Animal shelters call on community to create pet welfare hub
Nathan Wilson | Reporter
Natchitoches Hope for Paws (NHP) and The Natchitoches Humane Society (NHS) called a public forum June 30 to seek support for animal welfare.
The key problem presented by the event organizers is the high percentage of pets entering the city’s animal shelter facilities that die before finding an adoptive home. More than half of the animals that entered the City Animal Shelter over the past three years were euthanized or died while in shelter care. They indicated the nationwide average rate of animals that die or are euthanized in shelters is 17%, while the rate in Natchitoches is 55% and would be higher without the efforts of the two volunteer organizations.
NHS and NHP’s response is to create a new animal rescue and welfare organization called FAUNA (Friends All United for Natchitoches Animals). To unite, both NHS and NHP plan to combine their assets to form the new 501(c)(3) organization. FAUNA would operate a single shelter service for the entire parish.
FAUNA’s goal is to raise funds to construct a modern shelter facility large enough to serve the needs of the parish. Organizers pointed to space limitations, accessibility issues and changes in shelter design standards as issues they can address by constructing a new shelter. The location of the new facilities has not yet been established, and the organization is welcoming donations of land to serve as a future site.
The current shelters face problems with their existing facilities, including obsolete design, aging structures and poor accessibility. NHS President Juanita Murphy indicated thee current facilities must be maintained in the meantime. “We have obstacles. Recently, a big wind blew the roof off of our sick room, and we are in the process of fixing it right now.”
Both organizations restrict access because of their locations. The site maintained by NHP is located in a low-traffic area of Natchitoches, and the organization has limited visitation because of animal welfare problems that arose from unscheduled pet drop-offs. Happy Tails, the shelter facilities maintained by NHS, reflects a longstanding partnership with the sheriff’s office. Its location on the grounds of the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center provides rehabilitative opportunities for inmates, but strictly limits volunteers and public access to animals awaiting adoption.
The existing pet shelter facilities are also constructed according to standards that are now considered obsolete. FAUNA members point to modern design features such as built-in floor drainage, on-site veterinary care areas and solid partitioning between kennels as improving animal health and reducing deaths among shelter animals. Murphy envisions using two of the newer locations, Happy Tails and the Cat House to quarantine pets before transferring them into other shelter facilities.
Representatives of the two organizations were forthright about the challenges their plan faces. Founding FAUNA means legally dissolving both NHP and NHS to transfer their assets to the new organization. Obtaining funding for the construction and operation of a new shelter will require financial and volunteer support from community stakeholders including local government, businesses, civic organizations and private citizens.
Inspiration for FAUNA’s goal comes from animal control in other parishes around the state and nearby cities in Texas. Marshall, Texas, serves a leading role as a model shelter because of the town’s similarity to Natchitoches and the success of their community-driven Marshall Pet Adoption Center, which houses kennels, an education room and an operating area for veterinary care. The Center’s staff shared details of their process, including fundraising, with Natchitoches shelter organizations and welcomed representatives from NHP, NHS and the City of Natchitoches to tour their facilities.
FAUNA members believe new shelter facilities will provide better access for those seeking pets while keeping the animals healthier and providing more opportunities for civic engagement. They claim new facilities will also enable their organization to attract more volunteers, increase the availability of grant money and business partnership opportunities and spur local economic development by improving on metrics such as pet adoption rates and volunteer service hours. NHP and NHS liaison Melissa Cloutier cited the incorporation of an education room into the design as a way of expanding the scope of an animal shelter to become a pet adoption center. “There are big national companies out there that will provide educational grants. You don’t have to raise all that money,” she said. She revealed the Marshall adoption center uses the classroom area for training and as a classroom. “(In Marshall) they rent it out for birthday parties. The community has bought in to this wonderful, positive place that they can do functions.”
The event organizers indicated their first step is to perform a feasibility study to determine how to implement a parish-wide shelter and rescue service. A feasibility study will attempt to identify the capital outlay requirements, operating expenses and funding sources the organization should anticipate before determining whether to proceed. While a feasibility study is an additional expense, the recommendations it offers will help FAUNA determine the limits of what their organization and the underlying community can sustain.
The question and answer segment offered an opportunity for community members to offer suggestions and support. Volunteer Jerry Wuitman revealed the Marshall Center’s role in reinvigorating and inspiring the Natchitoches shelter organizations. He suggested Natchitoches could go on to serve as a model for other parishes. “Let us be the Marshall for Louisiana,” he concluded.
Multiple elected members of government announced their presence at the meeting to indicate their support for reforming Natchitoches’ animal welfare system. Parish Council Member Jim Kilcoyne and Natchitoches Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. pledged their support for an animal welfare initiative. Parish President John Richmond suggested attendees contact voting members of the Parish Council to identify their support. “They have voting power. I don’t,” he said. “They respond to what they know is important to their constituents.”
State Senator Louie Bernard made it clear animal welfare advocates can expect the support of their elected representatives. “I don’t want to drop any names, but I’ve visited with Mayor Williams and Randy LaCaze and John Richmond and they are great at turning ideas into something real,” he said.
Following the meeting, Murphy offered insight into FAUNA’s next steps. She indicated they’ll continue working for the animals who need them. “We’re committed to the dogs and animals we have now and the things we do,” she said. She indicated creating a parish pet adoption center would offer residents more control over the community’s treatment of animals. “If you commit and you raise the money then you get the say-so in which dogs get to be saved and taken care of.”
People interested in adopting a pet, volunteering or donating to FAUNA may contact email@example.com for more information.