Animal Shelter of the Week: Episode 65 – Companion Animal Alliance

Mew Cat Rescue

Companion Animal Alliance is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 2010 to increase the save rate of animals in our community. In partnership with the EastBaton Rouge City-Parish, CAA operates the EBR Parish open-intake shelter, caring for over 8,000animals each year including cats, dogs, horses, wildlife, and exotic animals. CAA has increased the saving rate of animals to 77% annually from 20% in 2011.


Website: https://www.caabr.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/companionanimalalliance/

Instagram: @caapets


“Welcome to the Animal Shelter of the Week podcast, where we feature outstanding organizations from around the country that are helping animals and the people who rescue them. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert connects animal shelters with volunteers to do animal transport and fostering. Learn more and sign up for free at www.Doobert.com. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal shelter!

Companion Animal Alliance is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2010 to help increase the savory of animals in their community. In partnership with the East Baton Rouge City Parish, CAA operates the EBR Parish Open Intake Shelter, which cares for over 8000 animals each year. The animals include cats, dogs, horses, wildlife and even exotic animals. The CAA has increased the savory of animals to 77% annually from the 20% in 2011.

 Hi, Gillian. Welcome to the show. Hi, thanks for having me. Of course, we’re very interested in learning more about you and your organization. So you’re the Executive Director at the Companion Animal Alliance in Louisiana. Is that right? That is correct. Perfect. So can you just start off by giving us a little insight about your organization and a little bit about how you got started there. Okay. Companion Animal Alliance is the open intake community animal shelter for East Baton Rouge Parish and we’re based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 We took over from the city parish in animal control about 10 years ago. A group of citizens kind of came together and really wanted to see a change, an increase of the savory of animals in our community. So we’ve been doing this about 10 years, I think this year. We take in about 8000 animals each year, and that is cats, dogs. We get livestock, reptiles and other small animals and a few, you know, outliers, less exotic animals. And in the 10 years we’ve been in existence, we’ve increased the save rate to 77% from 20%. And we’re working to increase that more every day in each year. Our mission is to reduce the amount of animals coming into our animal shelter through community programming. Obviously, reunite lost pets of loved ones and find forever homes for lost and abandoned animals.

 I,  honestly, I kind of fell, I hate to use the word fell into it, but it’s kind of how it is. I have a degree in advertising, and when I got out of college, I went into nonprofit work, that nonprofits kind of always been where my heart lies and always had a passion for animals. But they were more of my personal pet hobbies. I fostered through other organizations, and I worked in financial literacy for low-income individuals for, you know, my whole nonprofit career. And I was at work one day and CAA posted something on their Facebook page, a job description. It was actually, a few years ago, for an Outreach Manager, and the description was kind of funny. It was “Do you like to chase down a dog in heels? Is this what you put over?” And literally the week before, I had chased down a stray dog and like my work heels and actually got in trouble by my boss, at the time because I was late for a meeting. So I kind of just took a T and applied for it. You know, I had program management experience, a nonprofit experience, and I interviewed with the director at the time. And, you know, I think they kind of saw that my passion was there, and I had some other experience that obviously fit the position. And I then took the role as Outreach Manager. I did that for a few years, and then I went to another shelter and was a Shelter Manager there. And then about a year, a little over a year at this point, I came back to CAA as Executive Director. So I fell into this world, more out of love and just what I made a hobby. I kind of was able to change something into a career, and I think that is something I’m very lucky for because not everybody, you know, I realized with COVID-19. I had to work from home a little bit, but I really miss coming to work. I love what I do. I like being in the office, and not everybody has that. So it’s exciting, and I’m lucky in that. 

And let me just say that is a pretty funny story, but it’s almost it was meant to be, you know? Yeah, I love hearing, you know, how people get started within organizations because it literally I mean, with you it’s actually a little bit different cause you had a little bit of background, with nonprofit and everything of that nature. So you have a little bit of insight of what it was gonna kind of be like working in organizations. I think it’s great that you ended up where you’re at and I love your enthusiasm and your personality is really bubbly. And I think that that’s great and more into your organization. I mean, 8000 animals a year, that is, that’s a huge number of animals to take in. Holy cow. Yeah, yeah, you know it. It’s a lot. It’s challenging. We do the best we can, but it’s definitely a struggle for us. And, you know, we wish there was less and we could keep more animals in homes that we’re working on that but it’s a lot. And especially in summer months for so many other shelters know about this. We can get up to 50 animals in a day so it could be, you know, kind of daunting and challenging at times. But CAA has the most incredible dedicated team we could ever ask for. We’re really able to make a difference in animals in our parish.

