Friday, October 15, 2010

Strays in New Orleans: the dogs that care forgot

Stray brindle mix in the Florida Area of the 9th Ward

In a city with countless problems, stray, abandoned, and abused dogs are just one of them. They are overlooked. Everyone knows they are there, but the people in this city with the resources -- that is, the money and power -- to get something done about it find it more comfortable to look the other way.

The stray and feral population are just one part of the larger issue. The other parts: poor public education, a lack of low-income housing, lack of job training programs, bad public transportation, police corruption and brutality -- just to name a few.

What, one might wonder, do stray animals, public education, low-income housing, job training, police corruption and brutality, and public transportation have in common? Though disparate in their effects, they are united in one way: they are overwhelmingly the problems of the poor and the disenfranchised. They are issues that, at least in New Orleans and probably in most places, effect primarily low-income, minority groups.

That is, they are problems that overwhelmingly effect those with no voice.

In the case of stray and feral animals, you might say that the issue is compounded: after all, the animals have no voice, either.

There are plenty of people in New Orleans who -- like me -- care deeply about animals. They get their dogs and cats the best veterinary care they can, they take them to dog parks, they buy them super-premium food and designer collars. Their animals are part of the family, as they should be.

Many of these folks also care about rescue. They know there are many other people, total unlike them, who dump dogs in the streets, who leave them at shelters, who simply "let them go." And they think it's horrible. On the rare occasion when they are brought face-to-face with the plight of animals, they are shocked and want to take action. Frequently this means that they pick a particularly sad-looking dog or cat up and take it home. That one lucky stray hit the jackpot and will now live the life it deserves.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of strays are not so lucky. Partly, the numbers are just too great. But partly, it's a factor of where they are. The 9th Ward has always been a convenient place to forget. In fact, it's long been a place that New Orleans can send it's unwanted trash. After Betsy, the rest of the city literally buried its trash in the 9th Ward, at the Agriculture Street Landfill (on top of which a whole neighborhood was built, and still exists). But even earlier than that, just after the majority of 9th Ward had been drained (it was formerly swamp land), New Orleans city officials had a great idea: build two huge public housing complexes out there. Thus the Desire and the Florida came to be. And when you think about it, they are in probably the worst possible geographic location for poor people with no cars: isolated, cut off by water and train tracks, with no jobs nearby.

It wasn't a matter of building in a place that made sense. It was a matter of hiding the projects away, somewhere where the people whose tax dollars made up the majority of the tax base wouldn't have to see them.

Stray dogs in the 9th Ward find themselves in a similar situation. People around the city talk about their support of rescue. But they don't see what I see: countless dogs, many feral, wandering the streets. Breeding, starving, suffering, dying. My friend and neighbor leaves for work while every morning as it's just getting light. She tells me she sees numerous wandering dogs every day. On a bad day, I might see 15. On a good day, maybe only one or two.

And that's just in my particular part of the 9th Ward.

These dogs are always around. If any of the folks from other parts of town who support rescue wanted to, they could drive around and see them for themselves. But they don't want to it. It's sad.

It's better left alone, tucked away in a part of town the more politically resourceful class never has to see. A part of town -- the 9th Ward -- that many residents will literally never go to. A part of town, they think, where crime is rampant, where everything revolves around drugs and violence. (This is false, by the way.) This, they think, is not part of their world. Like some far away country, it's easy to ignore.

And so, the dogs of the 9th Ward continue to suffer and die, and the people of the 9th Ward continue to have to deal with them. Folks in other parts of town might feel like "having to deal with" stray dogs isn't a problem; but the stray and feral dogs (and especially feral packs) do represent a legitimate health and safety concern. While feral dogs are generally very afraid of people and totally non-aggressive, they can pose dangers to resident dogs and cats, as well as feral cat colonies. They also are frequent carriers of disease and parasites. Stray (but not feral) dogs are usually not human-aggressive, but they might be. One dog we got recevently, Woadie, will bite a person if he's scared. And several of our dogs are aggressive towards other dogs.

And then, what I keep coming back to is, simply put, this: folks should not, in the United States of America, have to live with packs of dogs living, breeding, and dying under their houses. But believe it or not, that is the situation.

