Update (12/23/16): Matthew Linn responded to my letter via email; he said (in part) :
"Please reach out to your friends that live in each commission district and get them to send the same effective letter you sent me to the other eleven commissioners. This type of statement from you helps us make the correct decision. A few of us on the commission need as much help as we can get in changing policy and procedure within the Animal Shelter, I am 1 vote out of 12."
He encouraged me (and others) to come speak at Caddo Commission meetings on this issue.
I thank Mr. Linn for his response.
Following is a modification of yesterday's post in the form of a letter which I'm sending via USPS to every city official I can find. Feel free to copy/paste or modify as you wish and do the same. Unless there is some public outcry over the animal problem in this city nothing will change. Be the change.
December 21, 2016
Mr. Matthew Linn
President, Caddo Parish Commission
Shreveport, LA 71104
RE: Caddo Parish Animal Ordinances
Dear Mr. Linn:
I'm hoping for some positive change in our area in 2017 with regard to our unwanted animal population.
You are no doubt familiar with the story of Ellie, a stray who in early December wandered into a man’s yard perhaps looking for a bite to eat or a drink of water. The property owner went inside his home, brought out his own dog and ordered it to attack Ellie because she was in his yard. This was captured on video by a brave young woman and was reported to Caddo Parish Animal Services and other officials. Ellie died of her injuries despite an heroic effort to save her. CPAS declined to press charges on the man for animal attack because he was in his own yard and Ellie was not leashed. Ellie's owner has never come forward.
The point of that story is this: Ellie is not an anomaly. There are hundreds of Ellies throughout our area. All you have to do is look in our animal shelters which are overflowing with unwanted dogs and cats despite the very best efforts of several strong, dedicated local rescue groups who work diligently to pull and adopt out these animals. The cycle is never ending, though. The shelters remain filled.
The problem exists on several levels: first and foremost is that too many people in this part of the country see animals as property rather than sentient creatures who need love and companionship. Too many people think dogs are just something to put in the backyard and feed once a day. But hey, at least those dogs have a home, right? No: it's not good enough. That is the basis for the "dogs as property" mindset.
Then you have the segment of our population who will refuse to spay or neuter their animals. Their excuses run from not wanting to change the dog's personality to a conviction that the animal will never reproduce or breed with another animal so what's the point? With organizations like Robinson's Rescue, who offer low-cost spay/neuter procedures, cost is not a valid excuse. And before you know it, here comes another litter of unwanted puppies. Who follows up on those vouchers when animals are adopted to ensure they are in fact spayed or neutered?
The third factor contributing to our unwanted animal population and overflowing shelters is the backyard breeders. Go on Facebook or Craigslist and you can find hundreds of people hawking puppies born of some poor kenneled female used only for breeding and then discarded when her productivity is done. These people have no compassion for the animals whatsoever but are only interested in the dollars they will receive after finding someone to buy these poor puppies (who will probably also then be used for breeding).
And finally, a fourth factor we must consider is the lack of enforcement of our existing animal abuse laws and the slap-on-the-wrist justice doled out on the cases that ever actually do get prosecuted. The most egregious that comes to mind is the Braveheart case where after a three day long trial and agonizingly clear evidence that this dog was left by the defendant to starve to death in a storage locker in a Louisiana August, the verdict was a misdemeanor. A slap on the wrist. An animal's life does not matter. It's just a dog.
So what is the answer? How do we change this? Why is our community willing to stand by and watch hundreds of animals euthanized each month because the shelters have to make room for incoming animals? Why does our community tolerate backyard breeders, people selling animals in parking lots and on Craigslist, when so many in shelters need homes? Why does our community accept a verdict like that in the Braveheart case or in Ellie's case? Why is it acceptable for a man to kill another dog because it wandered into his yard just looking for a bite to eat or a drink of water? Why do our fine, upstanding city leaders not get outraged when dogs are chained to trees, porches, fences, and left out in all of the elements with inadequate shelter? Why are the meager laws that do exist not properly enforced?
I think changes need to be made. These are just for starters:
Number 1: Existing laws need to be strictly enforced and the laws we do have need to be either clarified or made stronger. For example, in the Braveheart trial – the distinction between felony animal cruelty and misdemeanor was so indistinguishable to the jury they simply opted for the lesser charge.
Number 2: Pet owners should be required to have identification tags on their pets. This in itself would reduce the pet shelter population. Install a tag making machine in the lobby of the shelter and the parish could even make some money from it. Just as we require pets to have a rabies tag, no pet should leave the shelter without identification.
Number 3: Get tough on spay/neuter laws. Reduce unwanted animals and backyard breeders. Enforce laws that prohibit puppy sales in parking lots and on the roadside.
Number 4: Any pet owner who brings their pet to a shelter as “owner surrender” because it no longer fits their lifestyle should have to tour the kennels and pick which animal will be euthanized to make room for their animal.
It’s true that nobody wants to see the sadness. Nobody wants to watch the video of Ellie being attacked or laying on the driveway bleeding to death. So why do we continue to let this happen?
We have got to have tougher laws and we have got to have consistent enforcement on these laws. We have to educate our children that animals are not property to be discarded when you're tired of them, when they aren't cute anymore, when you move to a new house, when it no longer fits your lifestyle. It starts with the children. We need to run PSAs and educate them.
It's time for our community to change perspective with regard to our animal population. We owe them that much.
And finally, I challenge you and every member of city government to walk the kennels at Caddo Parish Animal Services and look into the eyes of those animals. Spend some time with them, walk a couple of dogs, show up on euthanasia day and look into the eyes of the selected, watch a couple of adoptions. Look into the eyes of the rescue workers and volunteers who are burning themselves at both ends to save these animals. Then tell me things are okay the way they are.
Patricia Austin Becker