An ongoing battle between an animal rescue group and the Ascension Parish Animal Control Center came to a head Monday after an impassioned Facebook post from an animal rights activist led to the group being temporarily blocked from the shelter.
At the heart of the battle are two issues: taking of pictures of dogs and cats for an animal adoption Facebook page and the parish policies regarding the rescue of pit bulls.
Erin Carnline, vice president of Companion Animal Rescue Alliance, said that last week, two volunteers with the group went to the animal shelter, located on Airline Highway in Sorrento, to take a dog out of its kennel for a clear picture of its face, and were asked “if they had their rabies vaccinations.”
“They were told they could not take the larger-breed dogs out of the kennels to take pictures” … unless they had personal rabies vaccinations, said Carnline, who now lives in north Louisiana but remains active with CARA and helps administer its online volunteer effort.
Such pictures, she said, are posted to the Friends of the Ascension Parish Animal Shelter on Facebook.
Volunteers with CARA work to find homes for cats and dogs in Ascension Parish, as well in surrounding areas.
Michael LeBlanc, the supervisor of the shelter, said the CARA volunteers misunderstood what a shelter employee told them that day.
“It’s a judgment call for us, to a degree” about what dogs are suitable to take out of their kennels for pictures, LeBlanc said. “It’s all about safety. It’s a day-to-day operation with different dogs coming through.”
LeBlanc said he’s told workers at the shelter “if you suspect there’s any dog that has a potential to cause injuries,” then the shelter employee will ask the rescue volunteer to take the animal’s picture through the kennel cage.
“We never said they needed to get a rabies vaccination,” LeBlanc said.
Carnline, with CARA, said shelter employees also told CARA volunteers they could no longer take any pit bulls or pit bull mixes from the shelter and that only certified pit bull rescue groups could take the dogs.
By law in Ascension Parish, pit bulls are not adopted to the public from the parish shelter but can be taken by rescue groups for foster care and adoption.
“Right now, we’re the only rescue pulling pits” from that shelter, Carnline said. “We have 10 in foster homes.”
Virginia Smith, a Baton Rouge attorney representing CARA, said there are some rescue groups that specialize in pit bulls but “there’s no particular certification you go through.”
LeBlanc, with the shelter, said, “Step into my shoes. I want to say 90 percent of cases against people are pit bulls.”
He said his practice has been to ask rescue groups looking to provide foster homes for pit bulls to get the input of a particular Ascension Parish Sheriff’s deputy who has expertise in the breed.
LeBlanc said he asked CARA that if they didn’t use the deputy’s input, to have someone with their group who “is certified to make that call” that the animal is not a behavior problem.
Smith, CARA’s attorney, said she emailed parish attorney O’Neil Parenton last week “asking (the parish) to restore access to all of the animals and give us some concrete rules, because they seem to change frequently.”
Parenton said Monday he had emailed Smith back and had hoped to have a meeting with the rescue group and other officials.
Later, he said, he learned of remarks made on Facebook by another CARA officer who mentioned, in effect, “bringing the wrath of God” on the shelter.
He said, in light of that, he spoke with Parish President Tommy Martinez and District Attorney Rickey Babin and told the shelter that CARA would be banned from taking animals from the shelter until all the matters are settled.
On Monday afternoon, CARA volunteers went to the shelter to take out two Chihuahas and were denied entry, Smith said.
She said she now expects to file suit against the parish, on behalf of CARA, in federal court in Baton Rouge in order to regain access to the shelter.
“As a member of the public, we are allowed to go into the shelter,” Smith said.
She also said the Facebook postings were on the private Facebook page of a CARA official.
LeBlanc said the two Chihuahas in question have been placed with a rescue group.
There was a firestorm about the two animals on Facebook on Monday, he said, and he “can’t fight” that kind of social media storm.
He said the number of animals taken in at the shelter, as well as the number of those euthanized, have fallen since the parish contracted with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine to provide spays and neuters there.
Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.