GONZALES — A volunteer animal welfare group that leveled impassioned criticisms in May over operations at the Ascension Parish animal shelter and was briefly banned from the facility near Sorrento, won an agreement Thursday to operate it for the next decade.
Under the deal backed by the Parish Council, the parish will still own the shelter but will provide $200,000 annually to Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension, or CARA, to run the shelter and provide agreed-upon services with licensed staff.
Parish animal control officers still will handle vicious animals, and parish officials plan to build a new, smaller kennel on separate property at a parish boat launch in Sorrento to house those animals.
CARA will set adoption, tag and other fees and will retain that money for its budget. A proposed budget projects annual revenue of $385,000 and expenses of nearly $322,000, including paid staff.
Parish and CARA officials said during and after the council meeting Thursday that the agreement is a sign of what happens when people sit down and talk.
Parish President Tommy Martinez told the council he had a far different impression of three CARA officials present for the council meeting Thursday before he met them.
“That’s what happens when you listen to hearsay and you listen to things that are untrue and rumors and people that are just disgruntled, but these three ladies came to my office and were very professional. We worked out what I think is a good agreement for both sides,” Martinez said.
CARA attorney Virginia Kelly Smith told the council that CARA officials have been informed the shelter needs its number of kennels doubled because of the number of animals it handles.
She said the group plans to vaccinate every animal that enters the shelter; to ensure they are spayed or neutered; to do heartworm testing on all dogs and feline disease tests on all cats; and to maintain relationships with veterinarians to give sick and injured animals quick care.
“That’s really the crux of the matter. You know, we want to help. We’re in a position to help, and we just hope you will accept our help,” Kelly said shortly before the 11-member council backed the deal without opposition.
Councilmen Todd Lambert and Daniel “Doc” Satterlee were not present. Council Chairman Randy Clouatre does not vote unless to break a tie.
The agreement takes effect Dec. 1 and represents a major turnaround for parish government and CARA.
The group had been finding foster and adoptive homes for shelter cats and dogs since 2013, but as social media criticism from CARA and its supporters built in late May, parish officials banned CARA from taking animals from the shelter. One CARA official posted comments on her Facebook page that parish officials said they saw as threatening.
Among other claims, CARA had spoken out about the shelter stopping volunteers — before the subsequent complete ban — from receiving pit bulls to be fostered unless the volunteers were certified. At a later CARA forum, video was aired of shelter staff euthanizing animals in a manner some saw as inappropriate and cruel, though parish officials disputed that.
As passions cooled, parish officials announced in early June that they were in talks with CARA to run the shelter, culminating in Thursday’s deal.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.