campaign): http://www.gofundme.com/4v8zfs
Winnsboro Dog Pound: winnsborodogpound@yahoo.com