Lending A Helping Paw
Staff and volunteers at animal shelters in St. Charles and St. John the Baptist Parishes care for, treat and find homes for everyday — and occasionally exotic — animals.
Neighboring animal shelters of St. Charles Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish are separate operations with a singular mission — to advocate for animal welfare and responsible pet ownership.
It’s a noble endeavor, albeit one ripe with challenges — the most obvious being the sheer volume of animals in need of assistance and placement. For instance, on average, the St. Charles shelter takes in 1,800 cats and dogs per year. And those numbers don’t include cases involving lost or neglected chickens, horses, pigs and even peacocks (yes, peacocks).
“We actually picked up a potbelly pig yesterday that weighs 200 pounds,” said Dr. Jena Troxler, the Animal Control Supervisor of St. Charles Parish. “For an animal like that, not only do we have to go through the procedure of having them spayed and neutered, but we have to get creative in finding a place for them — like reaching out to a campground in Mississippi that has free-roaming pigs, which we’ve done.
“Even on the dog and cat side, we have to be creative,” Dr. Troxler continued. “You’d think there would be enough homes to reabsorb them. The fact is there aren’t.”
Those creative outlets range from high-tech to down-home at both facilities. In St. John, for instance, volunteers and staff utilize online listings for animals on outlets like Facebook, Adopt-A-Pet.com and Petfinder.com, along with partnering with retailers like Petsmart, PetSense and Tractor Supply to get the word out. Not only do these outlets help more animals find homes, but they also make it easier for adopters to find a specific breed. Beyond that, St. John has formed a solid foster family base of 20-25 homes and hosts monthly offsite adoption events leading up to their annual adoption event at the shelter that usually features music and food.
“More people are advocating for animal welfare than ever before,” said St. John Animal Shelter Manager Rachael Sance. “With the internet, people can help without leaving their homes, and the exposure to animal needs is more prevalent than ever. Rescue groups are more popular than ever, as are adoption events and our shelter has partnerships between larger and smaller entities across the country. I have seen a tremendous group effort happening across the board in regards to the betterment of our animal’s lives.”
For those working in the St. Charles Animal Shelter, the desire to find “forever homes” for their temporary tenants was so great that for years officials drove cats and dogs to partners in other states — such as Virginia and Iowa — so that they could find a family. The journey out of state was required about every 4 months in order to accommodate all the animals entering the shelter. The drives were lengthy, but it was worth the effort, as staff transferred shelter residents to partners with similar visions and goals. Returning to empty kennels and receiving adoption updates made it all worth it.
Through partnerships, Dr. Troxler and her crew have found another solution — transporting adoptable animals via plane rather than car or van. In the past year, more and more St. Charles shelter animals have been included on biweekly Wings of Rescue flights, a non-profit that flies adoptable animals from crowded shelters or calamity-effected areas (from natural events like hurricanes or tornadoes) to shelters in other states where more space is available. Dr. Troxler said those dogs and cats involved with Wings of Rescue get adopted in an average of 3 days, compared to 3 or 6 months if they stayed in Louisiana.
“It’s a great program, but we do want (people) to adopt locally,” Dr. Troxler said. “So we encourage people to apply early when they see an animal come into our shelter, and we’ll try and match them before the animal does fly out.”
No matter where these shelter animals find a home, be it here or out of state, every adoptee is given full medical treatment and attention before they leave the St. John or St. Charles facility. Both shelters have a veterinarian on staff.
But beyond taking care of the needs of those on four legs, both shelter staffs do all they can in preparing and educating those who come in on two legs — the adopters.
“Being a smaller shelter gives us the opportunity to really focus on our animals and adopters. We are able to get to know our animals and fully disclose any issues we are aware of to try to ensure that adopter is making a decision that’s best for them,” Sance said. “Full disclosure means the animal is more likely to stay in its adoptive home, which is our goal. We are able to check on the adopter, offer assistance, and guidance…We also provide a list of veterinary clinics in addition to educational information addressing the need for annual veterinary care and monthly heartworm prevention.”