Where to Adopt a Four-Legged Friend in NOLA

09:25 June 29, 2019
By: Greg Roques
Until one has loved an animal, a part of their soul remains unawakened. - Anatole France

I sometimes wonder if my wife's and my perpetual pampering has left our cat--a three-year-old rescue from the Louisiana Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA-SPCA)--amnesic to her feral fight-or-flight defenses. When the adoption papers asked if we would be able to provide "sufficient love and attention," I'm not sure a three-story scratch-pad condo that doubles as a high chair at our kitchen table, gourmet meals on weekends, and a reserved space in our bed were standard prerequisites. In a post-nuclear Judgement Day dystopia (here's looking at you, Lil' Hands and Lil' Kim), would she be able to check her indoor privilege and resurrect the predator within? Or would she wander among the ashes of man searching for a surviving fallout boy in hopes that he has a stash of Fancy Feast?

While I'm almost optimistic our world leaders can contain this Fury Road-hypothetical to the realm of science fiction, the epidemic of animal homelessness is all too real. In particular, New Orleans is estimated to have the largest feral cat population in the United States-more than 350,000 cats all fending for their lives on the streets. According to a 2017 ASPCA article, "A Closer Look at Community Cats," the average age of a feral cat without human assistance is less than two years, compared to up to 18 years for an indoor cat. Fortunately, several nonprofit organizations around the metro area are committed to ending animal suffering in our city.

The LA-SPCA cares for approximately 350 animals at any given time at its adoption facility on the Westbank.

"Any warm-blooded human with room in their heart can welcome an animal into their home," says Alicia Haefele Vial, communications director for the LA-SPCA. "We have several fostering and adoption options to help make sure that a pet fits their lifestyle."

Adopting a pet requires a significant time and financial commitment. Online adoption database PetFinder.com estimates the first-year costs of owning a cat to be nearly $1,100, and more than $1,200 for a dog. "Having a puppy is like having a demanding newborn," says Mid-City resident and recent mother Rachael Kansas Feder. "The hardest part of adopting a pet is the lifestyle change--gone are the days of post-work Happy Hours fading into dinner and a night out, because you need to get home to take care of the dog. In many ways, it is a great trial run for a baby."

One way the LA-SPCA lets would-be adopters get their feet wet is through its Sleepover Program. After completing the adoption process, residents get to take an animal home for up to 72 hours. If things don't work out, the LA-SPCA will take the pet back-no questions asked-and the adoption fee can be re-applied to another animal.

"The Sleepover Program is a great way to encourage people to take the leap without committing," says Vial. "Animals often present differently at the facility than in a home. This gives you the chance to see how they will adapt to your environment, as well as how they get along with kids." The LA-SPCA also offers a variety of fostering programs for those wanting to care for an animal, but not able to adopt at this time. Vial says the most popular of these is the Kitten Krewe program. Foster parents are taught how to care for and bottle-feed newborn kittens until they weigh at least two pounds, at which point they are eligible for adoption. In 2017, 800 kittens went through this program.

If you favor felines, the Bywater's Crescent City Cat Club may be the purrfect location to find your next forever friend. The Cat Club is "a cat café without the food," according to founder Eshyah Selig. For a small fee, guests can socialize with a room of roughly 20 adult cats or visit a smaller area reserved for kittens--all of which are adoptable. One concept unique to the Crescent City Cat Club is the Senior Program. Seniors are paired with a cat that best fits their lifestyle, with volunteers following up with them each week to make sure all is going well. "It is a wonderful program, as it provides companionship for a senior both through the cat and the regular visits from the volunteer," says Selig. Selig has a deep love for all of the cats that come through her doors--courtesy of the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter--and assures that no adoptions are final. "If a senior ever feels like they are in a place where they cannot continue to support a cat--or even if a younger person is forced to move somewhere they are not allowed to have a pet or may have a newborn who is allergic--we will reassume responsibility for that cat and find it a new home," says Selig.

Another great place to adopt a dog or cat in Orleans Parish is Zeus' Rescues. Located just off of Napoleon Avenue near Freret Street, Zeus' Rescues pulls all of their animals from high-kill metro shelters in an effort to further their mission to eradicate pet euthanasia in our city. Last year, Zeus' Rescues found homes for more than 700 local rescues. Similar to the LA-SPCA's Sleepover Program, Zeus' website states that following application approval, a person may take a pet home for a one-week visit prior to adoption.

Once you've brought your new roomie home, the work has just begun. For dog people, Vial suggests taking an obedience class.

"We don't expect everyone to have to drive to the Westbank, so we offer a variety of classes around the city," says Vial. "Everything from obedience and signaling (Manner, Advanced Manners) to early socialization (Puppy Pre-School), and leash training (Reactive Rover)." A more detailed list of classes and availability can be found on their website, LA-SPCA.org.

"We started taking [our dog] Miles to classes when he was around five months, and it was a huge help," says New Orleans-native Elizabeth Klein. "However, the work doesn't stop after class. Training your dog takes much practice and repetition."

A final word on pet care: All of the organizations mentioned above spay and neuter, vaccinate, and microchip animals prior to adoption. For cats, all also required adopters to agree not to declaw their pets.

"There is nothing benign about declawing-it is mutilation, plain and simple," says Selig. "It's like cutting off a person's finger at the knuckles. I've seen declawed cats have trouble walking for the rest of their lives--they never recover." Further, while most agencies prefer adoptees to be indoor cats, there is always the possibility that they can escape. Declawing robs a cat of its primary form of defense.

Adopting an animal is a wonderful way to add fun, laughs, and love to your life. Through a commitment that must be considered, caring for a pet is one of the most rewarding relationships one can have.

"Miles is family, not an afterthought," says Klein. "He's a priority, and we want him to have fun just like we want to have fun. We take him nearly everywhere with us on the weekend."

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