July 22-31, 2006
On July 22 and July 23, 2006 the LA/SPCA and a local business, Belladonna Day Spa, held a microchipping event. The owner of the spa had volunteered during the Lamar Dixon days and is a passionate animal lover. Thanks to the generosity of Belladonna, the first 100 pets could be microchipped for only $5. The cost was $10 for all others. Although the event was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. a crowd began to form by 6 that morning. By 9 a.m. the lines snaked for over three blocks. People and their pets endured sweltering heat and high humidity. They continued to come out in droves. On Sunday, the heat was accompanied by sheets of rain and high winds. And the crowds never lessened. By the end of the weekend, 1000 pets had been microchipped in 10 hours. “It’s not easy being out here,” one woman remarked, “but after seeing what happened last year, I’ll do anything for them. This is worth the wait.”
In late July, the LA/SPCA hosted the Big FIX Rig. A low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic that can sterilize up to 60 cats a day serving our goal of reducing animal overpopulation. The service was open to both domestic and feral cats. The public responded to the need of reducing cat overpopulation from as far away as Opelousas, Louisiana, taking advantage of the affordable service. The Rig was designed and purchased by Humane Alliance of Asheville, NC with funding provided by the ASPCA, HSUS, the PETCO Foundation, the Bosack and Kruger Foundation, PetSmart Charities, United Animal Nations and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Five hundred eighteen surgeries were performed on the Rig during its first 15 days. Based on very conservative estimates that one half of the 518 cats altered were female; and that one female will have at least one litter of four kittens per year; and that from at least two of those four kittens another 4 litters would be born; in just 15 days we potentially saved the lives of over 3000 animals who might otherwise face a life of homelessness, neglect or worse.
Looking back at the past year, it’s almost unimaginable that we were able to not only survive our unprecedented hardships, but also overcome them. Most staff lost their homes, clothing and all their possessions. Those who worked the front lines during the rescue operation worked non-stop from the moment we left New Orleans on August 27. There was no break in anyone’s lives – they had no chance to assess or even comprehend their personal losses. They gave their all to the LA/SPCA and the animals that needed rescue. The staff performed like machines. And when we returned to New Orleans, the months that followed were fraught with change and uncertainty and a constant need to get it done and move on to the next hurdle, the next project, the next program.
In July 2006, the LA/SPCA leadership team took part in a two-day workshop conducted by a group of organizational psychologists in a project called KARE – Katrina Aid Relief Effort. KARE donated their professional services to assist and particularly strengthen the team building skills of organizations devastated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. An exercise in the workshop assessed our individual
levels of stress. A stress level of 300 points was the benchmark of extremely high stress. Our stress level came in at an average of 1300 points. By those standards, we should have all dropped dead from heart attacks months ago.
Katrina also brought attention to companion animal issues, especially those in Louisiana. Debates raged (and continue to) in the animal welfare community over stories of loss and reunion. What constitutes a good home for an animal? How do Louisianans fare in how they care for their animals when compared to the rest of the country? How much does income, education and cultural differences play into the equation? Are a greater income, higher education and a progressive society a necessary component of being a good pet owner? Who should be held accountable for what happened to the many animals during Katrina? Are animals simply considered “property” or family members? What value can you place on an animal’s life? Is love enough when it comes to caring for an animal? If you evacuated without your pet does that mean you never deserved them in the first place? Should New Orleans residents be looked upon as poor pet owners and undeserving of owning another animal? These questions become more complicated or, in the opinion of many, black and white, when you consider that 95% of animals in Louisiana are intact and that a substantial percentage that were rescued were discovered to be heartworm positive. These questions symbolize our work everyday as we focus on both our long-term and short-term goals.
The LA/SPCA is incredibly grateful to the many individuals, volunteers, foundations, animal welfare agencies and corporations whose generous support has allowed us to continue operating during this time of crisis. We realize there are many needs across our region but the past year reflects just how strongly the needs of our animals must be met. Our fundraising efforts post-Katrina have been complicated as the LA/SPCA lost its donor database in a data conversion. In the coming months we will launch a $17 million capital campaign to build a permanent facility and provide an LA/SPCA campus with a full range of public services and programs. In short, there is still much work to be done.
On August 20, 2006 a pet memorial was held to honor all the animals that lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Katrina. That the memories and aftershocks of Katrina will remain with us for a long time to come is undeniable. It has impacted every facet of life for a community of people and its animals. The response and reaction to the animal tragedies of Katrina has hopefully marked a turning point in how we view and treat our animal companions.
Reflecting on the past year compels us to do no less.