While the LA/SPCA is starting to look toward the future, some animal welfare organizations, such as the St. Bernard Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Louisiana, are still scraping by with emergency facilities. Jeff Dorson, executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, says the society’s rehabilitation center for abused animals was ruined by wind and rain, forcing the modest group to work out of “Camp Katrina,” a temporary rescue center in Tylertown, Miss., two hours north of New Orleans. A generous $50,000 grant from the North Shore Animal League has helped, but HSLA needs far exceed it.
Prior to Katrina, the Humane Society of Louisiana, which is a private, licensed investigation agency, already faced many challenges, including cracking down on the state’s thriving dog-fighting culture, monitoring substandard animal control facilities, and investigating animal cruelty cases and ushering them through the legal system.
“Louisiana is known as a safe haven for some of the premier dog fighters in the country,” says Dorson. “Dog-fighters have been here a long time without facing prosecution, [and] there is some corruption involved. Central Louisiana is also known for cock-fighting which is still legal, and a lot of the participants are crossovers [to dog-fighting]. We are slowly starting to chip away at that activity by passing state laws.” Some of the laws include making it illegal to be a spectator at a dog fight and making it a felony to own a dog for purposes of fighting.
“Katrina stopped every type of investigation,” says Dorson. “We got a lot of the fighting dogs during the rescues after Katrina, but the urban fighting continues. As we regroup and recover, we will be able to refocus on that. Unfortunately, we have to cover a lot of ground, because few agencies will apply pressure on law enforcement. We have trouble on almost every level of law enforcement when it comes to responding adequately to animal cruelty. They don’t want to deal with it or they don’t feel it’s their job. We try to educate them that animal cruelty is a symptom of other problems—it can lead to child abuse, spousal abuse or elderly abuse—so don’t discount the fact that the dog is being beaten, because all sorts of problems are probably associated with it.
“It’s been a very difficult situation for the smaller groups,” says Dorson. “Enormous support from the public went to large national groups and trickled down with less-than-equal distribution. There has been no distribution fund, even though $50 million was raised. We, and the public who gave so generously, are concerned, and asking, ‘Why are some groups not getting sufficient funds to replace and build what they lost?’ The criteria are that every animal needs to be properly cared for. Why did you pick some groups so their animals are comfortable and ours aren’t?”
According to the LA/SPCA’s “Year In Review” report, it is estimated that 8,500 animals arrived at the Lamar Dixon emergency shelter. However, many so-called “rogue rescuers,” working independently of official animal relief efforts, saved the lives of thousands more. It is believed that more than 15,000 animals total were rescued. An exact count of animals who perished in the months after the storm will never be known for sure, although rescuers agree it is well into the thousands.
“Of the thousands of animals rescued during Hurricane Katrina, only 15 to 20 percent were ever reunited with their owners,” reads the LA/SPCA report. “Although it appears to be a low percentage, it fares better than the national average of 10 percent; but for the owners searching for their pets, percentages hardly matter. … Unfortunately, clear documentation identifying where animals were found and ultimately transported was sorely lacking, a casualty of both the chaos of Lamar Dixon and the rescue groups working outside the system.”