By:  Pat Austin

The Shadows on the Teche. Now owned by The National Trust.

SHREVEPORT – I was traveling last week and because of that (and in honor of Pete’s 30-year anniversary!) I didn’t post.  Where was I?

We went to New Iberia, Louisiana to attend the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival.  We were there with people from at least twelve other states in the nation including Colorado, Michigan, Iowa, and Rhode Island as well as from several other countries.  The three-day event was filled with a variety of activities, seminars, discussion panels, bus tours, swamp tours, dinners, dance lessons, film screenings, an art show, a performance theater, bourrée lessons, and an authors and artisans fair. The great southern writer Ernest Gaines was there and read from his latest book which was awesome. It wasn’t possible to do everything, but we tried.

I wrote about the festival on my own blog and there was so much I had to split it into two posts.

And that didn’t allow us much time to take advantage of the other great tourist attractions in the area like the Tabasco Factory tour (we did that), Jungle Gardens (did that), Jefferson Island, the Conrad Rice Mill tour, and branching out from that, the surrounding communities are filled with history and things to see, like St. Martinville, St. Francisville, Loreauville, etc.  And yes, New Orleans is not that far away, nor is Baton Rouge.  Those places are already well-known for their tourist attractions.

But New Iberia has stolen my heart.  We hear a lot in this part of the country (I’m in northwest Louisiana) about southern hospitality, but New Iberia takes it to a new level.  New Iberia isn’t known for being a tourist town in the way Natchitoches is, for example.  But it should be.

Why? There was one point in the evening on our last night there that I decided that if I ever lost faith in humanity, or got frustrated with life, I just need to come to New Iberia because there is such a true joie de vivre in everyone’s face it makes you happy just to be there. It’s in their daily interactions, in their lives, it restores your faith in people. Plus, it’s just beautiful country.

Bayou Teche runs 135-miles through the area; ancient live oaks hug the banks and are literally dripping with Spanish moss.  The land is often flat and you see sugar cane fields, crawfish farms, and flooded rice fields.  The air smells like salt blowing in from the Gulf and the sky turns a bruised purple in the evening when the sun begins to sink into the west. We danced under the stars to cajun fiddle players and zydeco bands; we ate alligator, catfish, boudin, maque choux, etoufee, gumbo, and shrimp. What’s not to love?

We didn’t know one soul when we arrived and when we left I felt like I have a whole new cadre of friends.  One couple we met told us that when we come back we are more than welcome to stay with them. “We have an extra bedroom!” she said.  And she meant it.

Everyone we talked to, from the shopkeepers, convenience store clerks, waitresses, residents, everyone, truly engages with you when they talk to you.  It’s not just, “Oh how are you doing, glad you’re here,” kind a thing and move on.  They look you in the eye, listen to you, ask questions, engage.  They remember.  And they dance, they laugh, they love, they share wide open.

In the end, the book festival was just lagniappe to the true treasures of New Iberia.

If you’re planning to hit the road this spring or summer, consider a trip to south Louisiana.  New Iberia is easy to get to; it’s just south of Lafayette.  I know I’ll be back many, many times.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In a rare partnership and an attempt to revitalize “local journalism,” the New York Times and NOLA/The Times Picayune have partnered to produce a series of excellent articles on the vanishing Louisiana coastline.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart; here in Louisiana we have been talking about the fragile coastline for decades and most of the time it seems that solutions are simply hopeless.

When talking about Louisiana’s endangered coastline, the issue quickly becomes so politically charged it is difficult to get to the straight facts and to make progress.  Through the years we have blamed both big oil, farming, civilization, hurricanes, and global warming.  The finger-pointing right now seems to be the rising sea levels due to glacial melting.

Whatever the cause, the fact is that the coastline is vanishing so fast that we may not be able to save it.

The coastline is “…like disintegrating lace…”

That’s how the series authors describe what’s left of the land and marsh that make up Louisiana’s southern parishes.

In this series we are introduced to various communities and people in south Louisiana who are watching not only their land but also their homes, their culture and their way of life disappear.

It’s heartbreaking and it doesn’t appear there are any clear answers.  No amount of money thrown at this problem will be able to solve it.

The authors point fingers at a number of culprits: rising sea levels due to climate change, a series of destructive storms, oil companies who built and widened canals but never repaired them when they left, the construction of levees to control the Mississippi which stopped natural land formation from spring floods, and even plagues of insects and rodents who destroy vegetation.