 Well, good, No. And being an open intake, I mean that, that’s almost like a blessing. And, you know, I don’t really want to say a curse, but you get, you get almost everything that comes in here, not even almost everything. You get everything that comes in. And so you know, that’s where the blessing part comes in. Because you do get to give so many animals that second chance at life and so I find that great, but that is a huge chunk of animals.

 So can you share with me a little bit more about your community cause you say that you can get almost 50 animals in a day? So what are some of the struggles that the animals face within your community? Yeah, you know, I think we face a lot of challenges that Southern animal shelters face. We are in a region and in a climate where things grow and thrive. And with that comes, you know, puppies and kittens that grow inside. And also, I hate to actually put them in the same sentence but I’m going to, parasites and insects that carry diseases and that can impact animals, thrives in this environment as well. So, you know, overpopulation in the, you know, in the summer, we are really kittens and puppies come in throughout the day and that could be really the majority of our intake in the summer. But that being said, we get puppies and kittens year-round. A lot of other regions don’t really see that. And we, you know, we might get less in the winter, but what you can consider winter in Louisiana, but we didn’t get less. But we still have puppies and kittens all year round. Also, like I said, we get a lot of parasites, you know, such as heartworms. So we have mosquitoes, we have an environment. So a lot of our animals, I think about 40% of our adult dog intake, actually comes in heartworm positive, which is an extremely hard thing, especially because CAA we’re nonprofit, don’t have a lot of resources, and treating those is not something we have the luxury of having. That is definitely difficult.

 Our community was interesting because we’re Baton Rouge, we’re the capital, that we are a city. But Easton Rouge Parish is actually pretty rural in itself. So it’s kind of like a city, but country at the same time. So you get livestock in because there’s country. It’s not all dogs and cats. Managing that and kind of every day is different about what we get in. We also have, you know, a population that is underserved, and we have programs to help that. It could be, it’s different every day. We try to figure out the best way to help the animals, but I think really overpopulation and the stuff, the illnesses and diseases and parasites that come from, kind of, being in the region and climate are challenging. And we see that all year round. Yeah. And that’s tough, you know? I mean, it’s the parasites and, you know, a bunch of animals. I mean, that’s a high amount of dogs that come in with heartworm, and yeah, I mean, that’s tough.

 So do you guys work with a local vet with getting the heartworm prevention medication or anything of that? I mean, not just heartworm related. But do you guys work with the local vet that kind of helps you guys out with spay/neutering and stuff of that nature? No, we actually have two veterinarians on staff. So you have, yes, you know, a lot of shelters don’t have that, but we have two veterinarians on staff, so they see all of our animals in our care and all of our foster animals. So they’re all the same as an animal comes in, they actually get heartworm prevention on intake. All intakes, that’s the first they do. We make sure they’re scheduled for their prevention their entire time they’re here. But our vet oversees all of that care throughout the year. So as soon as the dogs are in, their on prevention. On treatment, really that, unfortunately, that’s up to the adopter to treat. We give them, we educate them. And there’s some area veterinarians that kind of do some lower call heartworm treatment that we refer them to. The adopters are responsible for that, which it’s a lot. That’s a kind of a cost. The high-cost people take on when they’re adopting a dog. But luckily, it doesn’t hinder some adoptions, that people are still adopting dogs and going through the treatment on their own. 

Yeah, no, but I mean, I also think it plays a good part in keeping, making sure that the adopters are caring for that pet and staying educated on why they need those certain things, you know because I mean, just a personal experience of mine. We moved from California to Texas and in California, heartworm wasn’t a ginormous thing. So when we moved to Texas and they’re like, Hey, by the way, you know, you should probably think about giving your animals the heartworm treatment. And I’m like, what in the world? Like, Why? What is that? Why would I do that? And then, you know, they get into the whole thing about mosquitoes, and this is how it… I’m like, Oh, my gosh, like it’s you know, I mean, I heard of heartworm before, but you never realized that it changes, you know, depending on where you’re living and it’s spikes in certain areas. So I think it’s crazy. And that’s great that you guys have two vets on your staff. I mean that is so helpful. And I imagine that that makes things a little bit easier than if they weren’t there. So that’s great.

 Yes. We’re, you know, very lucky in that. And we have in our front lobby, we have a very, not so subtle, visual aid. We had a dog that actually passed from heartworm disease that we actually have the heart with the heartworm up front where we can actually use it to talk people because so many people here still don’t know about heartworm disease, and they also sometimes get confused with heartworm prevention and dewormer. They kind of think they’re the same thing. Having that conversation with people, educating them on that is something we get to do daily. But the kind of gross visual aid helps because it kind of really has helped people understand the importance of prevention and kind of gives them a little, I hate to say this, a graphic visual aid. But it kind of sticks with them after that. Yeah, no, it I can imagine. But that’s good that you guys offer that and you guys were willing to help educate, you know, people on, you know that these things happen and they’re very, they’re a lot more common than I think people realize. Yeah, definitely. 

