Officials seek way to better address animal control

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Several dogs are in their pens in an original section of the Livingston Parish Animal Shelter. New construction is well under way in an expansion of the shelter, which may help but not solve the parish's animal control challenges.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Several dogs are in their pens in an original section of the Livingston Parish Animal Shelter. New construction is well under way in an expansion of the shelter, which may help but not solve the parish's animal control challenges.

Heidi and her seven puppies are among the lucky ones.

The perky, mixed-breed mother was picked up in an animal hoarding case, said officials at the Livingston Parish Animal Shelter.

“She had those puppies the night she came in,” said Debbie DePhillips, a worker at the shelter.

Heidi and her healthy family have a small but comfortable spot in a side room until the puppies are old enough for adoption.

Homeless dogs abound in Livingston Parish, but the shelter isn’t big enough to handle strays, said Maurice Durbin, who heads a committee trying to find answers to the parish’s animal control problem.

Lack of a comprehensive, parishwide animal control program and an adequate shelter is a problem, parish officials said.

Sheriff Jason Ard said the parish “is going to have to get animal control somehow, some way.

“There’s definitely a need for it,” he said. “We can’t wait too much longer.”

Ard said his office receives about 120 animal complaints a month.

The only animal cases the Sheriff’s Office handles are those involving criminal or public safety issues. Ard said his office isn’t staffed to pick up animals, but calls on the shelter personnel to do so in cases of vicious dogs or neglect.

The shelter’s small staff, which only has one full-time person, just picks up dogs when the Sheriff’s Office calls. It has no program to pick up strays, but creating one is a priority, Parish President Layton Ricks said.

Before that can be done, the shelter, which only has 28 dog runs, has to be made big enough to handle the added intake, he said.

Workers are adding dog runs to the shelter, but the additions are only a stopgap measure, Ricks said.

The current expansion will add 22 runs and five kennels to quarantine animals.Creating more shelter space and the personnel needed to handle a comprehensive animal control program will take some source of reoccurring revenue, said Ricks. He said he has asked the parish’s Animal Control Committee to come up with a cost estimate.

Late last year, the Parish Council briefly discussed putting on a parish-wide ballot a 3-mill property tax to pay for animal control, but the council has taken no action.

Council Chairman Marshall Harris said he agrees the parish needs an animal control program, but said it has to have more information before going to the public for funds.

“The problem is that no one over the years could tell us how much it’s going to cost,” he said.

Once that is determined, the council needs to decide how to fund the program, Harris said.

“Do we do it with a millage?” he asked. “Do we do it with a flat fee with everybody paying?”

Whatever the council decides, it will have to put before voters, Harris said.

“We’ll put it to the people and see if they support it,” he said.

One of the problems in determining the cost is a decision on whether to expand the current shelter in Livingston to handle all of the dogs in need or to have satellite shelters in other parts of the parish.

Harris said he favors expanding the current shelter because that would be most cost effective.

Durbin wants to see satellite shelters in Watson and the southern part of the parish.

“Then we have the whole parish covered,” she said.

Satellite shelters would make it easier and quicker to handle calls, would aid in getting dogs adopted and attract volunteer help, she said. The problem is land and money.

“So far nobody is jumping up and down to give me any land,” Durbin said.

Because of funding, the committee is only looking at handling dogs, she said, adding that the cat problem in the parish isn’t as bad.

Another factor in determining cost of operating a shelter is whether dogs will be euthanized if they don’t get adopted.

That has been the subject of extensive conversation, but Ricks said the parish will have no choice in the matter.

“We can’t operate a no-kill shelter,” Ricks said. “Size and dollars make it impossible.”

He said he doesn’t know yet how long animals would be kept at the shelter if it is funded for full operation.

Currently some dogs in the shelter are euthanized if they are vicious or diseased, said DesireƩ Green, a parish employee who has been overseeing the operation.

“We get a vet’s opinion before putting them down,” she said.

The shelter is starting to get some of its dogs adopted. Some of the dogs that are called in as vicious turn out not to be, she said.

The shelter is manned seven days a week. Unless the person on duty is taking a call to pick up a dog, someone is available to show dogs to people and handle adoptions during the day, Green said.

Some employees show shelter animals of their Facebook pages and the shelter will soon get its own page through the parish’s Web site, she said. Until then, people can call the shelter at (225) 686-7798 for information.

The cost of vaccinations, worming and spaying or neutering, is included in the $60 fee for adoption, Green said.