This article about the community of Jean Lafitte, located just south of New Orleans, chronicles the efforts of the long time mayor, Timmy Kerner, who has adopted the strategy of improving his community to the point that it would be more economically feasible to save it from erosion than to let it go:

His strategy was to secure so much public investment for Jean Lafitte that it would eventually become too valuable to abandon. In a decade, he had built a 1,300-seat auditorium, a library, a wetlands museum, a civic center and a baseball park. Jean Lafitte did not have a stoplight, but it had a senior center, a medical clinic, an art gallery, a boxing club, a nature trail and a visitor center where animatronic puppets acted out the story of its privateer namesake.

Some of the facilities had been used sparingly, and many at the grand opening questioned whether the seafood pavilion would be much different. To the mayor that was largely beside the point. What mattered was that the structure existed, that its poured concrete and steel beams made Lafitte that much more permanent. “Do we lose that investment, or do we protect it?” Kerner asked…

The authors, Kevin Sack and John Schwartz, point out that a fourth of our wetlands are already gone and in fifty years 2,000 square miles could also go.  In human terms:

The Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit conservation group, calculates that there are 358,000 people and 116,000 houses in Louisiana census tracts that would be swamped in the surge of a catastrophic hurricane by 2062. The Geological Survey predicts that in 200 years the state’s wetlands could be gone altogether.

As Sack and Schwartz report it, the community of Jean Lafitte and everything else south of that New Orleans levee has basically been abandoned to the elements, “left to the tides,”  with the Corps of Engineers advocating relocation of the people.  But that’s not to say that nobody is trying to solve the problem. There are lots of committees, levee boards, ecologists, politicians, environmentalists, and other experts working to find and agree on solutions.  And then there is the ever present problem of funding.

There are so many factors at play in this issue.

After you read about the community of Jean Lafitte, be sure you read this article about the Leeville community on Bayou Lafourche and the cemeteries that are washing out to sea.  It’s heartbreaking:

As Talbot explores the shore line, he finds a stone beneath the water, Thursday, August 24, 2017, and traces his fingers deeper into the mud for an inscription. “There’s definitely something here,” he says. After several serious tugs the stone pivots enough to break the surface, then fully erect, covered in a thick, brown sludge. Water streaks paths down the face of the stone. A moment of awe envelopes him. Talbot splashes handfuls of bayou water against the stone and slowly history is resurrected. “FRANCOIS GUILBEAU – Decedee 24 Janvier 1901 – age de 99 ans.” Over time, the Lefort Cemetery in Leeville, Louisiana has born the brunt of the worst that man and nature can bestow upon a coastal environment.

While there are plenty of problems in Louisiana and we’ve long been known for our notorious politicians and various aspects of corruption, (and tell me where, please, will you NOT find that?) this is one issue on which we should all be united.  Whether you believe in global warming or climate change or not, whether you believe this land loss is due to greedy oil companies and their negligence, or whether you believe it’s just a natural course of events, this just can’t be allowed to happen.

There are few places more beautiful in my mind than south Louisiana. The swamps, the bayous, the people and their way of life, is unlike anywhere else.  It is unique.

There has got to be a way to restore and preserve our coastline and our state.

The photography and the writing in this series is top notch and should be required reading. If you have a good source or recommendation for further reading on this, please share with me in the comments!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram at patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

Shadows on the Teche plantation, New Iberia

SHREVEPORT —   As Zilla noted, the Boss is at CPAC and is covering all things politics, so I’m going to veer away from politics today. Living in Louisiana with a special legislative session underway, there is no shortage of political topics here, but while our legislators wreck our budget and cut funding to higher education and the other likely targets, I’m going to digress and talk about one of the positive reasons to live in Louisiana.

We have a lot of festivals!  We love to eat and to have fun!  Louisiana is absolutely beautiful in the spring!  Put all that together and we have the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival in April!  Books and literary festivals are right up my alley: I love them!  I love book bazaars, book festivals, book fairs, the whole thing.

How perfect is this event?!  It will be in New Iberia in the spring which is in south Louisiana, below Lafayette. The festival is named for local son James Lee Burke who set his Dave Robicheaux series in New Iberia.  I’ve been a fan of his Dave Robicheaux character for years.  In fact, that’s one of the things that drew me to Michael Henry’s books; his Willie Mitchell character reminded me a lot of Dave Robicheaux.

Nearly every event at Books Along the Teche looks enticing.  On Friday, April 6, the festival starts at 9 a.m. with a food tasting and everyone knows Louisiana food is fantastic and Louisiana cooks reign.  In the afternoon there is lunch at Dave Robicheaux’s favorite cafeteria and then a tour of Iberia parish featuring Dave’s “haunts and jaunts.”

Louisiana author Ernest Gaines will be the featured guest this year and on Saturday afternoon he will lead a reading and then host a question and answer session.  Gaines is the author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, among many other works.  The film adaptation of Miss Jane Pittman will be featured in a free screening Friday afternoon.  Now, how cool would it be to meet Ernest Gaines!

