During the past two legislative sessions, the Humane Society of Louisiana (HSLA) sought funds from lawmakers to construct new animal shelters around the state. According to HSLA, half of the state’s 64 parishes lack parish-wide facilities. According to the group, shelters provide a variety of essential services such as picking up and housing strays, reuniting lost pets with their owners, enforcing local animal-related ordinances, confining vicious and aggressive dogs, and tracking and compiling information on the spread of rabies and other infectious diseases.
A report on these issues, which details the need for more services, was first documented in a 58-page summary published and distributed by the Legislative Auditor’s Office in May 2020 (https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/0/7807E37FE4407C46862586CC005666CC/$FILE/0002371FB.pdf). The report identifies multiple shortcomings with our present sheltering system and calls for the state to get more involved.
Last year, HSLA sought $2 million that would have gone to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), which oversees the Louisiana Animal Control Advisory Task Force (ACATF) (https://lacatf.la.gov/). This ACATF would have distributed grants to municipal shelters to make repairs or renovations. The appropriations amendment failed to pass.
Several months before the 2023 session began, HSLA approached Governor John Bel Edwards’ office with a similar plan, and the governor signaled his support. Leaders from HSLA met with the governor’s top aides and the heads of several departments and other agencies, including Secretary Leblanc from the Department of Corrections (DOC), and Dr. Herman Soong, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Tulane University and head of psychiatric care for Louisiana’s prisons. The DOC has operated a shelter at its prison in East Feliciana, called the Dixon Correctional Institute, for several years. Both Secretary Leblanc and Dr. Soong said that inmates do better when they interact with and care for pets. Secretary Leblanc agreed to increase the number of shelters on prison grounds and voiced his strong support for the program.
The governor’s office placed a request for $3 million in a capital outlay bill. The amendment, included in one of the supplemental appropriations bills, passed out the Senate Finance Committee a few days before the end of the session. Unfortunately, it died during a conference committee hearing and was not included in any of the final appropriations bills. For the second year in a row, even with a budget surplus of several hundred million dollars, the state did not allocate any funds for this desperately needed program.
“This is devastating news for the residents and pets of Louisiana,” HSLA Executive Director Jeff Dorson said. “So many parishes lack even basic services and have no place to house strays or unwanted pets. We estimate that hundreds of thousands of companion animals roam our state in search of food, water, shelter, and companionship because we don’t have any means to get them off the streets and into good homes. The lack of shelters also leads to pet owners abandoning their animals in wooded areas, ravines, and alleyways. We are in a serious crisis that the majority of lawmakers simply are not addressing.”
HSLA and other agencies around the state are seeing a dramatic uptick in the number of animals being abandoned and surrendered due to the increase in the cost of pet food and veterinary care caused by inflation.
Not only are there not enough shelters, but according to HSLA, many of the state’s existing shelters are in disrepair and falling apart. Many shelters, especially in the rural areas of our state, have facilities that consist of rusty kennels located at the edge of town, often by the city’s water treatment plant. Often, the city employees who work at the water plant also oversee the operations of the local shelter. At some of the smaller facilities, in a throwback to a much earlier time, records are not kept and there are no set adoption protocols.
“With the help of the ACATF, we are trying to get these smaller shelters into compliance with acceptable practices,” Dorson said. “But it remains an ongoing issue, and without additional funding, it is that much harder to address all these problems. We plan to start our education and lobbying efforts in a few months and hope to speak with or contact each lawmaker to explain the need for this funding well before the start of the 2024 legislative session.”