Gail Dellafiora loves animals — large, small, sickly and healthy. No matter their condition, animals tug at her heart strings. The problem, according to Dellafiora, is that there are too many of them.

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

In 2008, she co-founded Feliciana Animal Welfare Society with Suzanne Hobgood. Since then, a core group of volunteers assists in the operation known as FAWS in East Feliciana Parish.

There is no FAWS facility. The program is a large network of foster families and volunteers who take in animals.

“What happens is litters of puppies or kittens get dumped on a road, or left to die — some intentionally killed — because the owner cannot afford to feed or take care of litter after litter. If the mother is never spayed, this just continues,” Dellafiora said.

Dellafiora, who moved to Zachary about four months ago, says pet overpopulation in East Feliciana has reached a critical stage. The FAWS volunteers have all taken in dozens of animals and are at their limit. Dellafiora alone has three dogs of her own, about eight additional dogs and puppies and about a dozen cats/kittens. Her property in Zachary is spacious, but even she has her limits, she said.

“We need two things that are equally important, and we needed them a year ago. We need foster homes, and we need a 200 percent increase in public awareness as soon as possible,” Dellafiora said, making a direct plea to the Zachary community.

Dellafiora and her team are intent on getting to the root of the problem by having the conversation and working to educate people on the urgent issue of getting animals spayed/neutered.

Enter Project Doggy Gate, the FAWS canine spay/neuter program offered to low-income residents in East Feliciana. The cost of the surgery per female dog, about $75, is sponsored by individual donations made to FAWS by contributors. Through the program, FAWS can transport family-owned dogs to spay clinics and return them the next day.

In addition to assisting low-income families, FAWS also finds homes for unwanted puppies and uses the adoption fees to spay the mothers.

“The puppies are spayed/neutered prior to adoption, thereby closing the gate on future litters of the mother dogs as well as the puppies,” Dellafiora said.

This year, FAWS received a one-time canine pediatric spay/neuter grant of $4,000 from the Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission to fund the spaying/neutering of 100 puppies. To date, FAWS has spent just under $6,000 for its canine spay/neuter programs.

All the animals within the FAWS system are living with volunteers and foster families until they can be adopted by what FAWS calls a forever family.

“It’s all about outside volunteerism,” Dellafiora said. “We need people outside of East Feliciana to know what we’re doing and know what kind of help we need. East Feliciana is an impoverished parish. People who could’ve stepped up to be a part of our foster care network have already rescued so many strays on their own that they can’t fit anymore in. That is the No. 1 reason given to us by would-be foster families. I think Zachary families are in a good position to assist those animals and are willing to do so.”

“People need to know what we’re doing, know where to send their contributions and then they’re happy knowing we’re being good stewards of those contributions,” Dellafiora said. “We’re saying no to people daily, and it’s prime puppy season. Where are those puppies going? The answers are most often bad.”

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

“With foster care providers to take in the puppies and see them through to adoption, the Project Doggy Gate Program is fully funded by adoption fees and contributions and sponsorships of residents, businesses, organizations and private donors/donations, but more help is needed,” Dellafiora said. “We need contributions, volunteers and foster families.”

The FAWS core group of volunteers includes Dellafiora and Hobgood, co-founders, foster moms and volunteers; Patrice Waldrop, feline management program director; Julie Buhler and family, feline foster care providers and feline management team volunteers; Betty and L.J. Miley, canine foster care providers and general FAWS volunteers; Michelle Zachary, Amy Lasyone, Tracy Simoneaux and Wayne Wheeler, general volunteers and canine foster care providers; Michaela Wells, feline management team volunteer; Peggy Smith, who assists FAWS with bottle-feeding kittens, puppies, squirrels and anything hungry; and Susan Boudreaux, FAWS administrator and dispatcher.

Tractor Supply Company is a main adoption site, and PetSense is used as an occasional adoption site. A FAWS pet adoption event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at Tractor Supply Company in Zachary. Call FAWS at (225) 252-5138, email felicianaanimal or visit Facebook at Feliciana Faws.