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The Shelter that Once Was Works Towards the Shelter That Will Be

Laura Maloney provides an update on the rebuilding of the LA/SPCA

Laura Maloney provides an update on the rebuilding of the LA/SPCA

In the eight months since Katrina hit, Laura Maloney and the staff of the Louisiana SPCA have plunged ahead with rebuilding and reimagining their role in the community. From the ruins of their old shelter on Japonica Street, with help from local supporters and national organizations, they’re putting together the physical and programmatic details of a new and improved animal shelter—including an office in Baton Rouge for the humane law enforcement division, a location that they hope will allow for closer interaction with state legislators.

Animal Sheltering talked to Maloney about the process of repairing the damage of the last hurricane while preparing the community for the next one. The process has been Big, but it sure hasn’t been Easy.

Read Laura Maloney's October 2005 essay on the state of the LA/SPCA just after Hurricane Katrina.

Read the Dispatches from many animal welfare professionals and volunteers who traveled to Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 

From Warehouse to Shelter

While rescue and sheltering operations at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center continued in October, the LA/SPCA acquired a former coffee warehouse in Algiers that would serve as a temporary shelter for their animals as they searched for a site to start building a permanent facility. The warehouse needed serious work; for a while the roofs let in regular indoor rain showers.

That’s finally stopped, Maloney says. “Our roof work is complete. We now have three socialization areas on-site, and two more are in the works,” she reports. “We have a rehabilitation tent for special-needs animals: those that exhibit signs of emotional trauma and require more one-on-one attention and special attention such as reading to them to help them overcome their fear and apprehension. Cat rooms are being constructed so that we can house them in smaller rooms with their own mini-HVAC systems.”

The design of the temporary shelter’s equipment and caging will make them easily transferable to a permanent location. The organization hasn’t settled on the site, but Maloney and the board are looking at two properties with the idea of creating a campus-style shelter—complete with an animal control facility and an adoption and education center that may also include a dog park and agility program. By this time next year, Maloney hopes that 75 percent of the construction will be completed.

Raising Money to Raise the Roof

Since many New Orleans residents have not returned and the city’s eventual population numbers remain uncertain, Maloney is concerned about the shelter’s donor base.

“We rely heavily on thousands of $20 and $25 donors,” she says. “Due to Katrina, that base just doesn’t exist anymore. … I fear that we’re going to feel that absence in the next one to two years. ASPCA is supporting most of our humane programs with a $2 million dollar operating grant while HSUS paid for much of our capital needs. Thank goodness for both organizations.”

In addition to obtaining grants and external support, Maloney is hoping to generate other revenue through programs such as doggy daycare while she waits for the financial forecast to come into clearer focus.

The Dreaded Deadline

Between starting adoptions again on Valentine’s Day and working with local veterinarians to establish subsidized spay/neuter (through December 2006, residents can get pets sterilized at certain clinics for $10), Maloney and her staff have been all too conscious of another looming deadline: June 1, the start of the 2006 hurricane season. And much of the LA/SPCA’s recent activities have focused on preparing for that date.

While the Bush administration recently proposed committing another $2.5 billion towards shoring up the levees—and the Army Corps of Engineers recently reported that the levees are up to their pre-Katrina standards—it’s little wonder that neither of those bits of information do much to reassure citizens of the soggy city. Even if the levees hold, the winds of a powerful storm may prove more than a match for the FEMA trailers many New Orleanians still call home.

Asked by the city to lead an evacuation process for pets, LA/SPCA staff have been analyzing the routes, personnel, and equipment required. The city estimates that 15,000 people will need assistance in evacuating, and if half those people have pets, the shelter will need to get 7,000 or more animals out of the city. According to Maloney’s estimates, this would require transporting animals in 88 climate-controlled tractor trailers—a move of nightmarish proportions.

In the meantime, the organization has been looking for temporary holding facilities like Lamar-Dixon in case the worst happens again. And staff are adding their voices to those of hundreds of other people supporting Louisiana SB 607, better known as the Pet Evacuation Bill, which would require the state to consider pets in emergency evacuation planning. On April 18, the state’s Senate Judiciary B committee passed the bill unanimously, but it has a ways to go still—through the Senate finance committee and then on to the state’s House of Representatives. Only then will it be sent for approval to Governor Kathleen Blanco, who has already expressed concern that the state has no money to finance the bill.

As LA/SPCA staff continue to plan and rebuild, they and their colleagues around the country are keeping their fingers crossed that Alberto, Beryl, Chris, and Debby—the first named storms slated for 2006—will turn out to be nothing like their monstrous sister Katrina.


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