Mass euthanization at a Louisiana animal shelter upsets many

By Bigad Shaban

NEW ORLEANS (WWL) - More than 170 dogs and cats were put to sleep practically overnight at a Louisiana animal shelter. Former shelter employees say it should not have happened.

"I just wanted to make sure things were taken care of," said Rachael Sance, former shelter employee. Sance is an animal lover by hobby and by trade. She's a former employee of the Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter, and recently went back as a volunteer when they were short staffed.

But, her chance visit to the shelter on Monday, proved to be the last time she'd ever see the more than 170 cats and dogs she had cared for. "The next thing I knew, they were going to euthanize everything," said Sance.

According to Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess, there was an outbreak of a dangerous viral airborne infection inside the kennel, causing an unknown number of animals to get sick. Burgess said there were "... bloody stools and they had diarrhea and vomiting."

So, Sance says she volunteered to adopt as many of the pets as she could, and she picked nine dogs. "There were several dogs that ... had just walked in the door." They are now the only animals left from the shelter. The rest were all put down.

Local animal rescue workers are calling the mass euthanization completely unnecessary. "I mean, I can see euthanizing some that are sick and suffering," said Barbara Jaeger with Tangipahoa Adopt-A-Rescue. "That should be done.  But to just euthanize everything in there, and we could have found rescue groups to help place them if they were over-crowded ... it was treatable."

"We did not want to expose the community with some sick pets," said Burgess. Burgess also said doing otherwise would have created a wide-spread danger.

The shelter is now closed and under strict quarantine. No pets or employees are allowed inside. That is until the facility can be cleaned. Former employees of the shelter say the a lack of manpower led to the unsanitary condition, and now blame management for cutting back shifts dedicated to cleaning the facility.

"They didn't get the proper feedings, they didn't get the proper cleaning, they didn't get the proper exercise," says Linda Winkler, a former Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter employee. "I mean every issue about taking care of animal got jeopardized."

Despite what some are now calling mismanagement, rescue workers still believe not all of the animals had to die. Sance says she'll never forget the image. "I did walk back there at one point and they were all piled on top of each other, just lying there dead," says Sance.

"It's kind of like Monday morning quarter-backing woulda, shoulda, coulda, but as parish president I felt like we were doing the right things, and I still say we were doing the right thing," said Burgess.

Sance says a veterinarian checked out the nine dogs Wednesday, and was told all were free from serious illness. The parish is now conducting their own investigation into the incident and should release those findings next week.