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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Supporters say Lafourche Parish Animal Shelter has turned itself around

Supporters say Lafourche Parish Animal Shelter has turned itself around

In the year since new leadership took over at the Lafourche Parish Animal Shelter, the shelter management has ushered in new policies and fostered stronger ties with the community in the hopes of saving animals.

“Overall it’s a really good team now, it meshes well, and they’re a lot easier to work with,” said Kimberly Usher Fall, founder of Operation Save the WhoDatt Fur Babies cat rescue in Metairie. “You have a team in there that cares about the animals.”

Hilary Knight was hired as the manager of the shelter at 934 LA 3185 in November 2014 after the former manager was reassigned to a position outside of the shelter amid complaints and criticism from a local veterinarian, rescue groups and residents.

Like other rescue coordinators, Fall had a strained relationship with the former shelter management and had stopped pulling cats from the shelter altogether because of the lack of communication and poor condition of many of the animals.

But within a week of new management coming on board, she noticed improvements ranging from shelter cleanliness to employee morale, and she pulled about 300 to 500 cats this year from Lafourche’s shelter.

“With the additions of (Community Services Director Reggie Bagala) and Hilary, everything seems to have completely turned around,” Fall said. “The mentality of saving the animals seems different, the health of the animals is a lot better. The new testing policies, the new vaccination policies ㅡ just the overall effort from the shelter is a lot better.”

Changes at the shelter include a partnering with veterinarians at Louisiana State University for training and resources, raising the spay and neuter voucher to make it more affordable for residents to sterilize animals, transporting adoptable pets to shelters in other states that have extra space and hosting more frequent adoption events.

At an adoption event earlier this month featuring $12 adoption prices, 21 dogs and 19 cats found new homes in one day.

“The fact that we adopted out that kind of number is just phenomenal,” Bagala said. “It’s just an absolute wonderful thing to know the public is behind us.”

One of the biggest changes at the shelter came in the spring when the Lafourche Parish Council approved new adoption fees to cover the cost of a microchip, heartworm test, dewormer, vaccines and sterilization for each adopted animal.

The policy change, which is common at shelters across the country, is designed to help make animals more adoptable and curb local animal populations.

Faye Adams, vice president of Hail Mary Rescue and a member of the shelter’s advisory board, said in a year of many changes, that might be the most important.

“Because of the overpopulation problem, the fact that none of these animals are being allowed to leave and reproduce again is a biggie for me,” she said.

The shelter is now preparing to expand its area for dogs, upping the number of dog runs from 13 to close to 30.

Knight credited Lafourche Parish government and her coworkers at the shelter for much of the shelter’s success during the past year.

“They keep me sane most days. These girls could choose many other jobs, yet they choose to stick around,” she said. “They don’t hear ‘thank you’ nearly enough.”

Knight said in the coming year she would like to move more cats out of the shelter each week.

“Cats are where we’re lacking still,” she said. “That’s definitely going to be my focus this coming year. Not only the cat adoption rate, but other alternatives to getting them out of the shelter alive.”

The shelter will have taken in close to 2,300 cats by the end of the year, an “absurd number” comparable to shelters in Baton Rouge, Knight said.

Many of those cats do not make it out of the shelter alive. While numbers vary each month, the average euthanasia rate for cats is roughly 70 percent, compared to about 10 percent for dogs, Knight said.

Adams said to help curb the feral cat population, the board would like to trap cats, spay and neuter them, and release them back into their habitats.

This type of program, called Trap-Neuter-Release, is encouraged by the Louisiana SPCA and other animal groups.

“That’s on the wish list,” Adams said.

Adams said in 2016 the board would also like to continue building relationships with transport groups across the country and increasing public awareness about the shelter and all of the animals available for the adoption.

“I think if people know about these animals in the shelter, they seem to step up and realize there’s nothing wrong with these pets,” she said.

Pictures of animals available for adoption are regularly posted on the Lafourche Parish Animal Shelter Facebook page. For information, call 446-3532.