Saturday, May 5, 2018

Caddo Parish Set to Name New Animal Services Director

Caddo Parish Animal Services
In early 2015 I attended the trial of Gabriel Lee at the Caddo Parish Courthouse; Lee was eventually convicted of animal cruelty for his abandonment of the dog Braveheart in a storage locker.  One of the witnesses in that trial was a Caddo Parish Animal Services investigator named Travis Clark.  Mr. Clark was instrumental in getting Mr. Lee to jail and in getting him to surrender ownership of Braveheart so he could be saved.

Mr. Clark worked at Caddo Parish Animal Services from 2008 - 2015, and then moved away to work as Supervisor at the animal shelter in Stockton, California.  Clark left his family and friends here in Shreveport because he wanted to advance his training, complete his degree, and expand his skill set, probably with an eye to eventually becoming Director of Caddo Parish Animal Services.  His work in Stockton has given him valuable experience. 

It appears that this might be about to come to fruition.  Rumor has it that Mr. Clark will be the new CPAS director.  Not everyone in the rescue community here is happy about this but most that I have talked to are thrilled.

Caddo Parish Animal Services has been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny and criticism in the past few years for various reasons, and while there are still many problems, it does appear that some changes have been made.

Because of the demands of outraged citizens who truly want a better shelter, there have been outside audits made, and now auditors are auditing the auditors to ensure that when Parish Administrator Woody Wilson says that the shelter is using PetPoint, for example, they really are.  Another huge step in the right direction is the new partnership with Erica Falbaum, founder of PEP!, a very active and important outreach program about responsible pet ownership.  Mr. Wilson also reported in February 2018 that the parish is working with Best Friends Animal Society who will review shelter operation.  Wilson's report can be found in the February 5 minutes of the Commission work session; he goes into more detail about positive steps toward shelter operation.  For the most part, a lot of it is just words, but some of it is really happening.

Caddo Parish Animal Services is an open-intake municipal shelter which means that it is part of local government and we all know that government moves slowly.  Any steps toward the positive are welcome. We are not where we need to be, but there is progress.

One of the items that Mr. Wilson addressed at that February work session was to begin the search for a new director for the shelter; Kelvin Samuel has been serving as interim director since Chuck Wilson resigned in November 2017.  Since Wilson's resignation, many in the animal rescue community have had fingers crossed and lifted silent prayers for the return of Travis Clark.

Going away card for Travis Clark by Shreveport animal community, 2015

Mr. Clark has been a popular figure with many in the local animal community.  While his appointment has not been officially announced, the signs are there that he may be tapped as the new director.  He has resigned his job in Stockton and is in the process of moving home to Shreveport.  In interviews with local media, Mr. Wilson has said that his pick for director would be announced very soon and that the person is currently returning to the area.  It isn't hard to add this up.

It is my belief that Mr. Clark will be a welcome appointment by most in the animal community here and it is widely believed that he will do a good job.  As evidenced by his decision to leave CPAS in 2015, some believe that part of his motivation was to get away from untenable circumstances at the shelter that he was powerless to change.  That distancing, coupled with the fact that he could position himself to become an attractive candidate to lead CPAS by working and training in Stockton, could have been a very smart move.

The rescue and adoption statistics for the Stockton shelter under Mr. Clark's tenure look very good.  The euthanasia rate is steady at about 16% and the adoption and the rescue rates are in the 30 to 35% range.  As an open-intake municipal shelter of course there will be some euthanasia rates: it's not a no kill shelter, but with Caddo's euthanasia rate well north of 60%, the numbers in Stockton look pretty good.

Stockton Animal Services 2017

It is important to remember that a shelter can't lower those euthanasia rates without help from the community; when so many people refuse to spay and neuter their pets there will naturally be too many unwanted animals.  Any incoming director would need to continue the working relationship with PEP! and also develop other community programs like adoption events, PetPoint implementation, a well-trained and compassionate staff, a modern, updated website, funding for medical needs, and a strong volunteer and rescue program.

Perhaps Mr. Clark is the man for the job.

There is no question in my mind that he cares about animals.

Bo Spataro (owned by Braveheart) says Mr. Clark is "an intelligent, respectful, and driven person" who will likely work to turn around public perception of the shelter and who will work closely with the rescue community.  "I think he will do very well and plan on actively supporting him," Spataro said.

Travis Clark
There are those who will not be happy with the choice of Mr. Clark if for no other reason than that he has the approval of Woody Wilson, but in truth, I don't think Wilson cares one iota about the shelter; I think he cares about Woody Wilson and doesn't want the pressure of an outraged public on his doorstep.

It has been the citizens of Caddo Parish who have fought for change at Caddo Animal Shelter through countless appearances at meetings, letters to commissioners, interviews with news media, public protests, and meetings with local politicians.  We have been the voice for change.  We have insisted upon it.  We have not backed down.  And now change is here.

If Travis Clark is tapped for the job, as I believe he will be, then we need to support him.  We need to line up at the door to volunteer at the shelter.  We need to marshal donations for whatever he needs from blankets to money.  We need to organize transports for rescue animals, volunteer at adoption events, wash kennels, and maybe even help set up an inviting adoption room at the shelter.  Whatever he needs we need to step up and lend a hand.

We have screamed for change and now change is coming.  Let's be part of the solution and not perpetuate the negativity. 

Let's give him a chance, but most of all, let's give him some help.

Further Reading:
Problems at Caddo Animal Control Continue (SIGIS, Oct. '17)
Stockton Animal Shelter Statistics
Caddo Parish Commission Minutes access
PEP! Education Outreach
Caddo to begin searching for new director (KSLA, Feb. '18)

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