Take paws: Big Easy, big dogs, big issues

By: Gabriel Muthart and Autumn Keats-O’Connor

Louisiana has a dog problem. Nearing in on two decades after what may be the biggest event in New Orleans history since the Civil War, both the city and state at large are still dealing with the hundreds of thousands of pets that were abandoned in Katrina.

As a result of the substantial need for animal sheltering, care, and adoption centers within the city, substantial effort must be made to ensure the safe and ethical operation of these institutions. Louisiana is ranked twelfth in animal welfare nationally, but has the 6th highest shelter mortality rate. It is one of only nineteen states without regulated animal welfare facilities. Shelters are free to claim ethical treatment of animals without any prior background, training, or even inspection. There is a legal document in place to dictate the function of these organizations: the State Minimum Standards for Animal Shelters, but there is no governing body that actually enforces it. There is effectively no legal requirement for shelters to abide by it. Even if a shelter was to follow the code to the letter,  they would still lack essentials as basic as proper staffing. Out of a sample of twenty shelters throughout the state, nine failed to meet the standards established by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. Although the specifics of the violations are not publicly available, the ASV states “No sheltering organization, regardless of its circumstances, i.e. budget, size, etc., should engage in any practice that is deemed unacceptable.” The long-maintained excuse for this oversight, a lack of reliable funding for such an undertaking, is an unacceptable one.

The number of successful adoptions in New Orleans has been on an upward trend. For instance, in 2020, 72.1 percent of animals that entered the St. Tammany Parish Animal Shelter successfully found new homes. This is a massive jump from the 54 percent save rate the shelter had the previous year. The impact of the community on the survival rate of the shelter should also be emphasized, as due to the generous contributions of volunteers as well as more residents being willing to foster or adopt animals, countless pet lives have been saved. At this rate, the shelter hopes to become no-kill by 2025.

Dog from TakePaws animal shelter in New Orleans

Although many animals in Louisiana shelters are strays that are a result of Katrina, a large portion of animals in shelters are from owners who have given up their pets. According to one study, an average of 324,500 animals are relinquished to animal shelters every year. By addressing the common causes of pet relinquishment, the number of pets stuck inside of shelters can be greatly reduced. Many pet owners lose their pets in times of bad health either because they are too sick to care for the pets, or due to a lack of finances. Finding ways to help owners look after their pets during periods of bad health can help prevent pets from having to separate from their homes. Many sheltered animals, predominantly dogs, are relinquished by their owners for behavioral issues. Animals with behavioral difficulties often have them as a result of their owners actions. Examples of this include things such as long stretches of time caged, lack of attention, aggression, or abuse. Furthermore, sheltered animals may develop behavioral issues within the shelter environment and the new owner should be aware that they may need time to adjust to their new home.

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians defines five freedoms that all companion animals should have in order to be considered in proper care. These freedoms are established by some of the nation’s top experts in the field of veterinary studies, and serve as the basis for not only Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, but also as the core principles of many humane societies. They are: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury, or disease, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear or distress. Out of a sample of 54 shelters registered under the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, 35 were found to have deficient utilities, 27 were found to not have adequate ventilation, 26 lacked proper floors and walls, 24 lacked structural strength adequate to keep the building standing as well as lacking in personnel training or documentation, and 22 of the shelters failed to keep the grounds free of water, trash, or debris. The LDAF does not have any public disclosures of how many violations each shelter screened experienced, nor does it say how many shelters operate without deficiencies, but assuming the minimum possible number, nearly two out of every three animal shelters in Louisiana are in violation of these freedoms.

The amount of time spent in a shelter has a significant effect on the animals’ well being and quality of life. One study examining length of shelter stay and type of enrichment found that dogs received higher quality of life scores if they had raised beds, thirty or more minutes of human interaction per day, had sustained exercise, and were provided daily training. Long term sheltering can cause behavioral issues in dogs, so a quick adoption turnaround is of the utmost importance while still ensuring that the animal is going to an appropriate family in order to reduce the chances of them being relinquished.

There are plenty of ethical facilities within Louisiana, and plenty within New Orleans, many of which do good work that should not be understated amidst the cacophony of shelters that desperately need fixing. High tides raise all ships, and thus efforts should be taken to enhance the caregiving capabilities of the shelters lacking in resources, as well as the expansion of the shelters currently performing optimally. Further incentivized volunteer programs as well as better systems for fostering and adoption will better help the circulation of pets in and out of the shelters, and allow for further progression toward the no kill by 2025 benchmark. Creation of a specialized institution for handling shelters and maintaining standards, as well as establishing a better set of regulations for these shelters to follow.

Louisiana has a dog problem. It’s a problem that started when thousands of pets could not be evacuated. It’s a problem that started each time a shelter failed to give animals the better life they claimed to. It’s a problem that can be solved, but only through the effort of the community, the legislative bodies creating regulations, and the willingness of the individual to go out and do good.

For more ways to help out visit these no-kill shelters located in Louisiana:





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