What is also at the top of my list is the Jazz it Up opening reception Friday night featuring a Cochon de Lait and a jazz band but best of all it will be held at Shadows on the Teche, the plantation home of Weeks Hall who was a friend of Lyle Saxon and a fascinating character!  A visit to this plantation is on my bucket list.

Shadows-on-the-Teche was the home of the Weeks family. Construction began in 1831 and was completed 1834 for David Weeks and his wife, Mary Clara Conrad Weeks.  According to Richard Lewis, curator of visual arts at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans, the land was granted to Weeks’s father, William,  in 1792 through a Spanish land grant.  William continued to purchase property throughout the area and eventually accumulated over 2,000 acres.

David Weeks and his father grew some cotton but focused primarily on sugar cane in the early 1820s. William retained carpenter James Bedell and mason Jeremiah Clark to build the Shadows but he died before the house was completed. When his widow remarried, she kept her property separate from that of her second husband. When she died the plantation passed to her son, William F. Weeks who died in 1895; then it passed to his daughters, one of whom was Lily Weeks Hall.  She died in 1918 and her son, William Weeks Hall returned to the plantation from Paris.  He acquired all family shares and at the age of 25 became the sole owner of the plantation.

Weeks Hall spent the rest of his life restoring the plantation to its original grandeur.  He used family papers and a complete set of construction records to achieve this, according to Richard Lewis in his book, Robert W. Tebbs: Photographer to Architects.  Architects Richard Koch (1889-1971) and Charles R. Armstrong (d. 1947) were retained to restore the home “to its 1830s appearance.”  When Weeks Hall died in 1959 he bequeathed the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Koch and Samuel Wilson, Jr. did restoration work for the National Trust in 1961 and since then the gardens have also been restored.

The festival will also feature an Academic Symposium in which Professor of English at University of Lafayette, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson will present Ode to a Lost World: James Lee Burke’s Tin Roof Blowdown. She says “the title works on many levels as will my presentation pointing out the deeply moral vision of Burke as he confronts the trauma and tragedy of environmental and human disasters like Katrina all the while telling a crackerjack detective story.”

If I’m feeling brave I might even join in on the Bouree lessons, but I know from experience that playing Bouree with a bunch of Cajuns can be a risky proposition!

But seriously, If I were dreaming up the perfect festival, this would be it.

New Iberia is beautiful all of the time but especially so in the spring.  This could not be a more perfect trip and a perfect escape from winter.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. Follow on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is expecting snow this week.  Say what?

I know people in the north must laugh at us.  The inevitable “bread and milk” memes showing empty grocery store shelves come to mind.   I went to the grocery store yesterday out of necessity rather than any snow-minded panic, and the cashier lamented how busy they had been all day.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

“Snow in the forecast for Monday night,” I explained.

She had no idea. “That explains it,” she said.

All the jokes are true.  The meteorologists on the local stations broke the news Friday afternoon that models were setting up for a “wintry mix” which would “quickly turn over to snow” and that “accumulations of one to three inches are possible.”

Panic ensues.

My husband is from Iowa and he just laughs.  He is one of those who walked twenty miles up hill both ways in five feet of snow to get to school; he milked cows after walking through veritable blizzards to get to the barn and chipped ice out of frozen water troughs.  You know the type.

But around here if you say ice, we close the schools.  We can’t drive in that stuff.  The rural kids that ride school buses will freeze, not to mention that rural roads and bridges ice over.

This is a true story: one day about three years ago we were in school when it started to snow; it was about 10:30 in the morning, right before lunch.  Not big, heavy wet snowflakes but just flurries.  They closed the schools parish wide.  By the time I got to the interstate five minutes away it was all over.

Overabundance of precaution, they called it.

As soon as the local news said the “S” word Friday, everyone is on pins and needles checking Facebook and the news sites for notice of school closure.  Parents are stressing out about whether or not to find babysitters or take of work.  The school superintendent says he will make the call sometime Monday afternoon (Monday we are closed for MLK day).  This delay in making the call is angering parents as meteorologists speak with increasing confidence of “a winter event” and measurable precipitation.

Snow days are a rare treat for us down here.  While the Midwest and northern climes accept shoveling snow and not parking on the street because of snow plows as a part of winter life, we don’t have those issues down here.  So when we can get enough snow to scoop up in our hands, or look outside and see a blanket of wet, white snow on the lawn, it is in fact an event.  The high humidity here means we have heavy, wet snow, not powdery light stuff.

I can predict with near certainty that by Monday afternoon all of the news stations will have their intrepid reporters out standing by the perfectly dry interstate to report on road conditions.  Once the event occurs there will be tiny snowmen on the hoods of cars or the messy, muddy ones that required every bit of snow in the yard to create.

