New operators say staff overwhelmed

Hailey Clifton, 4, holds a puppy she and her family planned to adopt from the Companion Animal Alliance on Wednesday afternoon at the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Shelter. The CAA took over the shelter Aug. 1 from the city-parish in an attempt to reduce animal euthanasia. On Wednesday, the nonprofit was chastised for creating ‘inhumane conditions.’ Show caption
Hailey Clifton, 4, holds a puppy she and her family planned to adopt from the Companion Animal Alliance on Wednesday afternoon at the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Shelter. The CAA took over the shelter Aug. 1 from the city-parish in an attempt to reduce animal euthanasia. On Wednesday, the nonprofit was chastised for creating ‘inhumane conditions.’

Just 3 1/2 weeks after taking control of the parish’s animal shelter services, the Companion Animal Alliance was accused of inhumane treatment of its animals by a Metro councilman and other members of the public.

Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison visited the animal shelter unannounced on Wednesday morning and said he witnessed “horrific” and “unacceptable conditions” for the animals.

Addison, prompted by emails from constituents, said he saw overcrowding of kennels, including one cage with eight dogs.

He said the kennels with animals were stacked on top of one another, stored in bathrooms and spilling out into the lobby.

“I have never seen anything like it. I won’t accept it as a council member, I won’t accept it as a citizen and it needs to be corrected forthwith,” he said. “If we’re going to save animals, we can’t put them in inhumane conditions.”

The Companion Animal Alliance, a nonprofit, took control of the parish’s sheltering services officially on Aug. 1 in an attempt to reduce the amount of healthy animals that were being euthanized because they couldn’t be adopted.

Previously, sheltering was under the umbrella of the parish’s Animal Control and Rescue Center.

The CAA runs the shelter out of the parish’s animal control building on Progress Road.

CAA Executive Director Laura Hinze said after the council meeting Wednesday that she disagrees with the statements about animals being put in inhumane conditions.

“We’re not doing anything that wasn’t already being done,” she said. “What is going on is we’re in a transitory place.”

Hinze said the public responded to news of the new shelter management by surrendering more animals, specifically dogs. She acknowledged that her staff was not prepared for the influx.

Animal Control Director Hilton Cole informed the Metro Council on Tuesday by email that he would launch an investigation into shelter conditions because a formal complaint was filed.

Susan Aronson, who spoke to the council Wednesday evening, said she filed a complaint after visiting the shelter.

“The cages are seriously and very dangerously overcrowded, several large dogs were in cages with cowering smaller dogs, food aggressive dogs in one cage were fighting, a cage clearly marked ‘aggressive’ had two dogs together, and the worst was a nursing dog in a cage with four large dogs,” she wrote in her complaint.

“The animals are no longer being euthanized, but now, due to stress and fear of being in these overcrowded cages, (the animals) are more likely to fight, be severely injured or killed,” Aronson wrote.

Caitlin Wyatt, 13, and her mother Christy Wyatt have been volunteering at the animal shelter for two years and said conditions have gone downhill since the CAA took over.

“They had no plan to handle the overflow of animals,” Christy Wyatt said after the meeting.

The Wyatts said they felt the CAA had misled the Metro Council about the conditions of the shelter.

“It looked like they were hoarding animals,” Caitlin Wyatt said.

The Metro Council, which was expected to approve some revisions to the CAA and city-parish contract, deferred the item for 60 days and directed CAA to provide the council with a strategy of how it plans address the grievances.

After the meeting, Cole, who shares a building with the CAA, said he would not comment until after the investigation was over.

But during the meeting, when asked to address the animal overcrowding, he told the council that animal pens generally should hold two to three dogs, and “any after that and it starts getting iffy.”

In other business:

MAIN LIBRARY: The Metro Council deferred an item to accept the low construction bid for the Main Library for two weeks.

The low bid for the project came in at $36.7 million from Milton J. Womack Inc.

But Councilman Chandler Loupe said he wanted the bids to reflect savings incurred if the project were to take advantage of the city-parish’s sales tax exemption.

Capital projects paid for by a dedicated tax can waive sales taxes, but the city-parish has historically not taken advantage of the provision.

“This is a dedicated tax we’re using. We’re collecting a tax and then taxing that tax,” Loupe said. “You don’t have to be a tea party member to figure out that just ain’t right.”

Loupe and other council members have pushed the city-parish staff to start taking advantage of the sales tax exemptions in recent months.

If the city-parish finds out that it can waive sales taxes, bids from contractors seeking business with the city-parish could be lower.

Public Works Interim Director William Daniel said he’d prepare a report for the council in the next 30 days about which projects should be considered for sales tax exemptions.