Through two glass doors of a small, cinder-block building is a reception desk that is shielded by heaps of torn, tattered pillows, animal beds and blankets wrapped in gray, plastic Walmart bags. The reception desk is small, and the paneling is cracked in multiple places. The beige, block walls encapsulate the odor of bleach and animal dander. The room was crowded with towering boxes of puppy pads, animal treats and boxes. The receptionist lights up at her desk as she assigns someone to walk through the cramped shelter to examine the facility.
The floors are wet, and the air is stagnant. The smell of dirt and dander burn into the sinuses, causing the eyes to burn and breathing tiresome. The facility is filled with dogs and cats, all of which are inside under old, yellow fluorescent lights. The bellowing of the dogs and cats could be heard from the hallways leading to each room. The dogs’ room is filled with metal kennels from floor to ceiling and the caretakers manually rotate them to and from the outdoor areas, where they have 5 feet of roaming space.
“We do our best with what we have, but the animals deserve better,” said Lafayette Animal Care Center & Shelter Supervisor Shelley Delahoussaye.
Because of the total upgrade needed to meet modern standards for the Lafayette Animal Care Center & Shelter, the Lafayette Consolidated Government has raised the budget for the newest animal shelter to more than double its original price.
Since May of last year, the Lafayette Consolidated Government and Architects Beazley Moliere set the budget for the animal shelter to $70,000. However, since construction began, the budget was raised to $8.9 million and has expanded the size to 21,400 sq. ft. The shelter is projected to open in 2021 and is funded solely on the dedicated tax mileage from Lafayette Parish.
One of the most costly and necessary amenities that was added to the project was air purifiers to lower the chances of airborne illnesses. Respiratory infections such as Feline Upper Respiratory Infections (FURI) and Canine Upper Respiratory Infections (CURI) occur and spread rapidly when the air in crowded places like Lafayette’s shelter.
“Our current facility is very old and outdated. We do not have a fresh air intake system, so it’s hard to control the smell. It’s also hard to keep the animals healthy as respiratory diseases don’t have a chance to exit the building as it should,” she said. “The new shelter will have a state-of-the-art HVAC system to allow fresh air intake, which will keep our animals healthier and cut down on smells.”
Fixing the air quality is one of the main ways the shelter can achieve its no-kill goal. Airborne illnesses are common in animal shelters, but the stagnant air mixed with the crowd of dogs and cats can lead to cycles of sickness and affect adoption and kill rates.
“Establishing and maintaining good air quality is one of the fundamental components of keeping an animal population healthy in a shelter environment,” said Dr. Shelly Liles Fontenot, veterinarian at Country Place Veterinary Clinic and member of the Louisiana Animal Control Taskforce. “In addition, providing a separate ventilation system for isolation wards is important to prevent the spread of disease between all housing areas within a shelter.”
Another cost that was added to the original budget is the addition of extra operating tables and tools in order to increase efficiency when spaying, neutering and conducting other procedures.
“Our current facility only has one surgery table located in a very small surgery room. I mean, it’s basically a closet,” said Delahoussaye.
The new shelter will also give animals more access to roaming areas, as opposed to its current five-foot, fenced-in areas that will be connected to their kennels. The new facility will have a large medical suite with two surgery tables which can better accommodate their high volume spay and neuter needs as well as increase efficiency of the facility adoption rates.
Delahoussaye said that there will be no changes in the capacity that the new shelter can hold as opposed to the current shelter, which is 300 animals total. According to Delahoussaye, since 2015 the average length an animal would stay in the shelter is 14 days. It’s her mission to reduce the time to 10 days.
A model of the new facility courtesy of Developing Lafayette
“Increasing the amount of kennels won’t save lives. Decreasing the length of stay for the animals will,” said Delahoussaye.
In order to attain the no-kill goal, the shelter is also going to give more resources to the community by creating a community-based outreach program that will seek to educate new adopters, old adopters and anyone who is inquiring about adopting. The classes will concentrate on the importance of spaying, neutering and fostering animals.
“I do think that anytime you can give an adopter references and resources on how to acclimate a new pet into their home you’re increasing the opportunity for retention,” said Clark. “When they understand that a puppy is going to chew, and the importance of grading and schedules, you’re just increasing the possibility that it’s going to stick.”
Fontenot agreed that these community outreach programs will also be a beneficial factor to reaching their no-kill goal.
“It takes making a shift in mindset from one of apathy and indifference to one of empathy, sound reasoning and empowerment,” said Fontenot. “It takes people stepping up and doing their little part to make a positive change in our pet overpopulation problem in Lafayette Parish. This change happens one person at a time.”