Livingston Parish stray animal problem lingers, money needed for shelter

Situated behind railroad tracks off U.S. 190 in the town of Livingston, the Livingston Parish Animal Shelter is a bit of a hidden commodity in the parish.

The shelter has been around for at least 10 years, if not longer, said Desiree Green, the shelter’s administrator. But few people knew about it until the Livingston Parish Council became involved in trying to expand the shelter’s reach.

The shelter’s operations are limited. It only accepts dogs, and no other animals, because of a lack of resources.

The shelter only takes in strays from the town of Livingston because of a deal the parties arranged when the town donated the land to build the shelter. It also accepts dogs the Sheriff’s Office has deemed vicious or dogs related to animal cruelty cases.

Green said the shelter, which can house upward of 100 dogs, is on a “very, very limited budget” and has had to tap into reserves to keep it going.

Livingston lacks a true parishwide animal control program to keep track of stray animals within the parish.

Livingston officials agree the parish needs a full animal control program to get a handle on animal abandonment, which animal advocates say is a problem. But finding money to fund a full program has not been easy.

The issue is being pressed harder now that the Humane Society of Louisiana has sent notices to the Sheriff’s Office and the shelter, saying they’re violating state laws that require each parish to seize stray dogs and house them in an official parish facility.

A ‘huge’ problem

Terri Dunlap, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Livingston, said animal abandonment has become a huge problem in the parish.

Dunlap said she lives in a rural area about a mile from Watson. She said she can’t leave her house without seeing a bevy of malnourished animals running around on the road.

Dunlap, a member of the Livingston Parish Animal Control Advisory Committee, said she has been attending Parish Council meetings for eight years to push the issue.

“It hasn’t gotten any better at all, but I know that during those eight years, the Humane Society warned the parish over and over and over,” she said.

The Humane Society notices arrived at the parish’s doorsteps shortly after a Denham Springs woman was cited for allegedly lying to Walker Animal Shelter officials, saying that 10 puppies she took from her mother-in-law in Springfield had been abandoned in an ice chest near the shelter.

Walker’s shelter only accepts animals from its residents or found within city limits.

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

Green said the shelter has received the notices. She said it’s up to the parish and its attorneys to determine if the parish is violating the law.

Parish President Layton Ricks acknowledged the statutes but noted that the parish is working toward fixing the issue.

“We’re not a fully funded, operational facility at this time,” he said.

Ricks also said the Sheriff’s Office is doing a fantastic job in helping the parish handle animal calls.

Sheriff Jason Ard said his office receives 120 to 150 calls about animals each month. The nature of the calls range from stray dogs to animal cruelty to vicious dogs.

Ard said his office does not seize stray dogs — that’s up to the parish, because his deputies have nowhere to put the dogs. But deputies will call parish officials or local humane organizations to find a home for the animals when called.

“We’re going to do what we can to try to find this dog a home,” Ard said.

Finding the money

Ricks expects a needed animal control budget of around $700,000 annually.

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.

Councilman Chance Parent said a millage or tax won’t pass now.

“People are taxed to death,” he said.

Parent suggested the idea of a user fee, which would take a legislative change to enact.

State law says local governments can only pursue user fees for sewer districts and fire departments, Parent said.

Parent said he is working with the parish’s state legislators to amend the law to include animal control programs.

Parent said he’s hoping for a flat rate of about $5 to $10 per household for animal control.

“I want uniform across the board,” he said.

Ricks concurred with Parent.

“It’s the only fair way to try to get it done,” Ricks said.

The parish has tasked the Livingston Parish Animal Control Advisory Committee, to find the funding, as well as develop policies and procedures for when the program goes parishwide.

Ricks said the committee needs to be looking more at finding funding than policies and procedures because the first committee already drafted policies and procedures.

“All this other stuff you can tweak as you go because everybody’s got an opinion on it,” he said. “But the money, that’s what drives it.”

Norman Clark, the committee’s chairman, said the committee’s main goal now is to develop the procedures and ordinances so they can be used both now and when the shelter goes parishwide. Then they’ll move to the budget, he said.