Humane Society leading candidate for animal control contract


by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

Posted on December 16, 2010 at 5:48 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 16 at 7:00 PM

NEW ORLEANS-- For the first time in more than a half a century, a new organization will be handling animal control in the city of New Orleans.

Sources tell Eyewitness News that the newly-organized "Humane Society of New Orleans" is now the leading candidate to be handling the city's animal control.

For more than 60 years, that job fell to the Louisiana SPCA, but the organization failed to reach an agreement with the city over cost concerns.

"The hard cost of actually going out and impounding animals, holding them for their stray periods, providing that basic veterinary care is really the obligation of the city," said Ana Zorrilla, CEO of the Louisiana SPCA.

The Louisiana SPCA asked the city to budget $2.5 million for animal control. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration allocated a million dollars less: $1.5 million. In their budget, the New Orleans City Council tacked on an additional $200,000, bringing the total up to $1.7 million.

Compare that to what it costs for Jefferson Parish to run its animal control: for 2011, the parish allocated $2.9 million, which includes an East Bank facility and a smaller one on the West Bank. In the end, the SPCA decided to not submit a proposal within the city's financial bounds.

"We spent a lot of time looking at every single line-item of expense, every potential revenue stream and decided, in looking at all of it and analyzing all of it, we're unable to provide the level of service that our community expects," Zorrilla said.

Eyewitness News Political Analyst Clancy DuBos said the city's negotiations with the SPCA had a similar feel to recent re-negotiations over sanitation contracts.

"I've been hearing for weeks that the behind the scenes negotiations were not very pleasant -- that the SPCA people were, in fact, shocked how hardball the mayor was on this and that it may have gotten to the point that there may have been some personality conflicts," DuBos said.

Some council members involved in previous negotiations with the SPCA said they were surprised the two sides couldn't land on the same financial page.

"I would think $2 million dollars a year for a city as large as New Orleans, given all the animals and wild animals that we have here, would be a good thing," said Council Member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who represents District D.

City Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Ann Duplessis said the began looking at other organizations to handle animal control, including the recently created "Humane Society of New Orleans."

"We are assured that we will be able to continue animal control services and functions in the city of New Orleans," Duplessis said.

Late Thursday afternoon, Eyewitness News spoke to Beau Gast, the president of the Humane Society of New Orleans. Gast referred all questions to the city. According to records filed with the Louisiana Secretary of State's office, the organization is active and in good standing. It was formed on September 29, 2010.

A spokesperson for Mayor Landrieu denied that the animal control contract had been awarded to the Humane Society of New Orleans. However, a spokesperson for the Louisiana SPCA said they received a call from Gast to discuss a transition plan for taking over the 2011 animal control contract.

Duplessis said an official announcement could come within the next few days on who would be awarded the contract.