To homeless pets, volunteers are a lifeline

Freckles shakes with Natchitoches Hope for Paws volunteer Nikky Strait Photo by Nathan Wilson

Shelter pets miss adoption opportunity as pet parade is cancelled

Nathan Wilson | Reporter

Motel 6

Nationally, animal shelters are overflowing in many cities as adoptions fall and owners struggle to balance pet care with other responsibilities.
Jonathan Meziere, animal control officer at the Natchitoches Animal Control Shelter isn’t facing this problem. “Right now I only have one dog that’s here at the shelter,” he said. “My shelter is very low at this moment.” His paucity of pooches is the result of two Natchitoches animal care organizations that rely on volunteers.
At the Hope for Paws shelter, Nikky Strait led a group of volunteers Feb. 25 to prepare dogs for the Krewe of Wag-uns pet parade. The parade is one way local shelters draw attention to dogs in need of homes, but this year it was cancelled because of rain, giving their dogs one less opportunity to draw the attention of a loving family.
While volunteers like Strait help keep Hope for Paws running, many of those preparing for the parade were NSU students there to help for only one day. The limitation of volunteers is that sometimes there aren’t enough, and other times there are too many. With so many interested in helping prepare the dogs for the parade, Hope for Paws seized the opportunity by having them build a pet playground too.
Meziere is ambivalent about the NSU students who live in Natchitoches. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” he says. He has seen NSU students adopt and volunteer heavily, but they frequently relinquish their pets too. “We have a lot of students who come from out of town… and they find out they can’t have animals.” he said. He has become wary of adopting dogs to students. “How many students own houses around here? I don’t know too many… I want to know from that landlord that you’re allowed to have animals.” As some shelters report bursting with pets, Meziere sees a pattern, “Our intake rises whenever the semester starts and also when it finishes.”
Happy Tails, a shelter run by the Natchitoches Humane Society, uses a creative solution to provide stable environments for its dogs. It located its shelter on the grounds of the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center. There, inmates feed, groom, and care for dogs until an adoptive family is arranged. The relationships that inmates form with the animals also supports the detention centers’ mission of rehabilitation, and volunteers supplement the inmate’s work with bathing, transportation and community outreach activities that help the dogs find adoptive families.

This article published in the March 5, 2022, print edition.

Juanita Murphy, president of Natchitoches Humane Society, stresses the need to find more families for their animals. “We have very few adoptions compared to the animals we have in need,” she began. “Last year was lower than the year before.” She indicates that Natchitoches is too small for the number of pets available. “There’s just not enough adopters here locally for the amount of homeless animals we have.”
Murphy described what her shelter is doing to solve the imbalance. “We’re sending them up north to shelters that really do want them.” To care for the volume of pets they receive, many rural shelters transport cats and dogs to other areas or place them with short-term pet fostering until they can find an adoptive family.
Rachel LeBlanc, president of Natchitoches Hope for Paws, sees the human population as part of the equation. “In a city you’re not going to have as many stray dogs, but you might have more people looking for a dog.” She explained that they research the shelters where they send their dogs. “We don’t just send out. We send them to a rescue that’s going to look for a home like we would look for a home.”
Murphy described how the practice of exporting pets started. “After Katrina it was like a window opened to what was going on in the south. There were 300 plus animals in one building in New Orleans when ASPCA went down to help them.” After New Orleans began shipping animals north, it offered the opportunity to nearby cities. “The New Orleans people didn’t want any empty kennels going up there, so they offered us some places,” Murphy said.
Meziere explained why shelters in other parts of the country need pets as Louisiana sees a perennial surplus. “They have stricter spay and neuter laws in other jurisdictions… (Here) that responsibility is transferred to the owner. That law needs work.”
Murphy points to a lax attitude toward animal welfare. “A lot of them are strays. There are people in our community… that don’t take care of their dogs, don’t care if they get out, and if they get out they don’t even go looking for them,” she said. “There are dogs on chains that sometimes die because there’s no one to feed them and no one bothered.”
Murphy believes the laissez faire attitude extends to parish government. “The humane society is carrying the load of the parish as well. The sheriff’s office does not have animal services. They only take dogs that bite people or cruelty cases, and so any other animal that’s called into them, it could be a beautiful lab with a broken leg on the side of the road, they give them the humane society’s phone number, day and night,” she said.
Meziere acknowledged his animal control shelter only serves a limited area. “All around us we have areas that are lacking or don’t have any type of animal control or animal services,” he continued. “I have to turn away Winn Parish or Bienville Parish or Natchitoches Parish because I am a city shelter.”
Reflecting on the number of animals that need care, LeBlanc offered her view. “It tends to ebb and flow, but there’s always a puppy or a stray somewhere here in need.”