As the founder and director of Dogs of the 9th Ward, I have been to meetings asking the LA-SPCA to step up their enforcement of animal laws. Many of yall may not be aware that "tethering" an animal as a "primary means of confinement" is illegal in Orleans Parish, pursuant to section 18-2.1(b) of the Municipal Code. Further, every animal is to have shelter (ie, some sort of building with three walls and a roof) and clean water at all times. Why, you might wonder, are there so many chained up dogs throughout the city, many with no shelter and no access to clean water?
Well, the LA-SPCA, a private organization, has contracted with the City of New Orleans to enforce animal laws (all found in Chapter 18 of the Municipal Code; see http://www.cityofno.com/pg-1-42-municipal-code-of-ordinances.aspx). Ana Zorilla, the Director of the SPCA, and those in charge of Animal Control at the SPCA, explain that they are too underfunded and understaffed to enforce all those laws.
And I believe it. On my block, every single occupied house is home to at least one dog. The house on the corner is home to 5 intact pit bulls. Two live inside and three are chained up in the yard with pieces of plywood leaned up against the house and a junked car for shelter. They had a litter of pit puppies several months ago; all 10 puppies died of unknown causes. Then, nextdoor to me, is Roxie, the adorable 10-month-old pit (from the neighbor's past litter) who is chained up to the house. I gave them a harness to use to chain her, because they were using a choke chain. Roxie has no water most of the time, has only under the house for shelter, and is fed primarily left over fried chicken and other table scraps. Then, across the street, two houses have a total of 3 small dogs in them. These are inside dogs, but they are allowed to run loose up and down the street in the morning and evening. Finally, on the far corner, is a house with 5 intact, breeding German Shepherds in the yard. They are not chained, but they also have no shelter and only have water twice a day.
So, given all that -- and just on my block -- I believe the SPCA can't enforce those laws. Not to mention that, supposedly, the SPCA also picks up stray/abandoned dogs and other animals. Well, as most of yall know, the main reason D9 exists is because no one else is picking up the dogs in the 9th Ward.
I have always defended the SPCA's Animal Control (AC). I always tell folks, they try hard and do what they can, but they just don't have the resources for the mammoth job.
Given all this, never did I think that I might be the target of an AC investigation.
Now, I knew that I had more (many more) animals at the house than I'm supposed to. However, the four animal limit applies only to dogs and cats that you "own" (and I do not "own" my fosters, but merely care for them), and "dogs" as defined in Chapter 18 applies only to dogs over 3 months old. So, the two litters of puppies we have on the property don't even count -- they're not over 3 months. Therefore, since my house is zoned 2 lots, I'm allowed to have 8 dogs and cats at it -- since my neighbor and tenant has 2 of her own, I'm still 1 animal over the limit. But again, I don't own them.
At any rate, all my neighbors always told me they supported what I do and have even offered to help. Why, then, would I have any cause for concern?
I don't know how or why, but yesterday afternoon, as I sat with my computer outside with 7 adult dogs and 9 puppies playing peacefully around me, an Animal Control truck rolled up. I went out to meet them. Definitely having one of those sinking feelings in my stomach.
And in the back of my mind: wow, amazing, I've sure as hell never seen yall in my neighborhood before. I thought maybe you were afraid of the 9th Ward.
The AC officer told me she was here to do a condition check on my animals. I asked why. She said she couldn't say. I told her that I knew that, if someone had complained, that was confidential; but I wanted to know if someone had complained, and if so, what the complaint was. She told me it was against policy to tell me.
I explained to her that I had a lot of fosters at the house, that I run a rescue group pending 501(c)(3) status (she asked, "What's 501 mean?"). She then asked if I was affiliated with any rescue. No, I explained; I run a rescue. I pick up dogs off the streets of the 9th Ward, get them vetted, evaluated, and fostered until they get adopted. I told her I've worked with ARNO, the Sula Foundation, and the SPCA in the past. I told her that I've been involved in pulling dogs from the SPCA and that, in fact, I've been in meetings with Ana Zorilla about Animal Control.
She told me she'd go call her supervisor. A few minutes later she re-emerged from her truck saying that her supervisor had told her to go ahead with the condition check, but that it was okay that I had so many animals at the house. I told her fine.
About 20 minutes later, the AC officer was finally ready to come in the house. I had crated all the rescues; my own dogs were loose in the house. "Do they all stay indoors?" she asked me. Yep, I told her. Just like you see them right now. "Why were they outside when I got here?" Well, I just got home from class -- I'm a student in law school -- and everyone usually comes outside for the rest of the afternoon if the weather's nice. We'd all been out playing.
"Why aren't your dogs in crates?" Well, because I don't crate my dogs.
"Where do they sleep then?" In my bed, of course! "All those dogs?" Yes, damn it! (Of course I didn't say damn it.) Yes, ma'am, I share my bed with a St. Bernard, a Great Dane, a pit bull, and a Mastiff puppy. Hence I have no boyfriend.
She asked for each dog's name, breed, and age. She wrote it all down painfully slowly. My St. Bernard, whose name is Chalmette (get it -- St. Bernard, Chalmette?), became "Shelmette" for her purposes. Whatever.
"And," the AC Officer asked, "are any of these dogs vaccinated?"
