DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (WAFB) - The Denham Springs Animal Shelter has seen its fair share of hard times. The 2016 flood nearly wiped them out.
“2016 was the big one,” Rachel Boutwell said. “We had to boat all the way in. Most of the dogs were on the roof.”
Since then, it’s been a game of making it work. “This shelter has been here for many years and over the years has kind of been piecemealed together,” says Boutwell, the director of the shelter.
Now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given the animal shelter the go-ahead to fix the place up, hundreds of thousands of dollars in much-needed renovations are in the works. However, there’s a problem.
“A lot of the places in the shelter that house a lot of our dogs and cats are going to be our construction site,” Boutwell said.
Boutwell says staff at the shelter can’t safely house all pets while the shelter is renovated. Right now, roughly 30 dogs are can safely live at the shelter. Many of the other dogs have been taken to local shelters for temporary housing.
FEMA awarded the shelter with around $300,000. Petco Foundation gave the shelter $200,000 and a GoFundMe started by a concerned citizen after the flood helped the shelter raise $130,000. Boutwell says the FEMA money will be used to get the buildings up to code, while the GoFundMe and Petco Foundation money will be used for fencing, extra kennels, and anything the FEMA funds won’t cover.
When construction starts, the huge dog yard will be extended and the majority of the shelter space will either be torn down or part of a renovation. Boutwell says the main building will be under total repair and off-limits.
“It wasn’t a total loss from the flood, but it needs a lot of brick and mortar stuff and all new electricity. Everything went underwater,” Boutwell said.
Another problem Boutwell anticipates the shelter having when repairs starts is the lack of any real wiggle room for new additions.
“To empty the shelter, I can’t keep having animals come in,” Boutwell explained. “We came yesterday morning and a little puppy was sitting on the front steps.”
Since the shelter is funded by tax dollars, turning animals away or not pick up a stray is not an option. The staff says they’re forced to come up with solutions.
Boutwell says one solution the shelter’s leadership is exploring is encouraging more fostering. It wasn’t a common practice for the shelter before since staff was available to to care for the animals seven days a week.
Melissa Basham has been fostering dogs for about a month for the shelter. She understands the strain the construction has caused the employees and the pups.
“For the most part, just being here in this environment was all the work that was needed,” Basham said while standing outside of her home.
Currently, Basham is fostering two dogs from the shelter, Prime and Bear.
Prime has grown leaps and bounds in just a few weeks. He was timid and mild-mannered. Basham says fostering helps dogs become more social.
Basham says the time spent with the animals she fosters also helps her answer key questions about their personality like have they been taught to walk on a leash and if they’re kennel trained.
Although Prime is just at the Basham home until the renovations are complete, the ultimate goal is to get him adopted and into a good home with a loving family.
“It’s the best feeling to get an update about an animal that you saved…and now it’s growing and thriving and happy. You can tell that it’s absolutely loved,” said Basham.
Boutwell says she hopes that fostering will alleviate some of the overcrowding, and maybe when construction is complete, staff can reassess the shelter’s needs.
“When’s it’s all said and done we’re going to have a wonderful facility that’s going to be around for years. I’m hoping that it doesn’t take [the expected] six months,” said Boutwell.
The shelter is still providing trap, neuter and re-release services. Boutwell says that will help with the overpopulation.
Contact the shelter at 225-664-4472 if you would like to volunteer or foster an animal.