Back before everything got so politically correct, when Animal Control was known simply as the “dog catchers,” once a dog or cat was netted and brought to the pound, its days were pretty well numbered.
“That’s not necessarily true any more,” said Chris Beebe, shelter director for the Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society, located right next door to the parish Animal Control Department in Belle Chasse.
In Plaquemines Parish, thanks to a partnership between Animal Control and PAWS, most animals rounded up by the parish have a second shot at a happy life.
“When you get right down to it, we work hand in hand with Animal Control,” Beebe said. “It’s been that way since 2003 when PAWS was formed. Animal control has a job to do. We know that ... it’s to protect the public. Now we work as partners.”
The staff and 13 volunteer members of PAWS’ board of directors are only too happy to give the “people on the other side of the door” a helping hand, getting the word out that dogs and cats are available for adoption to proper homes.
When that doesn’t work, board members themselves have been known to adopt strays. Likewise, the stable of 150 or so volunteers will adopt a dog or will foster puppies or kittens that need special care until they are old enough to be adopted.
As a result, Plaquemines has become almost a no-kill shelter, where as many as 90 percent of lost, abandoned or unwanted animals get new homes.
“Prior to 2003, if an animal was taken off the streets and went unclaimed, then pretty much 100 percent of these animals were euthanized,” Beebe said. “Now, the only animals that are euthanized are those that are too sick or too aggressive. The ones that absolutely cannot be adopted out.”
Beebe’s eyes watered up as she reached into a large cage to retrieve a fluffy black cat named Buddha, suffering with fatal feline leukemia.
“This beautiful cat would be an extraordinary pet,” she said. “Sadly, because of her illness we can’t place her. But we can make her as comfortable as we can. ... Personally it breaks my heart to have any animal euthanized. But that sometimes is a fact.”
Like Buddha the cat, all animals in PAWS care have access to indoor and outdoor activities, water fountains for cooling off during the blistering summer heat and veterinary care.
On any given day, the PAWS facilities may be filled to capacity at 150 animals. The ideal is to have animals being taken off the streets by Animal Control, given medical examinations by the veterinarian, given the necessary shots, cleaned up, walked the 150 steps or so from Animal Control, through the door to PAWS and onto an adoption waiting list.
“All of that takes money,” Beebe said. “PAWS is a nonprofit, and only about 30 percent of our budget comes through a contract with Plaquemines Parish to spay, neuter and care for the animals that are brought in to make them available to the public for adoption. The rest of our funding comes from donations from individuals and private businesses.
“A lot of people think, ‘Well, I pay my taxes so they’re taken care of.’ It’s the classic ‘out of sight, out of mind’ scenario.”
Meanwhile, through the door and down the hall, Kyle Reuther, supervisor of the Animal Control unit, is carrying a chubby, lop-eared brown puppy that wound up as one of the “unwanteds” from somewhere in Plaquemines Parish.
“This little guy is so young he doesn’t even have a name yet,” Reuther said. “But he will. And he’ll get great treatment. He’ll go down the hall to PAWS and he’ll wind up as a good pet in a good home somewhere.”
Reuther is a massive man whose huge arms and hands engulf the plump little puppy. Reuther has held puppies just like this thousands of times and walked them down the hall to their new beginnings. The look on his face says it all: “I never get tired of doing this.”
A woman with a little girl in tow pulled her station wagon off F. Edward Hebert Boulevard and into the parking lot behind the building that houses Animal Control and PAWS.
She stuck her head in the door and asked a young woman who was hosing down a floor: “Excuse me. We lost our dog a few months back and I was wondering ...”