Ashley Viavant was so angry she cried Wednesday morning. She had just received an email from Lafourche Parish Animal Shelter Manager Kelli Toups listing cats available for adoption or rescue.
“They can’t keep doing this to the animals!” Viavant wrote in an email Wednesday.
Viavant volunteers for the shelter’s Facebook page. Her anger was amplified because this was not the first time she’s seen this issue.
“Last time we had 34 cats and 24 hours to get them all out before they were put down. It was a miracle that we got them out. I’m not sure we will be so lucky this time around,” she said.
Viavant and other animal advocates were outraged by the short turnaround to find alternatives — such as rescues, other shelters or adoptive families.
Susan Munro, a Thibodaux animal advocate, said she believes that being taken in by the shelter is a “death sentence” for animals.
In a statement, Toups said the cats in question were taken in by the shelter on Tuesday. The shelter already has limited space, and the addition of 40 cats put stress on the amount of available space.
Toups sent a clarification to shelter rescues Wednesday afternoon. Not all of the cats listed as “URGENT 5/23” are scheduled to be killed, Toups said
Shelter “kill days” take place on Tuesdays and Fridays at noon. The shelter is not open on Wednesdays or weekends.
“It doesn’t mean that cats will be euthanized on that day. That’s the date that the animals can be euthanized if needed,” Toups’ notice reads.
Toups added that the shelter is under construction, and the cat room is half its normal size, specifically limiting space for cats.
Some animal advocates are skeptical of the manager’s response.
“This is what we deal with all the time,” said Michelle Landry Woods, a Houston resident who frequently deals with the shelter. “All of the ones marked as urgent ... will be euthanized on Friday if not pulled by rescue. This is beyond depressing, week in and week out.”
Concern for the future
Amy Boudreaux, a Lafourche Parish volunteer who transports rescued “babies” from the parish to shelters, rescues and new homes in New Orleans, Slidell and Mandeville, said she’s concerned about the future of the shelter.
“This is not the first time to have this many cats and only give us a short span to find them homes. This actually happened approximately two weeks ago. We were lucky that somebody stepped up and took care of those animals,” she said.
Shelter critics say the issues boil down to three main problems: the size of the shelter, archaic rules and regulations, and a lazy staff.
“It’s a little bit of everything. They need a bigger shelter for sure,” Boudreaux said.
“It’s not going to be the last until somebody steps up to do something about it. People need to voice their opinion,” she added.
Parish officials cite inexperience and a lack of money as cause for some of the issues.
Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph recently said officials initially “took a more passive approach” toward the shelter. “We realize now what we need to do, and I think things are moving in the right direction.”
The Lafourche shelter has been the target of a string of public complaints over the past year.
In 2013, the shelter was given recommendations from various sources intended to improve conditions. Those recommendations came from Melvin Elliott, with the Thibodaux Animal Hospital; Wendy Wolfson, with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine; and Gary Balsamo, chairman of the state Animal Welfare Commission. Many of the recommendations have yet to be addressed, critics said.
Shelter advisory board director Eugene Dial accused the parish of trying to improve the shelter only when there is “public pressure.”
“It’s not brain surgery. It’s a public shelter. It shouldn’t be this difficult to run,” he said.
However, he noted the shelter’s limited money and resources.
In October, then parish veterinarian Lionel de la Houssaye expressed concern over the care of the shelter animals. His letter expressed several concerns with Toups, saying some animals with illnesses or broken legs were not treated at the shelter before being killed.
Coordination with others needed
Animal advocates believe the success of a shelter depends on its relationship with rescues, other shelters and the community. A shelter that works well with rescues can get animals out quickly to help them find better homes.
Critics of the shelter said management does not do a good job of maintaining good working relationships with rescues.
“The effort is almost nonexistent,” Woods said. “The shelter is closed on Wednesdays and weekends. They don’t hold adoption events. Think of how many of these kittens could potentially find their forever homes if they actually got exposure.”
The shelter, at 934 La. 3185 in Thibodaux, has pointed to a big jump in adoptions — from 9 percent in 2010 to 45 percent last year — as proof of its success. Advocates argue that jump has come from the hard work of local rescues.
Earlier this year, New Orleans animal rescue leader Kim Fall said she would no longer take animals from the shelter. Fall, arguably the most proactive rescue worker for the Lafourche shelter, estimated she has rescued more than 1,000 cats and dogs from the shelter over the past two years.
She cited the shelter’s frustrating policies and “flat out lazy” personnel as reason for their broken relationship.
Some animal advocates believe that if Fall were still taking animals, these cats may have a better chance of survival.
Toups denies any wrongdoing and insists that she and her staff have a good working relationship with Fall and her volunteers. She would not discuss the staff and whether it’s lazy.
The problems extend far beyond getting short notice on urgent animals, Woods said. She provided a list of more than 100 cats that were adopted out with diseases or weren’t promoted by the shelter to be moved. Woods documented about 35 cases of upper respiratory infection and 15 cases of coccidia, a parasitic type of infection.
“There are so many more cats than these few that this list does not even begin to touch on, and so many more whose lives will be forever changed by the shelter’s decisions,” she wrote.
“Though there is not a vet on staff, these precious lives deserve basic vetting, such as antibiotics for upper respiratory infections. So many of them will be euthanized without us ever having seen their faces or being given the opportunity to try and save them.”
Lafourche Parish spokeswoman Loralei Gilliam said the parish’s new website will help streamline public outreach when an animal is brought to the shelter. When the staff takes a picture of the animal as it’s received, it will be uploaded to the website automatically. Though the parish’s new website is up, the shelter has yet to add that particular feature.