Mary Kilpatrick / Houma Courier
LOCKPORT, La. - The dogs smashed their faces against the chain-link fence lining their tiny Lockport backyard and yelped as animal rescuer Heather Reynolds approached. Others wandered out of a weathered barn barking, whining, tails wagging.
As Reynolds dumped pounds of food into bowls for 20 dogs Friday afternoon, they jumped on her, licking her face. Until yesterday, none had been vaccinated, she said.
The dogs' owner Helen Clouate kept 14 additional puppies inside her feces-smeared home, Reynolds said. Nine of them were infected with the deadly parvovirus.
In total, 34 dogs lived with Clouate until October, when she broke her hip and left for an assisted-living facility. A friend began to feed the dogs a 50-pound bag of dog food a week far less than the amount they needed, Louisiana Humane Society Executive Director Jeff Dorson said.
But when a Lafourche Parish Sheriff's animal-control agent checked on the animals Oct. 29 after receiving a complaint, he found 'no evidence of any wrongdoing, and there was no action we could take,' agency spokesman Brennan Matherne said.
Reynolds got a Facebook message Nov. 4 from a concerned family member asking for help. Together, Reynolds and Lafourche Parish Animal Shelter Board member Roxanne Landry adopted the dogs from Clouate, and they are working to place them in caring homes.
The dogs were sick and hungry when they found them, Landry said.
'They had puppies hiding in the crevices of the couch,' she said. 'They were living in their own feces.'
State law says animals must receive proper veterinary care to prevent 'unjustifiable physical pain or suffering.' Owners can be charged with animal cruelty if they do not.
'Those puppies would be dead' if the rescuers did not step in, Landry said.
Clouate has a long history of animal abuse allegations. In 2007, she was charged with three counts of animal cruelty. Two years later, she was charged with more than two dozen counts of not allowing animals to run at large, and failure to vaccinate her animals. Related charges followed in 2010, 2011 and 2012. She was convicted of some the charges, Matherne said, but the outcome of his charge was not immediately available.
Sheriff's Office animal-control agents did not fully assess the needs of the animals on Oct. 29, Reynolds said.
'Sometimes they just don't want to deal with it,' she said. 'If they have a dog house and they have a water bowl, then they think that's good enough.'
Matherne said the animal-control agents evaluate each situation carefully and have received specialized training to identify animal cruelty.
'The bottom line is the dogs, as of our understanding, were being taken care of by her family members at the site,' he said.
Laundry said parish workers don't have the space to care for the dogs. The Lafourche Parish Animal would have euthanized the dogs if they had been legally confiscated because of the lack of space, she said.
The rescuers need money to spay and neuter the dogs and get them healthy. To donate, call the West Park Animal Hospital and mention Reynolds's name. You can send checks for food and supplies directly to Reynolds, at 17138 La. 3235, Cut Off, LA 70345.
Food and dog houses can also be dropped off at the Thibodaux, Raceland, Lockport, LaRose, Galliano, or Golden Meadow libraries.