Groups strive to find homes for unwanted animals
Posted 12:02 a.m. Saturday
ALEXANDRIA, La. — Walk into the office of the Alexandria Animal Shelter, and you may be accompanied by a feline that seems to own the facility off of North Third Street.
Ricky is the resident shelter cat, and he hops up on a counter to brush up against visitors. He and his Pineville Animal Shelter counterpart, Chester, are the lucky ones. While they get affection from shelter staff, other animals wait in nearby kennels for their chances at permanent homes.
It doesn't happen for many.
Almost 93 percent of the animals that entered the Alexandria Animal Shelter between May and July were euthanized.
The taxpayer-funded animal shelters in both Alexandria and Pineville work with rescue groups that take some animals in hopes of finding them homes. But the statistics show there aren't enough people adopting, and people who work on behalf of the animals often will say that fault lies with humans.
"The only way to solve the problem is through responsible pet ownership," said Ginger Thill, the supervisor at the Pineville Animal Shelter. "And until people take the responsibility of a pet, I would rather put to sleep one female cat than seven kittens."
According to the Humane Society of the United States, about 2.4 million dogs and cats die in U.S. shelters each year.
Statistics requested by The Town Talk show that the Alexandria shelter, which serves the city, unincorporated areas of Rapides Parish and some agencies from outside the parish, took in 1,624 animals during that May-June period. Although 79 were adopted to new owners and 39 were returned to their owners, 1,505 were euthanized.
At the Pineville Animal Shelter, a total of 54 animals — 43 cats and 11 dogs — were euthanized during the same period. A total of 123 animals were brought into the shelter over those three months.
Fourteen dogs and five cats were adopted by new owners, and three dogs and one cat were reclaimed by their owners. But 11 dogs and 43 cats were euthanized.
Alexandria Animal Shelter Supervisor Henry Wimbley, who also is president of the Louisiana Animal Control Association, said he emphasizes how people should spay or neuter their animals during his regular radio and television appearances.
"We remind people of this. There's a difference between hearing and listening," he said. "A lot of people can hear what you're saying, but they're not listening. . We try to appeal to the listening audience, the ones that listen and comprehend what's happening. I always try to make a point of that."
As both the shelters partner with local rescue groups, they must follow certain guidelines. Thill said if a group is a nonprofit, the adoption fee can be waived. Dogs are chosen more often than cats, she said, usually taking smaller breed dogs that have a better chance of being placed in a home.
Wimbley said, often, a group already will have a possible home for an animal when they take it from a shelter.
Groups are scattered all throughout Central Louisiana, and many are active on social media.
The nonprofit Oakdale Dog Shelter of Louisiana opened its shelter in May 2014 after a community member, John Matte, saw a need. The group has some paid employees, but it depends on four volunteers that form its committee and other volunteers to operate.
Their mission is to reduce overpopulation and the number of strays, to educate the public about spaying and neutering and to adopt dogs into permanent homes. Answering questions from The Town Talk through Facebook, the group stated that the biggest problems it sees or has reported to it are neglected animals, strays — many unaltered, contributing to an overpopulation problem — that roam the area and destroy property as well as people dumping animals.
The group recently had a heartbreaking example of this. On a recent Sunday, a man in a pickup truck dumped four puppies at the shelter gate when it was closed. He then drove away, crushing one of the puppies as he left.
Volunteers found the puppies later, taking in the survivors. But they were angry at the man's callousness, and issued a Facebook plea for help in identifying the man through surveillance video and photos that their security system had captured.
The group, which recently sent a dog to a Tennessee rescue group for border collies, vowed it would file a police report. The group, which is funded solely from donations, also said it is trying to work with local law enforcement on ways they can better work together.
Thill said groups aren't as interested in pulling cats from the Pineville shelter. During May-June, groups pulled 23 dogs from the shelter, according to figures requested by The Town Talk.
She acknowledged that Pineville's operation isn't as big as Alexandria's, which has an annual budget of approximately $700,000. But Thill said the Pineville shelter soon will be adding on a few more kennels.
Both Thill, a 31-year veteran, and Wimbley, whose been with the animal control department for 22 of his 24 years with the city, say they've seen lots of changes over the years in how cities operate animal control and in how people treat their pets.
Wimbley said he's seen cruelty complaints decrease through the years. He credits that to the public being more active when they see issues and a tendency to report issues. He said his department still receives simple cruelty or neglect complaints, but aggravated cases are not as common.
People will call to report strays, especially if it doesn't have identifying tags, he said.
"But if it has a tag and it's loose in a neighborhood, people will try to find an owner, maybe a neighbor down the street," said Wimbley. "That takes us out of the equation. That's an animal that didn't have to come to the shelter. That's an animal that's been returned within the neighborhood, and we didn't have to get involved in it."
Alexandria also has enacted laws regulating animals, said Wimbley. Pet owners within the city are required to have their animals licensed annually. People who adopt an animal from the Alexandria shelter get their first year free, but Wimbley believes in enforcing that law and others, like the rabies vaccination requirement.
"The rules are the rules, and the vaccination requirement, that's state law," he said. "We're responsible for enforcing it. It will be enforced."
Grant Parish Sheriff Steve McCain credited Wimbley for his help after he took office and looked to start animal control services in that parish. Wimbley, who credited sheriffs for taking on the issue because they recognize the problem, said helping a neighbor has its advantages.
"When you help surrounding parishes with issues like that, you end up helping yourself in turn because those animals, they don't bring them here anymore," he said. "They keep them within that parish. When they don't have any kind of agency, they're eventually gonna cross parish lines into Rapides Parish, and that's more stray animals that'll be running around."
Wimbley said a lot of sheriffs are the kind of people who see a need and take the action, mentioning Rapides Sheriff William Earl Hilton and McCain. The Rapides Parish Police Jury once had its own trucks, but now the sheriff's office handles it.
The sheriff's office even has a small building on the Alexandria shelter grounds that it can work out of, when needed.
"And really, it has helped because they cover a lot of area," said Wimbley.
The Rapides sheriff's office has three deputies who work animal control. The budget for just those three deputies' salaries and fuel costs is almost $212,000. Another $4,000 is budgeted for miscellaneous expenses, according to Lt. Tommy Carnline.
Not much money from adoptions comes back to the cities. Thill said Pineville gets about $10 per adoption. Most of the fee goes toward medical care and spaying/neutering. She said the cost of adopting from a shelter is a "good deal," and even the staffs are not immune to the charms of some of the animals that come through their doors.
In Pineville, right now, that is Doodles. The dog was surrendered by its owner back on June 30, but he's still awaiting a permanent home. Although sweet, he should be in a home where he's the only dog.
So, the staff waits and hopes for just the right owner to choose him. And, in the meantime, he gets lots of treats as staff members go back and forth.
"Doodles is just a big ol' baby," said Thill.