Shelter begins no-kill policy

Veterinarian Melissa Upchurch examines the teeth of a female mixed-breed Catahoula on Friday at the former East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Shelter, now being run by the animal interest group Companion Animal Alliance of Baton Rouge. Show caption
Veterinarian Melissa Upchurch examines the teeth of a female mixed-breed Catahoula on Friday at the former East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Shelter, now being run by the animal interest group Companion Animal Alliance of Baton Rouge.

There are no empty cages at the parish animal shelter, nor will there ever be, said Laura Hinze, the shelter director who took over its operations Aug. 1.

Every full cage means one less adoptable animal is euthanized, Hinze said.

Friday morning, every one of the 325 animal holding cells was filled with two or three dogs or cats.

But earlier in the week, some of the 4-by-6-foot enclosures held as many as seven dogs, according to complaints aired before the Metro Council.

Some dogs were kept in restrooms and storage rooms in recent weeks as the new staff struggled to find places for the steady flow of incoming strays without having to resort to massive euthanasia.

“We do have more animals,” Hinze said. “And we are employing spaces that were not employed previously to house animals.”

But extra space is a luxury you lose when making the switch toward becoming a no-kill shelter, she said Friday. Hinze, a Chicago transplant, was recruited to lead the Companion Animal Alliance, a non-profit group dedicated to transforming the shelter into a no-kill facility.

For more than a year, the CAA negotiated with the city-parish to remove the shelter service from the public umbrella of Animal Control and Rescue in hopes using a combined revenue stream of public and private funds to bolster the shelter operations and increase adoptions.

But just three weeks after the CAA took control, complaints began to trickle in about overcrowding and inhumane conditions.

Animal Control Director Hilton Cole, whose office oversaw the sheltering operations prior to CAA’s takeover, has opened an investigation into the complaints.

Hinze estimated on Friday that there were 350 dogs and 150 cats at the shelter, adding that the number is constantly changing.

That’s about 30 more cats and 50 more dogs at the shelter than the facility held while the parish was in control, Hinze said.

The shelter takes in about 35 animals a day, Hinze said, as it receives strays picked up by Animal Control or from people who surrender their own pets.

But only about 10 animals a day are adopted, she said.

Faced with a similar situation last year, about 45 animals were euthanized every day while the parish operated the shelter, Cole said.

But the CAA is euthanizing far fewer. Hinze said the highest number of animals put down in one day was 27, but generally the number is lower.

Hinze said the shelter reached its maximum capacity on Aug. 22, when the agency reviewed and expanded its euthanasia criteria for the fourth time.

Hinze said she recognizes that more animals may have to be euthanized to meet the space limitations of the facility.

“We worked through a significant growing pain,” she said. “While perception is reality, what people are not seeing is that these animals in cages are being rotated around the building, getting outside run time, and put in different kennels to make things better for the animals.”

But some people aren’t persuaded the recent takeover represents an improvement over the shelter’s previous management.

Christy Wyatt, a shelter volunteer of two years, filed a formal complaint against the shelter because of the overcrowding.

“It’s based on an ideology that cramming seven dogs in one cage and having them trample all over each other is better than euthanizing them,” Wyatt said. “They (CAA) didn’t have the planning in place, and what happened as a result is they overlooked the inhumanity of the situation.”

Wyatt said she fears the overcrowding lends itself to more animal conflicts and makes them more vulnerable to diseases that could spread.

Christel Slaughter, who heads the CAA board, said changes are being made to ensure that level of overcrowding would not happen again.

When asked to respond to photos of seven dogs in one cage, Slaughter replied, “We would never want to do that. That is not the standard we hold ourselves to at all.”

Paula Shaw, a volunteer for two years who was hired to work for the CAA, said shelter conditions have improved since the takeover.

“We have more people, more vets, more vet techs,” she said. “I cried all the way home my first day because I was so happy that we had more resources.”

The CAA has five veterinarians on staff and 14 animal caregivers, compared to one veterinarian and six caregivers when the parish was in charge.

But what CAA needs is more foster homes to ease overcrowding and volunteers to help operations, Hinze said.

Hinze said she welcomes feedback from the community about CAA’s performance.

“Ultimately, I’m happy that people care about the animals,” she said. “I’d like people to continue to come here, see what’s going on and help with the process.”

CAA’s shelter, at 2680 E. Progress Road in north Baton Rouge, is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays.

The shelter’s newly expanded hours of operation give people more opportunities to visit the shelter than when it was under parish control.

For details, call (225) 774-7700.