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Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

BELLE CHASSE, La.-- In June of last year, as the Macondo Well spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico, another crisis began emerging in the affected coastal parishes. This time, the situation involved pet shelters, overwhelmed by animals left by people put out of work by the spill.

'We did do double the intake,' said Sue Sampey, with the Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS.

When compared to the year before, the number of pets the shelter took in skyrocketed: going from 463 pets in 2009 to 898 pets in 2010. It was a major jump for a small shelter in a relatively small parish.

'What we did, the minute the oil spill happened, we started contacting the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, which are the large groups that help the small groups like PAWS,' Sampey said.

That shelter wasn't alone. The Louisiana SPCA also began getting calls from their partner shelters, as other coastal parishes saw the same uptick in animals.

'Their intake numbers were doubling and even tripling during the months of May and July, which was a direct result from the oil spill and from the economic distress that the oil spill had on the community,' said Katherine LeBlanc, communications director for the Louisiana SPCA.

Hurricane Katrina taught local shelters a number of lessons in how to prepare and take care of pets during a disaster. However, the oil spill proved to be different-- a slowly unfolding, long-term disaster-- which required a different kind of response. That led shelters to start up 'Pet Retention Programs.'

'We targeted the parishes that had direct impact from the oil spill. We brought those people into our wellness program and they provided vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries-- all for no cost, as well as three to six months of pet food, [for] cats and dogs,' LeBlanc said.

The Louisiana SPCA handled more than 500 such cases and PAWS in Plaquemines dealt with more than 150 cases. the programs helped those pet owners get through a rough patch, which would otherwise have left those pets at the shelters' front doors.

'Another important lesson is that pets are so important to the family dynamic. They relieve stress, they can provide companionship during depressive times,' LeBlanc said. 'They are very important to the whole entire family psyche, so as much as we can keep this family together, we need to.'

As for the pets taken in during the spill, the SPCA said it helped take in animals from coastal parish shelters and then transported hundreds to shelters across the country, where they could be adopted. For more information on PAWS, go to www.paws4life.org and for the Louisiana SPCA, go to la-spca.org

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