BELLE CHASSE, La – The rectangular cinderblock parish animal control shelter has been a sad fixture for decades in Plaquemines Parish. Next to the sewage treatment plant, it echoes the fears and anguish of the abandoned.
For most of those years the many dogs and cats brought to the shelter were short timers, meaning they were euthanized after being held for five days.
A number of the animals who get picked up by animal control have a second chance. After the legal waiting period, many aren’t killed but rather brought here to the Paws Shelter on Belle Chasse Highway.
The Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society is a non-profit organization started by those who could no longer stomach the euthanasia rates in their parish.
Since 2002, Sue Sampey, Donna Schexnayer and those who came before them, have built a relationship with parish leaders. This partnership entails the parish to continue animal control, and Paws gets an opportunity to save as many animals as it can from the cinderblock shelter.
“I think you have to be an animal lover before you see those animals that go to be put to sleep or those who are caged up in 100 degree weather,” said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungessor.
Billy Nungessor was an animal lover long before he became parish president. When he was elected to the office after Katrina -- with all he faced in the parish's rebuilding -- he committed then to create a better parish shelter. A shelter that was humane and one the parish could be proud of -- he has kept that promise.
Work has now begun on a state of the art, all green construction shelter.
“Everything in it will qualify for the first of its kind in the county as 100 percent green energy building,” said Nungessor.
One section will be animal control and the other side will be the adoption center – which will be run by Paws.
“We've had a great working relationship and we will just put that down in writing and as a joint venture in a parish building and make it work,” said Nungessor.
This will be the first building in a master plan for a government complex. He said he loves the fact that the shelter will be in a high traffic area.
“The great thing here is with the exposure to the public, with rooms that people can view the pets they want to adopt,” said Nungessor.
State Sen. David Heitmeier was a big supporter of the concept and applauds Nungessor and the parish council who came together, not always with ease, to make it work.
“They have done an outstanding job of thinking outside the box of looking for ways to build a new state of the art shelter,” said Heitmeier. “And the operating costs are going to be significantly reduced because the walls will retain heat -- the roof will recycle water -- so it’s going to be decreased operating costs going forward.
It all comes back to trying to save the animals -- some young and some not so. Many have come through the cinderblock shelter and others have just shown up at the front door.
Like Lazarus, who Paws’ workers found one freezing December morning, tied with a nine pound chain to the air-conditioner outside the building. He was hungry, scared, cold, no hair, eyes swollen shut. Three months later he is one happy loving guy.
Lazarus still needs an eye operation on one eye, but other than that, he just needs someone to take him home and love him.
Finding a home is the story of every animal here at Paws. With just two full-time employees, several part-time workers, and an army of volunteers, the effort never stops to find forever homes.
Last month 73 dogs and cats were adopted, but the cages fill up just as quickly.
Now Paws is facing a major financial crisis: a $12,000 to $13,000 deficit, all related to increased health care costs for the animals.
“We are seeing an increase in animals coming in the door with heart worms -- because people can't afford to treat their animals or go to the vet,” said Sue Sampey, Paws employee.
Once an animal is accepted at the shelter, there is no turning back. It is the core philosophy of Paws.
“They are our animals and we can’t let them go and euthanize,” said Sampey. “So we treat them. It’s about $150 for a 44 pound dog.”
It adds up quickly, and between increased heartworm treatments, care for manage or an eye operation for Lazarus, the medical costs have blown out their budget. Sampey said they can't do less.
“Because they deserve it,” said Sampey. “Until they get a home, this is their home right now with us. If we could just get a break -- one big fundraiser -- we could probably stay in business till the new shelter opens.”
They hope for a corporation or individuals to partner with them to raise the much needed funds.
“We do such great work here,” Sampey said. “We have the best animals, the best employees and we just need a chance.”
They are so close to living the dream of the new shelter, which is scheduled to open late fall.
“We’re going to have a backyard where the dogs can run and jump and just be dogs, and a cattery where the cats can climb and be cats -- not just be animals in a cage,” Sampey said.
It’s that vision and the faces that stare back at them every day that keep them going.
“We think about these faces and that’s all you have to think about on your mind,” said Sampey. “When you see them and just know they are just waiting for a home."