Beth Brewster, the newest director of the Companion Animal Alliance, said she’s had experience with animal shelters weathering disaster.
She started her job at St. Tammany Humane Society a day after Hurricane Rita in 2005, and helped replace the Katrina-damaged shelter in St. Bernard Parish when she led that agency from 2009 until this year.
“I’m used to jumping into the fire,” said Brewster, who has four dogs and five cats of her own.
Baton Rouge’s public animal shelter on Progress Road has been spared by storms, but it’s endured disasters of a different variety over the past couple years — including a revolving door of its leadership, investigations revealing overcrowding and mismanagement, and a small-scale mutiny by its own employees who publicly complained a former director was breaking veterinary protocols.
But Brewster is unfazed.
She said she is equipped to address the agency’s challenges and help the CAA meet its goals, which in the long term include becoming a no-kill shelter and building a new shelter, and in the short term include streamlining procedures and hiring an operations manager.
“I might be a little naive, but I don’t see any insurmountable challenges here,” Brewster said.
The city-parish’s animal shelter used to be run by its Animal Control department, but after years of complaints from the public about the high euthanasia rate, the city-parish agreed to engage in a public-private partnership with the CAA and allow that organization to run the shelter.
Brewster most recently served as director of St. Bernard Parish Animal Services.
“It was basically underwater during Katrina,” Brewster said of the St. Bernard facility.
“We built a new shelter, and established a lot of programs to help the community, and really changed the shelter’s reputation,” she said.
In recent years, the CAA also has planned to build a new, larger facility.
Brewster said the new shelter would be her “absolute priority.”
“It might be as far out as two years, but I’m hoping sooner,” she said.
She said the Baton Rouge Area Foundation would lead the fundraising effort for the project.
Brewster said she’s ultimately working toward the goal of not having to euthanize for space, and only killing animals that are not “healthy and adoptable.”
But she said it will take years to reach that point. She said Baton Rouge has a strong community of animal foster programs and rescue nonprofits, but ultimately the difference will be made when pet owners learn to spay and neuter their cats and dogs.
“It’s a huge education piece,” she said. “We can’t take it on at this point, but it eventually needs to be put into place.”
She said she’ll be pursuing grants to fund vouchers, and working with LSU’s Veterinary School to get lower-cost spays and neuters.
The shelter in St. Bernard Parish rarely euthanized animals because of lack of space, Brewster said, but that’s a common occurrence for the Baton Rouge shelter.
But the Baton Rouge shelter takes in between 8,000 and 9,000 animals per year, whereas Brewster’s former shelter only got about 1,500 animals per year, she said.
Brewster said the shelter’s budget would be a challenge, adding that private donations are still essential to its operations.
The city-parish will provide $573,770 to the CAA this year. As of the end of 2012, the CAA reported raising more than $650,000 in private donations.
Christel Slaughter, CAA board president, said she was impressed with Brewster’s previous experience working with other open-access shelters.
“She’s had experience with a lot of the same types of issues we face, for example, she has a command of local ordinances, and she has contacts with various parishes around the state,” Slaughter said.
Brewster also has an impressive history of securing substantial grants for her previous agencies.
“That says something,” Slaughter said. “Someone is willing to give an organization money, and sometimes over and over again because they feel like the leader is competent at doing her job.”
Brewster replaces Kim Sherlaw, who in December was asked to resign by CAA amid allegations by employees that she was a poor manager and was directing staff to violate veterinary protocols. Debbie Pearson, the agency’s second director, was fired in September, and the agency’s first director, Laura Hinze, resigned two months after CAA took control of the animal shelter.
Brewster said those looking to donate to the shelter can visit its wish list on Amazon.com or donate cash or supplies such as stainless steel litter pans, cat litter, treats, slip leashes, bleach, detergent, Kuranda beds and crate bed liners.
She also said the shelter needs volunteers.
Editor’s note: This story was modified on March 11, 2013, to reflect that Kim Sherlaw was not fired as CAA director; she was asked to resign. The Advocate regrets the error.