So, Gillian, tell me a little bit about some of the programs that you guys offer. I saw that you guys have a few different ones. And if you don’t mind, could you share with us what your current favorite program is? Oh, favorite. Okay, so I’ll go with two, and there are, they’re our biggest programs, but they’re my favorite, and they’re almost completely different. So we have a Pet For Life program. So CAA is one of 50 groups in the country that is an official Pet For Life membership partner with the Humane Society of the United States. And this program allows us to help serve our underserved part of the community by offering resources and veterinary care to pet owners that are too often overlooked in the animal welfare field. You know, the premise of the program is really just because people don’t have the resources, doesn’t mean they don’t have the love. We have a Pet For Life Director who actually goes out most days of the week. Sunday, she and she gets to do data, but she goes and does door to door and knocks on people’s doors and, like I said, our underserved part of the community and build relationships and offers resources. And it has been so successful and we’re offering spay/neuter, we can help with vaccines. We could help with other things that they might not have had access to otherwise, and especially in the, you know, the community. So often, people in animal welfare, they’re putting us with, hate to say it, but the dogcatcher or they’ve had negative experiences, so they’re scared to reach out for help. And this is we’re approaching them and building relationships and offering them resources and, you know, staying with them with the life of the pet and the new pets. You know, it’s been such a great port program, and it’s so rewarding. And I think that’s one of the great things about animals, and this program is, it doesn’t matter anybody’s background, whatever it is, it unites people and they bring people together in this common understanding. So this program is so tremendous and helpful in our community, and especially during everything going on right now if we’re able to help our elderly population and provide food and supplies. So it’s just such a rewarding program and helping a community that often gets overlooked. 

My second favorite, I wouldn’t think second favorite. Another favorite program is we, actually, our veterinarians actually teach a Shelter Medicine Rotation for LSU Veterinary School. We have a staff veterinarian and the Medical Director, and we actually host a student rotation that allows veterinary students actually gain exposure of kind of the struggles and challenges and triumphs of working in an animal shelter and in the animal welfare field. Our veterinarians, actually instruct them and supervise them. And the students perform exams, diagnostics, surgeries and get hands-on experience that they wouldn’t get otherwise. And our animals benefit, they get so, you know, we have two vets. But they get two vets and two veterinary students on providing medical care and attention. So it’s so great, and we’ve seen such success with this program. And so many students, after they graduate, really just become like, lifelong, I wouldn’t say lifelong because it hasn’t been in existence that long. But huge supporters and advocates not only see aid but shelter medicine in itself. They understand the importance of the field. So it’s such a great program, and to see the students learn and have us being able to tell them like this is what we see every day and this is why you should go into this and help. It’s so great. So both programs are very rewarding in a little bit different way. Yeah. Those are definitely some great programs. I definitely was on board. I love the Pets For Life. I think that’s huge. It sounds like it’s a huge success, but I also feel like it’s a huge thing for people because, like you mentioned, some people may be afraid to come and ask for help or others are like, hey, I can’t support my animals, so I need to give them up. And it’s like that’s a great resource for them that allows them to keep their pet. And I think that’s great.. And the vet- student rotation program, I mean that that’s awesome because I think it’s giving them a real visualization of what this industry is really like. What and how it’s gonna be. This is what you’re gonna move on to do. So I think that that’s amazing that you guys offer such great programs, especially to keep the people of your community involved and know, Hey, we’re here to help you guys. You guys are definitely doing a great job of that. We are trying, that is for sure.

 Well, it definitely seems like you guys are on the right track, and you know, just I’m sure you guys offer other programs, but I think that I can definitely see why those are a few of your favorites. So, yes, we offer a lot of other different things, but there’s, they’re kind of the big ones. And I would say those are amazing. And if those are your two big ones and those are such great successes, I could only imagine what the other ones would be. I guess just keep up the great work with those and, you know, with such great programs, I don’t even know if I want to ask my next question.

 But what are some of the challenges that you guys face? I mean, I know right now due to COVID, it’s slightly different. But if you could share with us some of the normal challenges you guys face and then maybe kind of tie in to how COVID has affected you guys. Yeah. You know, I think I kind of touched on some of our challenges earlier. But you know we’re an animal shelter. So we see a lot of other things the other shelters may not see in the south. But overpopulation and disease are two of the big ones. So we are, intake is never limited here and especially, you know, during times we see heavier kittens and puppies. Finding foster homes is definitely difficult because, you know, all of our fosters, we have a great foster team and we’re always expanding it. But when you get 30 kittens in a day, it’s hard to find people to take them. Also having really keeping up with the intake and kind of the overpopulation issues that we see here. It is a struggle, and we’re always trying to adjust and figure out ways to keep pets in homes. But there’s only so much we can do. And I think we’re learning, actually from COVID-19. Something, the growth is beneficial. But also like I said, in this environment, parasites thrive and so do insects. Heartworm disease is extremely prevalent in our area and then our intake and our animals in our care, so that’s hard. 