These dogs have no voice of their own. And unfortunately, the folks affected most deeply by the dogs -- the only people who can't just ignore them -- have been stripped of their voice.

Just as the New Orleans public schools will only really be transformed when people other than their own constituents become interested in transforming them, the dog situation in the 9th Ward will only change when people outside of the 9th Ward become interested. The same can be said for other high-stray areas of New Orleans: Central City, the East.

You don't see packs of feral dogs in the Garden District, or roaming Tulane's campus.

You do see packs of feral dogs in the Lower 9th Ward, the Florida and Desire Areas, in Central City, at Tulane and Broad. And for the sake of the dogs, the people, and the city, everyone should be concerned.

Although many people seem not to have noticed, the City of New Orleans failed to extend the Louisiana SPCA's Animal Control contract. This means that, completely unfunded, AC is basically non-existent in New Orleans. While AC was never impressive in this city, it is now completely crippled.

It's not the first time. The city didn't renew the SPCA's contract for the month of December in 2009. AC was restored in January, 2010.

The LA/SPCA cannot adequately fund AC alone (indeed, in my opinion, it has never been adequately funded, even with the city contract). In 2009, the LA/SPCA's AC contract was worth $2,350,000. But AC cost the SPCA $3,404,000 to operate. So an addition $1m was covered by the LA/SPCA. Animal Control is the most costly program the SPCA runs. In 2009, the SPCA brought in $218k in adoption fees and fees for services. An additional $185 came from the SPCA's endowment, and $107k came from the SPCA's wellness clinic. This left the SPCA to raise an additional $1,824,000 to cover AC costs, as well as costs of their other programs, including the $73k required to run the clinic and keep their shelter running. The SPCA's total revenue for 2009 was $4,684,748 and the organization's total expenses were just under $4, 669,909. There is not additional money left for Animal Control. (All figures are from the LA/SPCA's 2009 Annual Report.)

In a city with the massive stray, abandoned, and feral dog problem we have in New Orleans, AC is not a luxury, but a necessity. It's necessary for the welfare of the animals dying on the streets, and it's necessary for the people who live here. City Council's lack of interest in the dying animals on the streets of New Orleans says a lot about their compassion.

But it also says something about the people of New Orleans. Residents in all parts of the city need to make it clear that AC needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. It's time to stop turning a blind eye to the plight of fellow living things just because they are sometimes hard to see.

The animals need you. It's a problem for the whole city, not just the 9th Ward, or any other area.

Please, contact your City Council representative and let them know that the lack of animal control is unacceptable.

There are other ways to help. If you can donate, volunteer, foster, or adopt, you can help save the lives of animals.

To volunteer with Dogs of the 9th Ward, email Even an hour a week will help our dogs. To donate to Dogs of the 9th Ward, email contact Prytania Veterinary Hospital at 504.899.2828 or 4907 Prytania, New Orleans, LA 70115. You can also donate via Paypal at Any amount is appreciated.

The dogs pictured in this post are stray and feral dogs in the 9th Ward. There are thousands more like them. They have not been rescued. They will not be -- unless people like you take action.

feral shepherd mix in the Lower 9th Ward

feral shepherd mix next to the former Florida Projects


  1. It's hard to know what to say.....

  2. It's hard to know what to say....I am, however, proud of what you're doing, Kelly.

  3. I have to learn how to post a comment....I guess that's what I have to say.

  4. So sad. I live in Cincinnati; went down 3 times after Katrina to help with animal rescue. 3 months after Katrina, the powers that be argued that there was no longer any need for animal rescuers - they didn't see any animals loose & roaming the streets - but we did (ARNO and Best Friends); and we came and we fed them and caught them and tried to help. It's sad that there is still such a need, but so wonderful that there are some people concerned about these stray and roaming dogs.

  5. I was looking for doppler radar tracking algorithms and saw a link about protecting your pets against Sandy when I came across your article on Katrina's affects. We have a very good animal control system in Ottawa and I wish that we could help out somehow with the 9th ward. It is very sad to think about the animals suffering as each one has a unique and special personality and deserves to feel good and safe. I hope I can visit in the future to help out a bit. For now they are very lucky to have you.

    Evidently I am a robot - as I have tried 10 times to get past the word recognizer