DENHAM SPRINGS — The city’s animal shelter, a facility that sustained extensive damage during the August 2016 flood that inundated much of Livingston Parish, will be receiving a new building that will enhance the facility’s operations and provide a new, permanent home for the cats that are cared for at the shelter.
The 1,900-square-foot building, estimated to cost about $551,000, is being funded by grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, donations from the Petco Foundation and from patrons who responded to a GoFundMe page request following damage to the shelter in the flood. The new building will replace a facility that housed the cats. Since the destruction of the building, a used converted mobile home has been housing the shelter’s cats.
Mayor Gerard Landry said the building will be on land at the shelter site that did not flood in 2016.
“This facility is something that has been needed since the flood, and we are happy that we can make this positive contribution to our animal shelter. This latest improvement to the shelter is part of our ongoing plan to upgrade facilities around the city as the funds become available,” Landry said.
After the flood, the city also consolidated its maintenance facilities at the shelter site.
“Ever since the flood, we have worked hard to upgrade the shelter and this new building will be a big addition," said Rachel Boutwell, director of the shelter. "We will have offices in a permanent building and have an up-to-date facility for housing the animals that we shelter. In addition to our operations offices, the building will include animal examination rooms and space for the veterinarians who volunteer their much-needed services. The veterinarians will have the proper accommodations for examining and treating animals.”
Boutwell said the new building will be one more sign that the damage caused by the flood is becoming a thing of the past. She said memories of the flood are still vivid in her mind and in the minds of those volunteers who came to rescue shelter animals when the unexpected floodwaters came from the nearby Amite River.
“At the time, we had about 100 cats in the old building … and we had 89 dogs in the dog facilities. Local citizens who care for animals came to the shelter, opened the gates, and started saving the animals. The only thing we could do at the time was put the dogs and cats on the roofs of the dog shelters," Boutwell said. "Later, volunteers came in boats and picked up the animals and brought them to River Road where they were eventually taken to other locations. A number of our citizens agreed to take care of the dogs and cats for the next several weeks, and they managed to feed and care for the animals until we could take them back here.”
Boutwell said all the animals, with the exception of a litter of kittens, were saved.
“I was pretty green when I started here, but somehow I figured out what needed to be done and sometimes I think I am still learning new things,” said Boutwell, who has been director of the shelter for six years.
Boutwell said residents' support for the shelter has been an important facet of what she and her staff are able to accomplish.
“After the flood, the GoFundMe account was launched and the original goal was to raise $50,000. In no time, we raised $130,000, and the Petco Foundation agreed to match that amount. Later, Petco gave us another $100,000. Petco has been most generous in supporting our shelter,” she said.
The Petco Foundation supports animal rescue organization nationwide and local Petco stores hold adoption events in the communities they serve.
Boutwell said she was able to return to the shelter several days after the flood and she and her staff began the long recovery process that was necessary to keep providing a facility that serves the needs of Denham Springs residents.
The mayor pointed out that the city’s animal shelter is a no-kill shelter and that it is designed to provide a place where stray and other unwanted animals can be humanely treated and made available for adoption.
“Our staff is equipped to pick up stray animals and they are always available to adopt animals that are no longer wanted. There are instances where people will leave animals in a cage at the gates of the shelter, and I suppose they do so because they know that the animals will be well-taken care of,” he said.
The city’s annual shelter budget is $390,000 and that funds the operations overseen by Boutwell. She has a staff of two full-time workers and 10-12 part-time employees. The shelter also welcomes volunteers who agree to walk the dogs and assist in other ways. Boutwell said that at any one time the shelter is home to between 40-50 dogs and 60-70 cats. She added that those numbers tend to be higher in the spring and summer months.
The shelter is open for adoptions seven days a week.
“We are here because we love animals and we want to see that they are cared for and properly treated. This is a calling … you have to really care for animals to work here,” she said.
Landry said, “We have a terrific group of caring, dedicated workers who maintain our animal shelter. They provide a service that is an important aspect of the services we offer to our citizens. I am very proud of the work the staff does and of the way they have devoted themselves to caring for these animals through the years as we recovered from the flood. It has been a long process, but with the addition of this new building, we will be taking one more big step to make what is already a very good facility even better.”