From a horned ram wandering a neighborhood to lizards abandoned by their owners, animals in need of a home are welcome at this Baton Rouge shelter.

Though dogs and cats make up the majority of the animals that find their way to the Companion Animal Alliance shelter in Baton Rouge, the organization takes in a Noah’s Ark of potential companions.

“We get it all,” said CAA Executive Director Jillian Sergio. “As long as it isn’t (native) wildlife, it comes to us.”

The shelter near the Mississippi River on the outskirts of LSU's campus is a safe haven for pets that people have kept and, for whatever reason, can no longer care for.

Earlier this month, a cow came in after being hit by a car, requiring it to undergo treatment at the nearby LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. And many of 25 horses that lived in the shelter’s outdoor pasture this year came through neglect cases across East Baton Rouge Parish, Sergio said.

A few years ago, animal control officers picked up a lemur that someone had been keeping.

“The lemur was the weirdest thing,” Sergio said. “We don’t know the whole story because it was a stray.”

They transferred the animal to a zoo.

She's kept a running total of this year's odd animals being fostered at the shelter. They include: 18 pigs, 14 chickens, 12 birds, eight goats and two donkeys.

Among the strangest this year, Sergio said, was a ram that been meandering through a Baton Rouge subdivision. The shelter is still unsure where the 5-foot-tall horned animal came from.

CAA partners with Rescue Me Animal Welfare, a Walker-based organization that has a broader reach and can find livestock and other exotic animals a home in a different parish or another state.

There are many reasons these animals have been forsaken by their owners, but the most common one is that the owners can no longer care for the animal and take them to the shelter in hopes of finding them a better home.

Livestock sometimes get picked up by animal control agents before the owners realize they're missing. 

Sadly, sometimes the animals are set loose in the wild.

Laurie Font, a science teacher at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, has fostered dozens of reptiles in the past decade and is currently caring for a 5-foot-long red tail boa constrictor that a police officer found at the side of a road.

“People get overwhelmed, so they release them,”  Font said. “A lot of the ones we get in are not in the best of shape."

Some of the cold-blooded critters she's taken in over the last decade need serious veterinary care for infections or bone problems from being malnourished.

Font uses these animals in some of her environmental classes to expose city kids to critters they may never have encountered, as well as a chance to highlight cautionary tales of irresponsible pet ownership.

Iguanas and other reptiles are cheap to buy when they’re young but tend to be a lengthy commitment and have specialized needs and diets.

Finding homes for reptiles typically isn’t difficult, but requires serious owners who can take care of them for several years. A red-tail boa, for example, can live 30 years.

Stray reptiles present a greater challenge, especially for those abandoned in the wild. Because they can survive in Louisiana’s mild climate, Font said, they can pose a threat to the ecosystem.

Florida in recent years has seen a boom in iguanas that have wreaked havoc on the environment, gobbling up the abundant plant life there with no natural predators to keep them in check.

Concerned about a similar possibility in Louisiana, Font said, CAA been encouraging people to take their pets to a shelter if they can no longer care for them.

"There are places you can turn to help versus just letting them go," Font said. "That's just not a viable option."


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com.