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Give Me Shelter: Louisiana SPCA has a bigger, better home

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It's easy to tell that Goose is a social kitten. Upon meeting him, the black and white domestic shorthair mix prances up and playfully bats his paw between the bars of his crate. The two-month-old also likes to play chase and tease the other kittens living in cages next to him.

  New studies show that because of his temperament, an animal like Goose best thrives in a group environment.

  For a while, Goose wasn't so lucky. He lived alone in a small cage awaiting adoption at a crammed building run by the Louisiana SPCA. But even if Goose didn't get a forever home right away, he hit the kitty lottery in September.

LOLA GETS A CHECKUP FROM THE STAFF AT THE NEW LA/SPCA CLINIC. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • LOLA GETS A CHECKUP FROM THE STAFF AT THE NEW LA/SPCA CLINIC.

  That's because the furball was slated to move into to a brand-new facility that opened its doors on the West Bank in late August. Designed to make the adoption process more attractive, the bright, sparkling shelter features impressive amenities: glass-enclosed cat "colonies" that allow for more socializing, homelike settings for dogs and even a room set aside just for playing fetch.

  "When you think of a shelter, what do you think? You think metal cages, sad animals, rundown facilities," said Alicia Haefele, a spokeswoman for the LA/SPCA. "This is completely different from that."

  Boasting 41,000 square feet of space, the Adoption Resource and Clinic Center at the organization's Dorothy Dorsett Brown Campus is the new home for most of the animals that are adoption-ready, which averages about 50 on any given day.

  The $16.8 million building also houses a brand-new community veterinary clinic and new classrooms used for humane education training and pet obedience classes.

NEW ORLEANS FIREFIGHTER CHRIS GOETTER WAITS TO GET SHOTS FOR HIS ADOPTED DOG. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • NEW ORLEANS FIREFIGHTER CHRIS GOETTER WAITS TO GET SHOTS FOR HIS ADOPTED DOG.

  Until September, nearly all of the SPCA's services were crammed into the campus' Animal Rescue and Care Center, a 21,600-square-foot building that opened when the LA/SPCA relocated to Algiers in 2007.

  Now staff will have more room for their "back of house" functions, like lost and found and animal control services. The old building will continue to house up to 300 animals, most of which aren't adoption-ready, according to Hafaele.

  "This is much better suited for the work we do," Hafaele said.

If there's a shining jewel to the new building, it's the spacious adoption wing, which looks more like a mansion for animals than a shelter.

  A hallway leading from the front desk and community clinic waiting area opens up to the glass-enclosed "cat colony" section, where prospective owners can better interact with all the cats at once.

THIS TEMPORARY BUILDING HAS SERVED AS A CLINIC SINCE 2007. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • THIS TEMPORARY BUILDING HAS SERVED AS A CLINIC SINCE 2007.

  As of late August, nearly 30 spayed and neutered cats ready for adoption were to be housed in the new colony rooms. The new homes group the cats together and encourage mobility and play with vertical climbs and spaces to stretch out.

  "It really is taking some of the best of what we've seen around the country, and bringing it to Louisiana," said Ana Zorrilla, the organization's CEO.

  The area set aside for adoptable dogs was equally well-thought-out, Zorrilla said. Kennels are replaced by 23 "dog condos," which are brightly colored and come equipped with a chair for prospective adopters and a rug so they can play comfortably with the dog awaiting adoption. The setting is meant to look like a living room, so people can better envision the animals in their homes.

  "What we've learned from colleagues around the country is when we change the way we showcase adoptable animals, the public is more interested in coming," Zorrilla said. "It's not a sad place. It's not a depressing place, not a Sarah McLachlan commercial. It's really just a fun, vibrant space."

THE NEW CENTER GIVES ADOPTABLE PETS LIKE ROSCOE MORE ROOM TO INTERACT WITH PROSPECTIVE OWNERS. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • THE NEW CENTER GIVES ADOPTABLE PETS LIKE ROSCOE MORE ROOM TO INTERACT WITH PROSPECTIVE OWNERS.

