Humane Society says Livingston violating law

The Humane Society of Louisiana has sent notices to the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and Livingston Parish Animal Shelter saying both agencies are violating state laws that require parishes to seize and house stray dogs found roaming the streets.

Livingston Parish officials, though, said the law does not apply to the parish because it does not have a parishwide shelter operation, said Sam Digirolamo, parish director of the Planning and Public Works Department.

It does have a shelter, The Livingston Parish Animal Shelter, that is operated by the parish, but it only offers limited services in the town of Livingston, he said.

The law says parish sheriffs or other law enforcement officers “shall seize any dog found unaccompanied by its owner or keeper and running at large on any road, street, or other public place.” The law also requires each parish to provide “suitable shelters or facilities for dogs seized.”

The Humane Society notice requests a meeting with Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard. Officials with the organization say Ard previously has either declined to meet with Humane Society representatives or has not acknowledged their requests.

Beau Gast, chief field investigator for the Humane Society of Louisiana, said the organization has been “actively investigating” the parish’s animal control situation for a while.

“We attempted to work with them quietly, behind the scenes,” Gast said.

He said the law is clear.

“They shall pick the animals up and they shall provide a facility,” Gast said. “They’ve been in violation of the law, and no one has called them on it.”

The Livingston Parish Animal Shelter only accepts strays from the town of Livingston, where the shelter is located because of an agreement made in 2008 when the town donated the land for the shelter.

Other than that, the shelter only picks up dogs the Sheriff’s Office have deemed vicious or have been involved in cruelty cases, Digirolamo said.

Those policies have been put in place because the shelter has not been declared as the official animal shelter for the parish, Digirolamo said.

The shelter also does not have a dedicated source of revenue and cannot afford to pick up any animals beside dogs, Digirolamo said.

“We’re just trying to provide a service for the people in Livingston Parish,” he said.

Both Ard and Eric Pittman, the Sheriff’s Office’s attorney, said the law is a directive and not a mandate.

Pittman said the word “shall” in the law makes it a directive as opposed to a mandate.

“While the directive is for the sheriff to pick up stray animals, it’s not mandatory,” Pittman said.

Ard also said he has never declined having a meeting with the Humane Society, saying he’s trying to gather more information about what the meeting would be about.

The Humane Society “has never told me how I’m in violation of something that I’m not,” Ard said.

Ard said when his office receives a call about strays, he’ll send a deputy out, who will call the parish or another animal organization to have the animal picked up.

“Where are you going to put a stray animal when you don’t have anywhere to put them?” he said.

The Livingston Parish Council in 2012 briefly discussed putting on a ballot a 3-mill property tax to pay for parishwide animal control.

The council has taken no action on the measure.

Parish Councilman Chance Parent also said the law does not apply to Livingston Parish.

“If we were operating a parishwide shelter, we would be bound to state laws that govern parishwide shelters,” he said.

Parent said the parish has an Animal Control Advisory Committee looking at a funding source for a shelter.

The Humane Society has also sent a public records request to the Sheriff’s Office asking for dispatch records of all animal complaint calls made over the past six months.

Ard said his office received the Humane Society’s records request, but the office’s dispatch records system is broken and needs to be repaired.