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St. Tammany Parish eyes animal shelter reform after protest over accountability

Animal rescue groups and advocates say they want new compassionate leadership, better veterinary care, more community access, accountability and adoptions.

FOLSOM, La. —

It’s been a problem for years, complaints by Northshore animal rescue groups that the St. Tammany Parish shelter needs to take better care of the animals and find more of them homes.

So today they rallied for their demands. And the parish president is responding. 

Dozens turned out in front of St. Tammany Parish offices demanding change. Animal rescue groups and advocates say they want new compassionate leadership, better veterinary care, more community access, accountability and adoptions. 

"Transparency and accountability. We don’t even have access to the facility. We’re not allowed to adopt and rescue animals, completely in reverse of how a public facility would run," said Jeff Dorson, Director of The Humane Society of Louisiana. 

"There’s 3,4,5 dogs in a kennel and then they are feeding them together, so the stronger ones get all the food and the weaker ones get skinny," said Gina Derouen, Founder of Once Upon A Tail Rescue. 

The parish let our camera in to see the homeless dogs and cats. Parish President Mike Cooper says he just took office this year, inheriting a years-old problem. He got rid of the director and is taking applications to hire a new one. He says he is talking to national groups, local rescuers and veterinarians for input for change. The evaluations were delayed by the pandemic. 

"I’m very interested in community outreach in allowing adoptions and doing more so we can reduce the population at the animal shelter," said St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper. 

Big Sky Ranch rescue in Folsom is one of the non-profit animal groups offering the parish suggestions. 

"The way the shelter functions here in the parish is somewhat dysfunctional because it is still operating out of the old paradigm of animal control," explained Catherine Wilbert, who runs Big Sky Ranch/CATNIP.

The complaint is animals are warehoused and sometimes neglected. There needs to be more spay-neuter programs, helping engage the community in taking responsibility, and partnerships with the many parish animal groups.

"The biggest gripe that other animal welfare activists have are that the animals are coming into the shelter and they’re not being properly cared for, they are becoming ill," Wilbert sai. 

The parish points to the recent addition of a voucher program to help people with spay and neuter costs and is looking into social media posts of medical neglect. 

"Obviously I do not agree that every photo and every statement that was made in social media is correct or substantiated," Cooper said. 

And while the parish president says he is committed to change after the evaluations are done, advocates say they are ready to help it happen now. 

St. Tammany says the shelter save rate is 60 percent. 

To sign up in St. Tammany for a spay or neuter voucher for your pet, here is a link to Animal Services

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