It could be a magical day.

Or it could just be rain.  Then we will feel robbed and cheated.

All of that bread and milk stowed away for nothing.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Well, that didn’t take long.

Tyrone White, a convicted car burglar who was released early under Louisiana’s new free-the-criminals criminal justice overall, has been re-arrested.  White was out of jail only five days before he picked up a gun and robbed a construction worker in Kenner, Louisiana.  He is now back in jail.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry commented:

“Gov. (John Bel) Edwards’ staffer, (corrections secretary) James LeBlanc, indicated we needed to give the ‘reforms’ time to work,” said the release from Citizens for Louisiana Job Creators. “Perhaps we could suggest that anyone who has SIXTY FOUR counts of burglary NOT be set free when Governor Edwards and the Department of Corrections decides to let the next batch of 1,500+ criminals out of jail on Dec. 1.

“As we said last week, lock your doors and, as U.S. Senator (John) Kennedy has suggested, ‘You ought to own a handgun just in case.’ “

Wait, he said sixty-four counts of burglary?!

Tyrone White has a 40-page criminal history in Jefferson Parish alone.  Is he an outlier?  Is he an early-release candidate that slipped through the cracks and should never have been released?  Who knows.  Who knows how many more Tyrone Whites are walking around right now, free, due to this new legislation package?

In the spring, in order to address Louisiana’s high incarceration rate, the Edwards administration pushed a sweeping criminal justice reform package:

Most significantly, the package of bills aims to overhaul sentencing in the state criminal codes. The package will reduce mandatory minimums, trim sentences and give some inmates access to parole eligibility sooner. It creates a medical furlough program, which allows the sickest inmates to temporarily receive treatment off site, and be eligible for Medicaid, which saves the state on medical costs. The package overhauls drug sentencing, allowing lighter sentences based on weights, and streamlines the state’s many incongruous theft penalties. One bill in the package will limit how often juvenile offenders can receive life without parole sentences.

The measure also expands prison alternatives, like drug court, and expand safety nets for people getting out of jail and returning to their communities, by reducing their financial burdens and helping them have better access to jobs. Another bill will help improve the way victims are notified when offenders have parole hearings or are released.

In this first wave of early release, nearly 2,000 prisoners were set free.  Another wave comes in a couple of weeks.

It is not surprising that the law enforcement community is unhappy about many of these changes.  It means they have to deal with the Tyrone Whites again and again.  And some law enforcement officials are making it known that the numbers of criminals on early release are much higher than what is being officially reported.

The early release provision indicates that “non-violent offenders” are the only prisoners eligible for early release.  In all likelihood, the construction worker on the other end of Tyrone White’s gun last week would beg to differ.

There’s nothing wrong with criminal justice reform and truly low level offenders perhaps deserve a second look and a chance of early release.  But these candidates must be carefully screened and evaluated to ensure their chances of success and assimilation back into society.  What tools are we giving them to ensure they can find jobs and avoid recidivism?

Tyrone White won’t be the only one of the early released to return to jail.  But perhaps he will serve a cautionary purpose in ensuring that those who are released in the coming months are given a second look.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The feud between Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Representative Garrett Graves over the slow response of Louisiana in flood recovery efforts escalated last week when the Edwards camp accused Rep. Graves of spreading false information about the release of federal money given to the state.

Friday, Rep. Graves issued this statement:

Flood victims in need of assistance are waiting on the state government to act. The $1.65 billion that is available TODAY to the state of Louisiana for flood recovery will never be wired to a Louisiana-controlled account; that’s not how it works. It will stay at the HUD CFO Accounting Center in Fort Worth and the state will draw down the money as necessary.

The first step is for the State to upload its Action Plan to HUD’s software pictured in the screenshot. The reason it says $0 is because the state hasn’t uploaded its plan.

Once the state does upload the plan, the process will work like this:

Let’s say The Action Plan budgets $25 mm for drywall and the state needs to purchase $10 mm now.

The State submits a draw request for $10 mm and then the state gets paid within 72 hours. Now the state’s drywall budget is $15mm and so on…

The bottom line is that the state has known for more than 191 days (Sept. 28 is when Congress appropriated funds) that it would receive federal disaster money through the CDGB program, and should be ready to disburse those funds. They’re not ready.

Everything else you’re hearing is noise.

Louisiana is one of the most frequent users of DRGR. The state should be able to submit action plan in its sleep. Commissioner Dardenne is on the radio is saying it is being uploaded now – hurry up.

The spokesman for Governor Edwards, Richard Carbo, says  “Graves’ information is inaccurate and the federal government hasn’t yet released the money to the state to spend. The line of credit “has not yet been set up.”

