Group says pounds need oversight

Published 8:25 am Friday, June 24, 2016

Last week, animal welfare advocates in Louisiana notched a small victory when Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law SB 216, a bill that will encourage all publicly funded animal shelters to register with the state’s Animal Welfare Commission.

The bill asks all shelters to register with the LAWC so the state can collect reports on the number of animals housed, euthanized, adopted or returned to owners. The state hopes to better identify rural shelters that need help with grants and training to provide for better care for animals.

Jeff Dorson, the director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, an advocate of the bill, said amendments watered down the original bill that was meant to require all publicly funded shelters to register with the state. Nevertheless, even voluntary compliance is something of a victory, Dorson said, after years of shelters operating with little to no state oversight.

Dorson said several lawsuits against poorly run shelters, including the shelter in Franklinton, have shown a need for state oversight.

“A lot of these rural shelters, they don’t have a lot of money, they’re poorly funded, they’re poorly built, they’re poorly maintained and they don’t have much oversight,” he said. “We’re trying to get everyone on the same page so we can help the shelters that need support and resources.”

Dorson said as it stands now, the LAWC has no idea how many public shelters even operate in the state.

“There’s not even a master list of all the shelters in the state,” he said. “They seem to come and go. So it’s hard for us to even know where they’re located. They open, they close, and we don’t know where they are.”

As a result, Dorson said some shelter directors aren’t even aware of the state’s shelter requirements.

Dorson said in the 1990s, the shelter in Franklinton used to euthanize animals by taking them into the woods and shooting them. This resulted in a lawsuit from the Humane Society, and is no longer an issue at the shelter. But Dorson said rural shelters are generally harder to keep an eye on and that’s why state oversight is important.

The Franklinton shelter is currently being managed by director Dr. Darren Schilling, a veterinarian. Schilling said the execution-style euthanasia happened prior to his involvement with the facility. Schilling said years ago, the town didn’t have a real shelter so if there was a stray dog that couldn’t be captured, it was shot.

Today, there is a shelter in Franklinton. It is located at 1637 Desmare St., and it is open to the public part of the week. Schilling said good records are kept.

Besides that, Schilling said he usually has no trouble in adopting out most dogs.

“Right now … we don’t have a lot of animals up for adoption because if it’s an animal that’s turned over, we can adopt the animal out right away,” he said. “We send those animals to the Louisiana Humane Society in Mt. Hermon, and they adopt those dogs primarily up along the east coast.”

However, Schilling said the shelter needs help.

“The shelter is an old veterinary clinic, and it is in need of funds. Computerization is where we lack,” he said. “We need extreme increases in technology there.”

However, Schilling said it’s not fair to compare the Franklinton shelter to shelters in St. Tammany or Tangipahoa parishes, because those shelters get more public funds.

“We’re a small piece of the pie as far as disbursements go, and that’s our biggest problem,” he said. “Our biggest problem is that we don’t have a self-sustaining parish tax base.”

Dorson said this is where the state could offer some help. Dorson said he would like to inform rural shelters about their legal responsibilities to animal welfare, but he also hopes to train employees and find grants for rural shelters.

Schilling said he’s willing to sign up with the LAWC, if they can provide some assistance, particularly in the form of grants.

“I need grant writing help, I need help computerizing my facility … and all that kind of stuff is just so, so needed,” he said.

David Kellis, the animal control officer for the city of Bogalusa, said the Bogalusa dog shelter is usually at capacity, with each of the 14 kennels filled, often with more than one dog.

Kellis said he works closely with the Magnolia Chapter of the Humane Society to get the dogs adopted. In addition, he said the chapter also helps care for the dogs. However, he said there are so many stray or unwanted dogs in Bogalusa, the facility is almost always full.

“Every weekend, when I come to work on Monday, I come to work and get another crop of puppies waiting for me,” he said.

Kellis said he wasn’t aware of the new law, and if the Bogalusa shelter does register with the LAWC, the decision will be up to the mayor. However, he said the city doesn’t need training or better oversight.

“What we need is a new pound,” he said.

Dorson said he’s hoping the public will help him identify problem shelters.

“I encourage people to visit their local shelter. Ask how’s it going, what are the hours of operation, how’s it look, and keep requesting information and let us know if there are problems,” he said.

Dorson said anyone can call his office at 901-268-4432.