  The new adoption wing isn't the only highlight. The large administrative wing is better equipped to accommodate about 100 workers, and an outside courtyard area features doggie water fountains, retractable shades and other amenities for the public and for the staff's foster animals.

  The back of the house features a photo studio for taking pictures of adoptable pets, a laundry room and a quarantine space for sick animals.

  Another feature is the "goodbye room," where pet owners go after deciding to have their companions euthanized. The area has a discreet second door that leads directly outside, allowing people to grieve alone after putting down a companion animal.

  "When you have to make that decision, you usually don't want to have to see other people," Haefele said. "So we had that door made. We tried to think of everything."

  Perhaps most important, the new facility is well-equipped to play its part in the case of another major hurricane, according to Haefele. A big blue building that stands behind the shiny adoption center boasts thousands of emergency supplies, and is big enough to hold 18-wheelers on standby in case they're needed to transport pets.

PANCAKE PEEKS OUT OF A KITTY CONDO DESIGNED TO SOCIALIZE CATS FOR ADOPTION. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • PANCAKE PEEKS OUT OF A KITTY CONDO DESIGNED TO SOCIALIZE CATS FOR ADOPTION.

  After Hurricane Katrina, a poll conducted by the Fritz Institute showed 44 percent of the people who stayed behind after the storm refused to evacuate because they didn't want to abandon their pets.

  Now the Louisiana SPCA is tasked with assisting the city in evacuating animals that have owners. According to volunteers, there's no better organization to be tasked with the responsibility.

   "The Louisiana SPCA's example is used to train people in emergency preparedness all over the country," said Dr. Emily Roberson, a volunteer who works in public health.

THE NEW ADOPTION CENTER. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • THE NEW ADOPTION CENTER.

  The facility will be sustained in large part by the organization's new, spacious community clinic. More examination rooms means the organization can quadruple its surgery capacity, and there's now a space just for grooming and dental care for pets.

  It's a far cry from the triple-wide trailer where staff veterinarians used to have to work. Even though the makeshift clinic served the organization for the better part of the decade, it was only supposed to last for three years, Haefele said.

  Despite challenging work environments, staff spayed and neutered more than 7,000 animals in 2014. The upgrade to a state-of-the-art facility means that number is likely to "skyrocket," Haefele said.

EXTERIOR OF THE NEW LA/SPCA FACILITY - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • EXTERIOR OF THE NEW LA/SPCA FACILITY

Hafaele said these new facilities, which also will be sustained with private donations, adoption fees and retail sales, were a long time coming.

  For nearly 60 years, the LA/SPCA was housed in a shelter in the 9th Ward. It opened its doors on Japonica Street in 1958, and opened a veterinary clinic in 1975.

  The expansion was significant, providing for the first time certain services for pets whose owners couldn't afford veterinary care. By its second year, it logged 15,000 visits.

LA/SPCA DOG TRAINER SHY BAKER WITH HER DOG BEANIE. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • LA/SPCA DOG TRAINER SHY BAKER WITH HER DOG BEANIE.

  But when floodwaters following Hurricane Katrina destroyed the campus, the organization suddenly found itself homeless. The loss was devastating not only for pets, but also for stray animals. Animal overpopulation was also a threat, since the LA/SPCA had the only high-volume spay/neuter clinic in the region.

  After working out of temporary shelters, the Animal Rescue and Care Center was built in 2007. Staff initially planned to break ground on the new building immediately after returning post-Katrina, according to Haefele, but $8 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency took years to arrive.

  Construction finally began in 2013. In addition to FEMA money, $1 million was donated from the national American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of America and PetSmart Charities. The rest came from private donors.

  It was a slow recovery. But 10 years after the storm, the new building allowed the organization to finally replace all facilities lost in Katrina, and then some, according to Zorrilla.

  "It not only takes us to where we were, but we are just bounds beyond that," she said, adding that the teamwork needed to build the facility reflects the community's determination and growth. "It's really been an incredible journey for the whole team — the staff, the architects, everybody."

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