Clearly, the government hasn’t released the money because the state has not submitted an action plan as required or hired a contractor to oversee rebuilding. Why haven’t they done that?

Meanwhile, as I reported last week, Louisianians are not waiting on the politicians.  The Cajun Navy worked alongside first responders when the floods happened in August 2016 to rescue people, pets, and property, and now the Cajun Relief Foundation is working through crowd funding to get people the financial help they need.

Be sure to read this scathing post from Scott McKay of The Hayride:

Nobody has made a full-on indictment of Edwards’ immediate response to the August floods, though he certainly wasn’t perfect – and it’s fair to say he got bailed out by the Cajun Navy, which filled in a lot of the gaps. But in the effort to get federal dollars into Louisiana to make flood recovery happen as quickly as possible, Edwards has been an unmitigated failure – and if Louisiana’s newspapers weren’t so nakedly partisan on his side the governor would have been thoroughly excoriated for it.

Hopefully the politicians can get their red tape untangled before the next flood hits.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

Added:  Thank you The Dead Pelican for the link!

SHREVEPORT – Bear with me, readers, for this week I’m bringing you a local problem but it is one that needs national attention in order for it to be rectified. Your help is needed.

Our local animal shelter is deplorable.  The city of Shreveport has a population of just over 200,000 people, and we are the third largest city in the state of Louisiana, yet we can’t seem to figure out how to run a humane animal shelter. The problems at Caddo Parish Animal Services are epic and have been going on for years. Any attempt to solve the problem has only been a token one.

Consider the following:

July 2007: CPAS director fired for failing to properly perform his duties, for example: failing to do rabies tests on a racoon that had scratched a man, among other offenses.

September 2007: CPAS adoption coordinator Raymond Abney resigns his position, citing multiple, horrific cases of torture, neglect, and abuse at the shelter.

2010: CPAS has a 78% euthanasia rate.

2011: CPAS has 80% euthanasia rate.

2012: CPAS has 83% euthanasia rate.

2013: CPAS has 81% euthanasia rate.

October 2013: Karen Dent’s Golden Retriever escaped her backyard when a tree fell on a fence; CPAS picked up the dog. Dent called the shelter and was told she could claim her dog, but when she arrived the dog had been euthanized.

October 2013: A puppy was found in September in a Shreveport storage locker, abandoned and left to die. Literally at death’s door, he was rescued and taken to the emergency vet clinic and then transferred to Benton Animal Hospital. By October he was in foster care with a vet tech and making a nice recovery at which time CPAS comes to their home and seizes the emaciated, still very fragile dog, as evidence of the animal abandonment crime. “Braveheart” was heartlessly placed in a kennel at CPAS rather than allowed to stay in foster care under the attention of a vet tech. Massive public outcry resulted in animal cruelty charges against the owner of the storage locker. (Braveheart’s story has a happy ending.)

2014: CPAS has 79% euthanasia rate.

August 2014: Adoptions volunteer Reed Ebarb resigned his position at CPAS after director Everett Harris verbally attacked Ebarb and his attempts to move more dogs into rescue and off the euthanasia list. Ebarb was vigilant in compiling and reporting monthly euthanasia rates to the public which was often well over 70%.

2015: CPAS has a 78% euthanasia rate.

March 2015: Two malnourished dogs, dubbed Lucky and T-Bone, were picked up by CPAS after a citizen complaint of neglect, found to be full of parasites, yet when PetSavers Rescue offered to take the dogs and vet them, director Everett Harris denied the request, igniting yet another firestorm of public outcry.

August 2015: Amanda Middleton was travelling through Shreveport, blew a tire, and her dog, Libby ran off and got lost. Libby was lost for two days before being found and taken to CPAS where a microchip was scanned and her family identified. A Humane Society volunteer had permission from the eight-months pregnant Middleton to retrieve the dog and meet Middleton halfway to return the pup, but director Everett Harris refused to release the dog to anyone but Middleton, despite written permission from Middleton to do so. Middleton drove all the way back to Shreveport from Houston to get her dog.

August 2015: CPAS director Everett Harris was placed on administrative leave, and then resigned, after posting an offensive photo on Facebook of dogs with a Star of David and Nazi symbols drawn on their heads and the caption “How to deal with the difficulties of life.” He said he meant to post the picture to a private account rather than the public CPAS page. Harris was on paid leave for several months, then terminated.

June 2016: Chuck Wilson, former assistant director of CPAS, is appointed new director of CPAS.

October 2016: Amber McMillan’s two dog were euthanized despite her multiple visits to CPAS searching for them.  McMillan contends that her dogs were not in any of the stray hold kennels she was shown when she went to the shelter. She showed photos of her dogs to the employees at the shelter and filed paperwork. The dogs were killed nine days after intake.

