Working Through the Mold and Mud: Animal Welfare in New Orleans Today
Today was like stepping back in time one year...Except for the traffic and rows of white FEMA trailers in front of the houses that people were salvaging, parts of New Orleans look much the same as they did when I toured the vacant streets last September. There are places where huge strip malls are falling down and boarded up. Chain restaurants, still devoid of windows and sometimes even walls, look like the water ripped through them yesterday.
The tell tale sign that this disaster happened over a year ago is the thick blackish green lining inside the vacant buildings that can be seen from the street. Not paint, but mold and mud. And the animals? I saw one cat run out in front of my car as I pulled out of the car rental the first night and a few more skittish kitties here and there as I walked the streets of the French Quarter.
But all in all, there were few stray or feral animals visible to the casual observer. This is not to say that all of the companion animals that Katrina rendered homeless are off of the streets but rather those that are left have learned to go about unnoticed. Of course there are those animals that live in the areas with the abandoned buildings. In-tact and unobserved it is likely that their populations will boom until they are sterilized or the laws of population density holds their numbers in check. My tour guide was Julie Becker, director of SPAY/Louisiana one of the organizations IFAW is working with via the Katrina & Rita Spay/Neuter program. SPAY/Louisiana is currently decreasing companion animal overpopulation by distributing vouchers to hurricane impacted and low income residents of Louisiana and is on target to deliver 2,500 surgeries by year end.
Next spring, SPAY/Louisiana should have its own high volume spay/neuter clinic up and running providing sterilizations to even more animals thanks to Julie’s tireless work. Julie took me to a number of the shelters that are distributing vouchers: St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter, Nola Animal Clinic, the LA/SPCA, Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter, and Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO).
Each of these facilities is facing its own difficulties as they attempt to rebuild. Most of them are struggling to provide adequate staffing since many of their employees did not return after Katrina. Others are operating in facilities battered by the storm or out of make shift facilities. Nola Animal Hospital, for example, only had wooden framing partially covered in cardboard for many of its inside walls while the LASPCA is currently operating out of what was a coffee warehouse. The stacked airline kennels give a misleading appearance that the animals are literally being warehoused while in actuality the facility is incredibly well organized and the animals seem relatively comfortable.
It was wonderful to see the inner workings of so many of the animal welfare groups, each one more committed and caring than the last. At the same time it was devastating to see parts of the city simply as abandoned as it was a year ago. Did you realize that sections of the city are still in this state?