Finding a home for a toy-sized dog or puppy was an easy task at Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter.
“Two years ago, there were people fighting in the parking lot to adopt a small dog,” says Michelle Brignac, the director of the shelter.
But now the shelter can barely get them out. And a room that Brignac said was “very rarely full” is packed with dozens of little yelping canines.
It’s one of the markers of a slowdown in pet adoptions that has filled shelters across Louisiana to the brim and officials begging the public to open their homes to animals in need.
The Jefferson Parish shelter takes in 70 to 100 animals each week, but only sees about eight adopted each week, Brignac said. It’s an unsustainable equation, and if adoptions don’t resume, Brignac said the shelter may have to turn to euthanasia to make room; at the moment, the shelter only kills aggressive or sick animals.
At the beginning of June, the shelter stopped letting owners return their pets, in order to maintain a shelter space for stray animals.
“We’re barely there,” Brignac said. “We empty the ocean with a spoon.”
Worse still, Hurricane Ida wiped out the parish’s east shore shelter in Elmwood with flooding that caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and rendered the site unusable. A new “animal utopia” was already in the works for the East Bank, but it won’t be operational for at least 2½ years, Brignac said.
To make ends meet, the government agency Jefferson Protection & Animal Welfare Services has set up a temporary shelter in Fat City. But it closed after its windows were smashed in an apparent act of vandalism.
This left the government’s West Bank refuge in Harvey as the only public option. It can hold about 250 large dogs. It currently has about 208, Brignac said, and most of them are “bully breeds,” like pit bull mixes, which some homeowners associations and apartment complexes don’t allow. .
Even if the east bank shelter were operational, the agency wouldn’t have enough staff to staff it adequately, Brignac said. The shelter has parochial funding for 57 positions, but only 30 are filled. No one is applying for the open jobs, Brignac said.
The staff shortage means it takes the shelter longer to clean the kennels and less time for the dogs to run outside. Brignac said dogs only spend an average of eight minutes a day outdoors).
Jefferson Parish is supposed to have nine human officers to investigate dog attacks, rescue sick animals and investigate allegations of animal cruelty. But only two positions filled.
“It’s almost like we’re facing the perfect storm – after the storm,” Brignac said.
Working in a shelter is emotionally, physically and mentally draining, Brignac said. And it’s often dirty. Brignac joked that some of their canines looked like “caca-casso”.
But the work can also be rewarding, especially when an animal finds a home. “We see the best in humanity and the worst,” Brignac said.
Struggles are not unique to Jefferson Parish.
St. Tammany also stretched
“We are filled to the brim,” said Michael Vinsanau, spokesman for St. Tammany Parish Government Administration. “We welcome more animals, and [fewer] the animals come out.
Some of these animals were adopted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — and are now being brought back by their owners — Vinsanau said. He attributes the returns to rising inflation.
The St. Tammany shelter was sending 10 to 20 animals a week to shelters in the northeast, which historically have more room. But that slows down as these shelters fill up.
Prayer on Facebook
St. Tammany’s shelter does not euthanize animals for space, and Vinsanau said staff members will do “everything in our power, plus certain not to come to that.”
Over the past few weeks, shelter staff have taken to Facebook to implore the public to adopt or foster animals.
For those who want to house an animal for a few days, which frees up space at the shelter, the Jefferson Parish agency provides the necessary food, toys and blankets, Brignac said.
And he’s always looking for volunteers to help fill the void.
“I had no idea there was such a huge need,” said Sarah Goodwin, who recently volunteered with her 13-year-old daughter Maddie.
Brignac, who took over the management of the Jefferson agency three years ago, takes care of herself, cleaning the kennels, instead of camping in her office. His staff recently received their shirts which read “Chaos Director”.
“As long as I am here, I will not let the ship sink,” she said.