November 2016: DeAnna Robinson adopted a large breed dog from CPAS; he weighed only 30 pounds when she brought him home. He was emaciated and could barely walk. He had been housed in a kennel at the shelter with five other dogs.

December 2016: A stray dog, “Ellie,” wanders into a man’s yard; the man brings his own dog outside and orders it to attack Ellie who subsequently dies from her injuries. The event is captured on video which creates a social media firestorm. CPAS fails to press charges, thereby sanctioning the inhumane attack.

December 2016: “Tini” was picked up by CPAS on December 30 after being hit by a car; her owners determined that Tini was at the shelter but they were not allowed to pick her up for four days, despite that fact that the dog had a broken jaw and other injuries and needed immediate medical care. Because of the New Year’s Eve holiday, Tini had to stay in the shelter rather than be reunited with her family.

January 2017: In two separate events, two dogs tagged for rescue were accidentally euthanized.

January 2017: American Boston Terrier dog rescue attempted to pull several dogs but the dogs either starved to death or were euthanized before the rescue arrived.

January 2017: Big Fluffy Dog Rescue out of Nashville TN, came to CPAS to pull two dogs but left with 17, and later came back for more, because of the deplorable conditions in which they found the dogs in the CPAS shelter, which included inadequate medical care for broken bones, malnourished dogs, and overcrowded kennels. BFDR is urging public outcry against the abuses at the Caddo Parish shelter.

January 2017: A citizens meeting to discuss continued problems at CPAS is attended by two Caddo Parish Commissioners who cite lack of first-hand accounts as one reason why no change has been made at CPAS.

February 2017: CPAS kennel worker placed on leave, and then fired, for having sex with a dog. The act was filmed by another CPAS worker. Where this act actually took place has not been revealed; reports are that it was not at the shelter, but does it matter?

Obviously, the problems at the shelter are ongoing and it doesn’t seem to matter who the director is.  Meanwhile, literally hundreds of dogs (and cats) are euthanized each month. The shelter’s euthanasia rate is right around 50 to 60% right now, down from previous years where there was a 77% or more euthanasia rate. This decline is due to the help of some tireless rescue groups and an improved willingness by the current director to work with rescues.

Euthanasia rate: Caddo Parish Animal Services

There are volunteer rescue groups that work to pull dogs from the shelter and take them to states “up north” where stricter spay/neuter laws have resulted in lower numbers of available pets. Our dogs have a much better chance at adoption there.

That being said, this shelter still needs major change. State inspections have taken place but they are announced at least ten days in advance which gives the shelter time to clean up their act. After the public meeting in January, two Caddo Commissioners toured the shelter, but again, it was announced.

The Parish Administrator, Dr. Woody Wilson, has control over this situation. He works for the Caddo Parish Commission, but his oversight of CPAS operates is completely independent. There is no system of checks and balances and Wilson has the final, and only, voice.

Granted, we have a huge problem here in unwanted animals; too many people in this area see animals as property and all too often refuse to get their animals spayed or neutered. The director’s job at the shelter is a huge one. But it’s clear to me that this director has lost the faith of the public by this most recent string of allegations, and something must be done.

For years, and years, we’ve been told by the Parish Administrator that they are revisiting and reviewing laws, policies, and procedures yet we are still battling this issue. The public outcry rises, we get lip service, public outcry dies down, and the cycle continues. When public outcry rises, we are dismissed as crazy animal people who get their information from social media. When citizens go to shelter board meetings to voice concern, they are quickly shut down if their experience is not first-hand.

It appears that the only thing that might work is a national outcry. This shelter administration needs to be completely rebooted. They all need to go. If qualified, they can be rehired; if not, more the better.

This shelter needs to be cleaned up, literally; all policies need to be examined, updated, revised.  Dogs in stray/hold, for example, are kept in outdoor pens regardless of the weather. Too many dogs are crowded into pens thus creating feeding issues and fights. When Big Fluffy Dog Rescue pulled their thirty dogs, they wrote:

Caddo Parish Animal Shelter in Louisiana has been the subject of serious complaints for years. In January, Big Fluffy Dog Rescue took in more than 30 dogs from this shelter. Most of the dogs were emaciated, many had serious health issues and most had bite wounds consistent with fighting for resources. Big Fluffy Dog Rescue attempted without success to determine whether the cause of the animals’ suffering was the shelter itself or if the dogs came in to the shelter in that condition. Caddo Parish did not appropriately investigate the issue and the concerns of animal rescuers were largely swept under the carpet and derided by the local government as unfounded. Local media covered the story.

