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Look inside CAA, group's changes to protect pets

Thursday, February 7, 2013 - 10:30pm

The Companion Animal Alliance is in the process of reviewing its company policies and transitioning in a new shelter director. Since the organization took over the East Baton Rouge Animal Shelter in August 2011 the company's already fired three directors and animal control has launched two investigations. Despite the difficulties, the shelter is making improvements so it can continue to help protect those most vulnerable in Baton Rouge.

The Companion Animal Alliance is in the business of animals selling, sheltering, and protecting them. Christel Slaughter, CAA's board chairman, described "The mission is great but the resources are finite."

"If everyone came and fostered an animal or adopted we could close the shelter down, that is the key component," Paula Schoen, former interim CAA director, explained.

But business isn't always good.

On any given day around 350 animals fill the cages at Companion Animal Alliance, but CAA leaders said they need more money to make the shelter run smoothly.

"Really it is the budget. If we had more money we could do a lot more," Schoen stated.

Money is not the only problem.

CCA has been investigated for animal cruelty twice by East Baton Rouge Animal Control. According to EBR Animal Control director Hilton Cole, the investigation uncovered issues with animals not receiving proper and timely veterinary care; animals scheduled to be put down were forced to suffer in cages for days, and general lack of leadership.

Slaughter said they are handling the situation as best they can: "We're not a clinic so sometimes people have a tendency to think we don't need a full time vet or maybe we can do this in a different sort of way, but the reality is with the volume of animals... if you don't have the resources that are right there or are within easy reach, then it really becomes a challenge to the staff."

The latest investigation came after former CAA employees filed a complaint against the shelter last fall.

"Everything that I've been seeing there is completely disturbing. Dogs have been stacked up on top of each other, pit bulls are put in a cage with other animals. All of the 'allegations' by disgruntled employees' are completely factual," Jaden Stafford, former CAA employee told the EBR Metro Council on November 14, 2012.

Shelter officials said that's not the case. They only allow two big dogs or three to four small dogs per cage.

The group also came under fire for problems with the cages. Officials said they have fixed most of the cages and they regularly check the cages, but they said it's a problem that won't completely go a way.

"When you have a large animal in a cage, and they are not getting out as much as they should. They're not getting the exercise they need, Slaughter explained. "They are in a stressful environment. Then they jump. They push on the cage. They bite. They chew. They spend all their time trying to get out of that cage."

A new director, Beth Brewster, took over at the end of January. Slaughter described her as a "shelter fixer."

Brewster was instrumental in the rebuilding of the St. Bernard animal shelter and is a Louisiana native. Slaughter expects Brewster to help use her connections to area shelters to help bring in more cages and for her to help bring in more funding for the shelter through grants.

"This is a pretty demanding operation and until we get to the point where we have enough resources in terms of staff and dollars to really do the job that we want it is a very, very stressful job," Slaughter explained.

Some of that stress is because of the open intake policy. Where owners can surrender their animals and the shelter also take in strays.

"People think this is a no kill facility and we are definitely working toward that goal, but we are not anywhere near it at this point," according Schoen. "We would love to get to an 80 percent save rate and it takes promotions it takes actively getting the community to come in and see our animals. It takes off sites and all off those components would help us reach the no kill."

CAA made huge progress in December with the 12 strays of Christmas promotion that priced all the animals in the shelter at $12 that month.

"I kept thinking we would run out of animals, but we never did and there were plenty more to be adopted," Slaughter said. "For everyone that left, another one came in."

CAA officials said the shelter adopted out 322 animals in December 2012. The year prior, they only adopted out 191, which is 131 less than 2012. The problem, however, is that those types of promotions cost the shelter money and can become expensive to continue. So the shelter needs more people to come out and adopt during the off season.

"How can you resist this seriously," Schoen said as two purring cats climbed on her lap.

The hope is more and more people won't resist.

Schoen described shelter animals that get adopted as: "I think they know you save them, and they are very appreciative they are very loving."

CAA officials say they will work with the new director to help institute new policy for the daily operations in the shelter and other ways to help fund care upgrades for the animals.

Click here for a list of all the adoptable animals at CAA.

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