Gail Dellafiora, cofounder of Feliciana Animal Welfare Society, loves animals and has devoted the past six years of her life to them. But there’s a problem, she says. There are too many of them in East Feliciana Parish and not enough foster families.

“Nobody is having the conversation about spaying and neutering, and frankly, I feel pet overpopulation is at the root of animal neglect, abuse,” Dellafiora said.

In 2008, Dellafiora cofounded FAWS with Suzanne Hobgood. Since then, the two women and a core group of volunteers have operated the organization in East Feliciana Parish. But there is no facility or shelter — the program consists of a network of foster families and volunteers who take in animals when they can.

FAWS recently lost two of its main foster homes. One family moved to Arkansas and the other family is coping with breast cancer, Dellafiora said.

“With the loss of these main foster care providers, FAWS is no longer in a position to take in the number of puppy litters it has in the past, which averages about 100 puppies per year,” Dellafiora said.

She said two things have happened: FAWS has been unable to respond to all the needs of owners and rescuers of puppy litters during the most recent fall puppy season, and it has been unable to respond to the needs of all low-income dog owners who request spay/neuter assistance.

“The impact of being unable to ‘close the gate’ on unwanted puppy litters in East Feliciana Parish will begin to show up this winter or spring, when the fall puppies have reached the age at which they can reproduce,” Dellafiora said. “An exponential negative effect on the level of animal suffering in the parish will resume, and FAWS will not be able to respond until the foundation of the foster care network is rebuilt.”

She said litters of puppies and kittens are getting dumped or left to die because the owner cannot afford to feed or take care of litter after litter. “If the mama dog is never spayed, this just continues,” Dellafiora said.

FAWS volunteers have all taken in dozens of animals and are at their limit. Dellafiora owns three dogs and fosters about eight additional dogs and about a dozen cats. Her spacious property allows her to take in many animals, but even she has her limits, she said.

“Those who could’ve helped to become part of the FAWS foster care network have already rescued so many strays on their own; they just can’t take in any more animals,” Dellafiora said. “That’s the No. 1 reason given to us by would-be foster families. Think of the situation similar to New Orleans when there were so many abandoned animals after Katrina and the nation stepped up with transports, taking in multitudes over a period of time. The situation is similar here in East Feliciana, but of course, on a much smaller scale.”

FAWS needs two things that are equally important, according to Dellafiora, and needed them a year ago.

“We need foster homes, and we need a 200 percent increase in public awareness,” Dellafiora said.

She and her team are intent on getting to the root of the problem by working to educate people on the urgency of getting animals spayed or neutered.

“Puppies that are spayed or neutered prior to adoption help close the gate on those future litters,” Dellafiora said.

FAWS has a feline management program that is coordinated by Clinton resident Patrice Waldrop, one of the organization’s main volunteers.

“Our program has aggressively targeted both feral feline clans and clans belonging to or cared for by residents and business owners in the parish by getting them spayed,” Dellafiora said.

The feline management team also assists low-income families by transporting pet cats to “spay day” events about 10 times a year. In 2014, program volunteers transported more than 40 cats per spay day.

Dellafiora said with the help of contributions and fundraisers, FAWS helps cover the costs of the surgery.

Kittens are taken into foster care where health issues are alleviated and vaccinations administered. Tests for feline leukemia are administered, the kittens are then spayed or neutered and hopefully adopted into new forever homes, Dellafiora said.

When a dog is taken into FAWS’ foster care, it’s spayed or neutered, vaccinated, nurtured back to good health and made ready for adoption at approximately eight weeks for an adoption fee of $100. Adoption fees fund the spaying and neutering of the dogs in the household of the original puppy litter owner, Dellafiora said.

“Increased volunteerism, contributions, donations, sponsorships by residents, businesses and organizations, and the fees charged for adoption help make what we do possible,” Dellafiora said. “It’s all about having the spay/neuter conversation in 2015 and getting that terminology out there, getting people to understand, to look at their neighbors and say to them, ‘Hey, have you considered spaying or neutering?’ ”

“FAWS volunteers are overextended to the point that we’re not financially or physically capable of assisting to the magnitude that’s needed and that we once were. We have to grow some more bodies, more volunteers, more funds.”

To adopt, foster, donate or volunteer, contact FAWS at (225) 252-5138, email felicianaanimalwelfaresociety@yahoo.com or visit Facebook at Feliciana Faws.