There is a veterinarian “on call” but not on site. Dogs with broken bones or other injuries languish. There is no feral cat or TNR program; there are no online records – everything is still done on paper.  If a volunteer speaks out or complains about conditions or abuse, they are banned from the shelter. Quite often they choose to remain silent so they can continue to help the animals in the shelter. Any online presence is due to the work of volunteers. If you go to the shelter’s page and click on animals for adoption, you might find a few, but these are out of date and do not nearly reflect the number of available animals.

The issues are epic. But at the very least, the neglect, abuse, and miscommunication must be stopped. And sex with animals? Please. Is this the best we can do with vetting our employees (this woman was a paid employee – not a volunteer!).

To be clear, I’m not calling for the firing of current director Chuck Wilson; while he may not be perfect, many of the volunteers appreciate his efforts yet Wilson is hogtied by the current structure of oversight. The source of the problem lies in the fact that the control is all with the Parish Administrator Woody Wilson who has shown very little interest in making this shelter a safe and humane shelter for animals.

Please share this with any animal rights advocates or organizations you know that might be able to help the citizens of Caddo Parish clean up this shelter and turn this situation around.  Ideally the shelter should be privatized or turned over to a competent, established rescue with a humanitarian mission. Please email or write letters, polite and respectful letters, to Parish Administrator Woody Wilson, and the Assistant Parish Administrator who is reportedly working Woody Wilson’s job while he is being investigated on a residency issue.

A national outcry is the only thing we haven’t tried. There are plenty of citizens here who want to make a difference; the problem is in the politics. We need help and you can contribute by helping to shine light on this issue.

Points of Contact:

Randy Lucky, Parish Administration – rlucky@caddo.org

Dr. Woody Wilson – wwilson@caddo.org

Louisana SPCA. Humane Law Enforcement: dispatch@la-spca.org

Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission:  http://lawc.la.gov/report-cruelty/

Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler: mayor@shreveportla.gov

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

(P.S.: Thank you Chris Muir for the cool artwork!)

 

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Loose thoughts this week from Northwest Louisiana:

Apollo 1 Memorial: It’s been fifty years since Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White died in a flash fire that engulfed their capsule during a routine training mission and as she has each year, Grissom’s widow, Betty, was in Florida at the annual memorial service. This story in the New York Times records the very humble beginnings of this memorial ceremony back to when it was just two space buffs showing up at Pad 34. Now, finally, the Apollo 1 astronauts have a tribute exhibit at Kennedy Space Center and the memorial ceremony is a pretty big deal.

I found this article timely as I’ve just completed a unit on the Apollo 13 story with my sophomores.  As a baby boomer, America’s race to the moon enthralled me. I read everything I can on it and am currently re-reading The Right Stuff for probably the third time. I want to instill the history, drama, and American pride in my students when we do this unit. It’s hard in some ways for them to understand how exciting this period of our history was.

Politics: Can’t even go there right now. Let me just say this: when Obama got elected to his first term I was incensed, horrified, and rabidly vocal about the danger I believed he brought to our country and about what I perceived as his weakness and inexperience as a leader. I was chastised by liberal friends and family for not supporting the newly elected president because after all, that’s the process – the peaceful transfer of power. “He may not have been your choice but now you have a duty to support him.” Well, no, I don’t. I still blogged and railed against his policies and practices.

And now I have to listen to these petulant people whine and carry on about Trump? Why are they not supporting “our president”? Why was that duty of support assigned to only me?

The hypocrisy slays me and I can’t bear it. I’m on a politics boycott right now.

Mardi Gras: And so, on a lighter note, it’s Mardi Gras season in Louisiana and we are neck deep in king cakes, crawfish, and plastic colored beads from China.  We are lighting fire pits and charcoal grills along the bayous, drinking beer in the streets, and dancing to brass bands.  There might be a lot of problems in the country, and there are plenty in Louisiana, but for the next several weeks we are going to have a big party and pretend like they don’t exist! It’s a great time to come visit from the frozen north!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — As Donald Trump begins his first full weeks as President of the United States, I’m going to step back and just watch; I want to see what he does. I’m not the least bit interested in speculation or criticizing him for things he hasn’t done yet. The Women’s March that happened across the country over the weekend happened here in Shreveport, too, with hundreds of people crowded around the courthouse downtown waving Hillary signs and wearing pink caps. Okay. Whatever. I’m a woman – I don’t feel violated or threatened or victimized in any way. Perhaps I’ve missed the point of the protests, and that’s fine. I’ve been busy.

I’ve been on book deadline (which is why my weekly post didn’t appear hear last week) and other aspects of daily life have kept me occupied this week – too much so to make a poster about vaginas and go stand around at the courthouse.  I fully respect the rights of those who felt the need to do so to be able to do that; it’s just not my thing. I’ll protest other things, perhaps. I just missed the point of this one.

