Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pet owners left in a bind by Gulf of Mexico oil spill to get help

Published: Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 10:00 AM
Times-Picayune Staff

Responding to the burdens the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has placed on pet owners and animal shelters in coastal communities, the Louisiana SPCA is offering free veterinary care to dog and cat owners in St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Terrebonne and Jefferson parishes.

Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune archive. These puppies awaiting adoption at the St. Bernard Animal Shelter in Violet were photographed on July 6.

The Gulf Coast Companion Relief Program, established by the SPCA with assistance from several organizations, also will help out-of-work fishers feed their pets rather than give them up.

Animal shelters in coastal parishes are packed with pets being dropped off by owners who say they cannot afford to care for them any longer.

"The coastal parish animal shelters have experienced 2-3 times the number of pets being relinquished than last summer," said Ana Zorrilla, chief executive officer of the Louisiana SPCA. "Studies have shown pets reduce stress, aid in overcoming depression and loss, and provide comfort in times of need. Knowing how bonded people are with their pets, it's heartbreaking to hear of families having to make this kind of decision. The pets have become innocent victims of this disaster."

The free pet care includes vaccinations, microchipping, surgery and basic examinations for heartworms, feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Services are provided at the Louisiana SPCA by licensed veterinarians. Appointments will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis through November.

To qualify for the program, pet owners must work in the fishing industry. Proof of eligibility can be a commercial fishing license, trip tickets, a check stub from the seafood-related industry, or a signed letter from a fishing boat captain.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has given the Louisiana SPCA a $100,000 grant to provide services. Best Friends Animal Society is assisting in the effort, as are Catholic Charities and Second Harvest Food Bank.

"We are hoping this collaborative effort will help keep pets in homes by providing pet owners with the support they need during this difficult time, including much-needed veterinary care, spay/neuter, and pet food," said Julie Morris, senior vice president of ASPCA's Community Outreach.

The ASPCA has had a long-term commitment to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina and is looking to do whatever it can to lend its support once again, Morris said.

Shelter officials estimate that the free services could prevent more than 1,000 cats and dogs from being surrendered by their owners.

"We are hoping to keep pets in loving homes where they belong instead of being given up or relinquished to already overburdened animal shelters," Morris said.

Katherine LeBlanc, communications director of the Louisiana SPCA, said some families aren't able to adequately provide for their pets anymore because of financial stress. "Through this program and the grant we received from ASPCA, we are able to provide food and services for these families affected by the oil spill to help alleviate some of their hardships," LeBlanc said.

Pet owners can pick up donated food from St. Bernard Catholic Church and St. Thomas-Assumption Mission in St. Bernard Parish, St. Patrick Church in Plaquemines Parish and St. Anthony Church in Lafitte.

"We were able to respond quickly to the reports of increased pet relinquishment and solicited a very generous donation from Del Monte Foods of 41,000 pounds of Kibbles 'n Bits dog food," said Temma Martin, spokesperson for Best Friends Animal Society.

LeBlanc said the SPCA is working to get cat food and kitty litter soon and to provide transportation to residents who aren't able to travel to designated food locations.

For pet care, residents can begin scheduling appointments by calling the Louisiana SPCA at 504.363.1333 or 504.368.5191, ext. 141. To volunteer or donate to the program, visit
Craig Malveaux wrote this report.

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