St. Francisville’s Shelter Success Depends on Community Support
By Anne Butler
The promotional poster, designed by Alan Morton, looks like the cover of a steamy romance novel, the male with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, passionately holding in his arms a scantily clad sexpot gazing adoringly into his eyes. But wait! It’s not Fabio!
Closer inspection reveals big erect ears and protruding snout exposing the masculine heartthrob as a German Shepherd, and the sexpot in his arms really a sultry feline.
Yep! This scintillating poster is announcing the Wags & Whiskers Gala on Saturday, July 21, from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville. Its slogan is “All You Need Is Love,” but bring your cash or credit cards, too, because this is the main fundraiser supporting programs spreading the love to St. Francisville’s lost, injured, abused or abandoned animals.
This sixth annual gala promises the usual fun carnival-type activities, dancing to music by the popular Delta Drifters, silent auction of an enormous cache of fabulous donated items, spectacular food, kissing booth where attendees can Smooch A Pooch, and lots of costumed cats and dogs parading around and looking for a home. Tickets are $25 and are available from bontemptix.com or at the Bank of St. Francisville.
The gala is sponsored by the non-profit West Feliciana Animal Humane Society, whose dedicated and hard-working members coordinate volunteer and donor efforts for the James L. “Bo” Bryant Shelter in St. Francisville. Before this shelter opened, the dog pound consisted of a few makeshift pens attached to the parish jail, where the four-legged inmates were pretty much on death row. Only a small percentage, 5% to 10%, were adopted out, mostly thanks to the efforts of a retired state trooper turned sheriff’s deputy, the late “Bo” Bryant; the rest met a sadder fate.
The shelter opened in August of 2012, and statistics show an incredible success rate for life-saving adoptions. Since 2014 a total of 1,651 cats and dogs have passed through, and of those, 1,242 have been adopted to permanent safe homes. Some were homeless strays, some were simply lost (over 200 were reunited with their owners), but others had been removed from abusive situations or abandoned because of owner deaths or relocations. In three years, only 87 had to be euthanized due to severe medical issues or aggression; this is very low kill. The shelter also has a Trap-Neuter-Return program in cooperation with local vets that has fixed nearly 300 feral cats. Reasonable adoption fees cover medical exams, shots, deworming, microchip and spaying.
The statistics are staggering, and the success rate is a tribute to shelter personnel and dozens of dedicated volunteers and vets. But those are just numbers. Walk through the shelter’s dog kennels or separate new cat house, and it all gets personal, with shelter staff socializing and loving each dog, cat, pig, horse, bird or snake (yes, there have been all of those in there).
Take, for example, Helen, tiny poodle found wandering down a busy dangerous highway in horrible condition, severely emaciated, hearing loss, nearly blind from cataracts, yeast infection covering her entire body. Now she’s healthy and happy in a foster home, heart-worm free, spayed, and ready for a home of her own through the shelter’s Forever Foster program with all medical bills paid for life. Or Molly, spotted on a roadside by drivers who thought she was a dirty discarded stuffed animal until she moved. It took seven hours to groom her matted fur, she had a leg deformity that made her run with one paw flapping in the air, and she was so tiny that staff feared she could slip through drain openings in the kennels, so she went home with the shelter director, who fell so deeply in love with her that Molly has stayed there ever since.
Or Suzie, the cute black lab mix pup adopted and then returned by a large and noisy family when she proved unable to adjust to the dozens of children and dogs and commotion; the broken-hearted daughter of the family wrote a letter about what a wonderful dog Suzie was, but as an adult black dog, the hardest type to adopt out, she languished at the shelter for ten months with zero interest. Shelter staff gave her special time, made her “Queen for a Day” on ice-cream outings, groomed her and posted photos, but no one wanted her. Determined staff took her to the Angola Rodeo adoption event, and Suzie found new owners who love her.
The stories are endless…Cammie, who came in with two broken legs after being hit by a car; China, who has been in the shelter almost an entire year; Emily, grey and white pit bull obviously used as a bait dog and breeder, covered in scars and bruises, bite marks all over, pregnant, and miraculously sweet and gentle when rescued. Her 14 healthy puppies have gone to loving homes, her heartworm treatment is being paid by the guardian angel program, and she is ready for adoption. Pits are specially vetted, and so are the prospective adoptive homes; actually, all of the adoptions are carefully assessed to assure a good match and safe home situation.
The shelter works with Paws4Rescue, an organization rescuing dogs from shelters and transporting them to waiting homes in the Northeast via Rescue Road Trips; twelve shelter dogs have gone to Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, South Carolina and New Jersey, including a big bloodhound called Scarlet who flew via private plane to Charleston, thanks to two local pilots.
Even horses find new homes through the shelter’s efforts, like Dreamer, registered and of good stock but removed from a neglectful situation where several other horses had already starved to death, then scheduled to be euthanized when the case finally went to court. The shelter provided medical care, grooming and lots of attention, and this horse’s dream came true in a new forever home.
Shelter director Josette Lester and Gala Chairman Valerie Koubek stress the importance of volunteers of all ages and donors year-round, but the springtime explosion of puppies and kittens makes it especially essential that the community join in making a difference. For information on ways to help, call 225-635-5801 or go to www.wfahs.org; there are also a couple of wonderful Facebook page full of photos: West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and West Feliciana Animal Humane Society Friends.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).