At any rate, one woman in the Shreveport march was quoted as saying:

“I think we’re just living in such a politically cantankerous world right now, and this isn’t a protest against one person,” participant JayaMcSharma said. “It’s just sending a clear message to the administration that just took over, this is what we’re about: equality, peace, love and defending people who are marginalized. If you agree with that, fantastic. If you don’t, we’re not going away.”

So…okay…you’re protesting about something you think might happen, but then again might not?

They marched in New Orleans, too:

The women said they were protesting against some of the comments made by Trump during his campaign, saying that wanted their voices to be heard.

That’s at least a little more clear, although I’m still not clear on which rights were lost by Trump’s election.

Another protester in NOLA said:

“We’re willing to come out and show our displeasure and to show that we’re not going to roll over and this administration is not going to be able to get away with anything they want.”

Well, that would be a different approach as the Obama administration certain seemed to be able to get away with anything it wanted.

As a woman, I’m certainly all for standing up for your rights, but I’m thinking how much more could have been done in communities had all these people not been standing in the streets dressed like vaginas and waving Hillary posters.

But, they still have the right to protest so I guess there’s that.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT  — South Louisiana is flooding.  You may have heard about it on the news.  It’s really bad.  In a press conference Sunday morning, Governor John Bel Edwards said it is “plenty bad.”

Many homes that have never taken on water before have flooded with this storm and many of those people don’t have flood insurance.  They’ve lost everything.

In the northern part of the state, we are dry: I haven’t seen rain for ages, but down south, this is a catastrophic disaster that is all too reminiscent of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 although in the case of Katrina there were at least warnings and opportunities to evacuate.  In this case, as the result of a tropical depression in the Gulf, it just started raining and did not quit.  Some areas in and around Baton Rouge have received over two feet of rain in two days.  Baton Rouge is, on average, about two feet below sea level although that varies widely across the city and the problem today is as the Amite River crests there is a huge backflow problem into bayous and streams which will cause more flooding in days to come.

The crest of the Amite River will be of primary concern in the next few days and could cause terrible flooding, perhaps worse than the devastating 1983 flooding there.  Cresting is starting to happen but is moving slowly south and so more flooding is certainly anticipated and although rain in Baton Rouge abated on Sunday morning as the storm moved west, more rain is in the forecast.  With saturated ground, “even a typical summer thunderstorm could cause flooding,” Governor Edwards said.

There were over one thousand vehicles stranded on I-12 and while the National Guard attempted to rescue those people, many chose to spend the night there and remain with their vehicles.  On Sunday the first responders began bringing food and water in to them.

The Louisiana National Guard has deployed 1,700 Guardsmen as of Sunday afternoon but those numbers were expected to climb to about 2,500 before this all winds down.

The Advocate is providing excellent ongoing coverage of the flooding and has a heartbreaking slide show of flooded schools, homes, interstates, and highways as well as an interactive map of flooded areas.  Much of the LSU campus is underwater.

One can’t help but think of Randy Newman’s Louisiana, 1927 when something like this happens:

What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

In a Sunday morning press conference, Governor John Bel Edwards reported that over 7,000 people and 500 pets have been rescued; as of Monday morning the numbers are staggering: 20,000 rescued and 10,000 in shelters. There have been six fatalities. He has requested a major disaster declaration for the affected parishes from the FEMA Region 6 director.

The storm is moving west now and in Louisiana at least twenty-seven state offices are closed Monday as authorities attempt to respond and to keep people off the roads as much as possible.  On Sunday, Louisiana State Police reported that there are over 1400 critical bridges that must be inspected before they can be reopened for safe travel; over 200 roads are closed.

If you want to volunteer or help, here is a list of everything from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the United Way may need.  As I said,  there are over 10,000 people in shelters with more to come.  Pet shelters are still being set up as well as medical needs shelters.

My friend Rob Gaudet of Gaudet Media got out yesterday and was filming in Ascension Parish as he looked for places to volunteer and help.  In true Louisiana spirit, as he and his friend Chris waded through six inches of water in the street in a neighborhood, people were outside watching the water and cooking gumbo in a large pot.  They called Rob and Chris over and fed them some gumbo. They were offering it to anyone who passed by and even sent some home with Chris for his wife.  They went on to a nearby middle school where David Duke was filling sandbags. Rob and many others will be out volunteering today.

While Governor Edwards in no way wants to compare this catastrophe to a hurricane, the local meteorologists have been calling this a “hurricane without the winds.” Governor Edwards is quick to point out that had this been a hurricane we would have much more infrastructure damage as well as widespread power outages.

Even though it isn’t a hurricane, it is still, as Governor Edwards said, “plenty bad.”

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.