Three members quit Livingston animal control committee

Three members of the Livingston Parish Animal Control Advisory Committee resigned last week, leaving officials scrambling to determine how to fix the parish’s stray animal problem.

Committee Chairman Norman Clark confirmed the resignations of the committee members: Walker Animal Shelter Director Mary Gray, Watson veterinarian Sharyl Rushing, and Terri Dunlap, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Livingston.

Only Clark and Phillip Woods remain.

Livingston Parish lacks a true parishwide animal-control program or a major source of revenue dedicated to it.

The parish operates the Livingston Parish Animal Shelter in the town of Livingston, but the shelter can house only dogs and will pick up strays only in the town because it donated land for the shelter. It also holds vicious dogs.

Dunlap said she stepped down because she felt shelter officials weren’t following through with the committee’s recommendations.

“They’re not taking our advice on what we’re doing seriously,” she said.

Shelter administrator Desiree Green said the committee was recommending the shelter follow procedures already in place.

Green said she attended only a few of the committee’s meetings, and ultimately stopped going altogether because members kept debating procedures instead of funding, which Green said is the most-pressing issue.

“Everyone is aware that the parish is in need of a full-blown animal shelter,” she said. “It’s (all about) coming up with a funding source to allow that to happen.”

Parish Councilman Chance Parent, an advocate of parishwide animal control, said he was not surprised to hear about the resignations because the Parish President’s Office has been unable to work well with the committee.

“I guess they (the committee members) had enough of not getting any answers from the administration,” Parent said.

The shelter is running out of money, according to budget documents provided by Parent. The shelter spent about $187,000 through September but had only $54,000 in incoming funds and $219,000 left in its reserve supply.

Green said the shelter can operate for about another year at its current pace.

Clark, the committee chairman, said he hasn’t met with parish officials yet to discuss how to move forward with the committee. He said the Parish Council could replace the members or choose to adopt procedures the committee drafted for a parishwide animal-control program.

Parish President Layton Ricks formed a commission shortly after taking office in 2012 to study the animal control issue.

That committee eventually disbanded, and the Parish Council formed another animal-control committee in 2013.

The committee’s meetings have been routinely canceled because of scheduling conflicts. The group was supposed to meet Monday, but only Woods showed up.

As for the financial issue, Clark said the ordinances need to be finished first because the parish must determine what fines and fees it will impose on violators, which will affect the budget.

“Once we get the ordinances passed and get a recurring revenue, we can go in at that point and really knock out a better budget,” Clark said.

The Parish Council in 2012 briefly discussed putting on a ballot a 3-mill property tax to pay for parishwide animal control but took no action on the measure.

Parent has since suggested enacting a user fee, which would enforce a flat rate across all households for animal control.

Parent says state law allows local governments to enact user fees only for sewer districts and fire departments. He said the area’s state legislators will introduce a bill in the 2014 session to change the law to allow an animal control user fee.