Of course, they're all up to date on all shots. All my own dogs and the older fosters are fully vaccinated. They've each had 4 rounds of shots, including Rabies and bordatella. The younger pups have had one or two rounds of shots, depending on how long we've had them.
As I held one of the Who Dat puppies up to have her mug shot taken, the ACO noticed her spay incision. "Oh," she said, "has she been spayed recently?"
"Have any of the others?"
Yes! All the dogs are spayed/neutered. Every single one! My dogs are fixed because I want them to be; my rescues are always fixed before adoption, no exceptions.
"Okay," she said. "But the puppies haven't had their Rabies shots?"
No. They haven't. They can't! Legally, a puppy must be 12 weeks before they get their Rabies shot. Only a licensed vet can do it, and it's illegal for them to do it before 12 weeks.
"Well," she said, "you'll have to get that done, because that's a violation. I'll give you 15 days to get their Rabies shots and fax over confirmation. If you don't, they'll be impounded."
But -- they're not old enough! So now, guess what: I legally have to keep the pups until they're old enough to have their shots. That's insane. Further, it's explicit in the Code that there was no violation. Only "dogs" over the age of 3 months need to have their Rabies shots. No mention is made of puppies under that age.
Fine, whatever. So the ACO checked to see if "each dog had food, water, and shelter." Of course they have shelter; they live inside! Yes, she said, but she needs to make sure it's adequate shelter. How is my house not adequate shelter? I live here!
We went outside to photograph the yard. She also took the liberty of photographing my Japanese Magnolia tree -- although I fail to see how my beautiful, flowering tree relates to my dogs' care. "You really need dog houses out here," she told me. Why? The dogs are all inside dogs! "Well, if they stay out for more than 45 minutes, they need dog houses. In case the weather gets bad."
I took a deep breath. "All my dogs, including the fosters, are inside dogs. They do not go out unless I'm there. If it rains, or is hot, or is cold, they come back in. I do not leave them out over night. I do not leave them out for the whole day. They live in the house."
"All of them?"
I don't think she ever believed me.
"Where," she asked, "are the pit bulls puppies? And the two pit moms?"
I told her I have no idea what she's talking about. I have no pit puppies. I have no mama dogs at the house, period. She just shrugged. I actually said, "Are you sure you have the right house?"
So, I got a 5-page "violation report" filled out. It fails to state any violation. All the dogs are listed as being either 4's or 5's on the 1-5 scale of health. The puppies got 4's. I have no idea why; they look healthy to me. Bart, one foster, got a 4. I asked why. She said, "Because he's not in perfect shape." She didn't explain what about him looked not perfect. She failed to rate any of my dogs. Just as well: Pauline probably would have gotten a 2 for being overweight with hair missing from her chronic demodex mange.
As we inspected the yard, my neighbor's tethered pit bull Roxie barked at us. The ACO didn't mention her. Little dogs ran up to greet her as she left -- out, loose, no owner even in sight. The ACO didn't comment.
At the end of the day, my point is this: given the limited resources that AC has, it's completely insane that they spent more than 2 hours at my house, investigating my dogs. All my dogs have full vet records. My own dogs eat Merrick brand dog food (main ingredient: Venison. cost: $60/bag -- I, meanwhile, eat mostly exclusively brand-X food. My dogs come first.) My fosters are eating super-premium Blue Buffalo and Diamond. All my dogs, including my fosters, are current on Heartworm preventative. All of them are spayed/neutered. All sleep inside. All get hours of exercise each day. My dogs are my life. I love each and every one of my fosters as well. I've spent hundreds of dollars of my own money and untold hours saving my fosters' lives. This is a labor of love. I am both insulted that I had to be subjected to a search and threatened with seizure of my foster puppies, and also appalled -- truly stunned -- that the SPCA would waste almost half of an ACO's day at my house when there are dogs dying in the streets right now.
Even better: both litters of puppies would be at the SPCA right now, except that the SPCA failed to respond at all to the call about the Mardi Gras puppies, and they deemed the Who Dat puppies were "impossible" to get. Apparently ACOs would rather harass me than crawl under a house where there is a newborn litter of puppies -- during the hard freeze we had in January. Along with three friends/volunteers, we spent several hours getting the pups out, crawling under a house only 12" off the ground. It took a good 3 hours -- but you know what? They could have done it in the amount of time they spent telling me I should get dog houses for my inside dogs.
All of this is to say: first of all, I'm asking that everyone fill out and submit our brief survey showing your support in REFORMING ANIMAL CONTROL IN NEW ORLEANS. We need functional AC services that enforce laws properly and reliably. The more names we get, the greater a chance we'll succeed!
Second, and equally important, D9 IS IN DESPERATE AND URGENT NEED OF FOSTERS. The three dogs over the age of 3 months who are currently fostered at my house are Slim, Bart, and Tip. They are all with me because they were adopted out and returned to us. Unwilling to let them go to a shelter or end up in any unfavorable home, we took them all back. Now, however, we urgently need to get them into a different foster home, in case the SPCA decides to continue its harassment of D9. Because I, as Director of D9 and loving foster of these dogs, would rather die than see them end up at the SPCA, I am asking that someone open their homes to any one of these amazing dogs. That is the only way we can be 100% sure of their safety.
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Dogs of the 9th Ward