With heartworms, sometimes finding a destination shelter for transport is difficult. We all know at this point that you know animal transport, especially for Southern shelters into other shelters, destination shelters is really a way to move the needle and to make change and increase your savory and help more animals. But when our intake is 40% heartworm positive and 50% of our intake are breeds that a lot of other shelters can’t take on, whether that be because they have an influx in their own shelter or breed-specific legislation, whatever it is. A lot of the animals that we can’t place here, transport can’t take as well. So it’s a challenge finding people to take our harder to place animals, which we have a lot of. But it’s really no fault of their own. It’s heartworm disease and breed, which is definitely, definitely difficult when we see an influx up. So I think those are really our main challenges and you know the solution for all the time it changes. I think a lot of it, all of it could probably be solved with resources. I think that’s every, probably what everybody says. But if we had more funding, if we had more resources, we could definitely help address these issues better. But right now we’re doing the best we can with the budget that we have and the resources we have.

Our challenges during COVID-19, you know, I think a lot of it is just the uncertainty of everything. When COVID- 19 was huge in Louisiana, it still is. It’s been a huge issue and it’s been spreading pretty rapidly, especially in our community. And having all the animals in our care and then still keeping our staff in our community healthy, is definitely a challenge. We luckily put out a little bit. We contacted our local news affiliates and contacted our social media and we were able to get 142 animals into foster care in a day. Which is remarkable. Our foster coordinated and replacement coordinator are fantastic. Our vets are fantastic. Everybody really came together. But we got so many animals into foster care, we were able to empty out our shelter quite a bit. We had about 67 animals in our care, and we usually have, like, 350 actually, in our buildings, that we were able to really limit staff in the building to keep them healthy. But I think the challenge is being, really adjusting to seeing how things are. It has been ingrained in me since I, really forever but since joining the field, it’s been spay/neuter, spay/neuter, spay/neuter.  And, you know, all the major organizations were saying, Stop. So when we were having people contact us with, you know, cats that need to be spay/neutered or one of the community cats, you know, to be TNRed, spay/ neutered. It was very hard to say, You’re gonna have to wait. When we know, maybe they’re gonna have kittens. We’re gonna see those kittens in six weeks, So that was a challenge. But you know, you adjust and it’s what’s better for the community because if we don’t have our people,  we can’t do anything with pets.

You know, we opened up May 16 and we opened up to the public. We were fully closed whenever the governor put the stay at home order. It was March 24th is when he began it. But we only had a central staff here. They were taking care of that, they were taking care of the few pets we had. We were taking emergencies, so sick, injured, dying or a threat to public safety. And we had our veterinarians here every day, taking care of that. So we had limited staff when we opened up. It’s you know, it’s hard because we have to still interact with the public now, and that’s a little difficult when we need to keep our space, because if we, if they get sick, essentially, who’s gonna take care of our pets. And we’re obviously taking precautions but my you know, one of my fears is when somebody’s going to get sick, not aware of it, and then all of my caretakers are out and then who’s gonna take care of our pets? Keeping our staff safe and healthy is hard.

 And then the financials are hard. Our biggest fundraiser for the year was actually scheduled for Saturday, last Saturday, and we raised over $200,000 for that event, on that event. And we rely on that funding to really kind of get us through the summer months and until to our annual fundraising campaign in the fall. And we weren’t able to have it. So that is over $200,000 that we rely on every year that we don’t have. And we’re obviously doing, applying for grants and other funding. But so are all of the other organizations, not animal welfare, not just animal welfare. Everybody is doing it. A lot of people are impacted financially as well. So we’re not getting in the donations. So figuring out how to really keep operations going and still grow because that’s always the goal, we want to grow and do better and still do more when finances are uncertain. That’s scary. And, you know, I think I was talking to somebody else. But the good thing about being in this field is the people in animal welfare are some of the most innovative, resourceful, dedicated, and just overall crafty, that’s kind of a weird word to use. But people and so you know what? We’ll figure it out, and it might be hard. It’s gonna be scary and difficult, and everybody’s gonna have to learn as we go. But if anybody could do it, it’s this field. So we’re trying and we’re just getting a little resourceful and about the way we’re doing things. So we’re adjusting, and I think that’s how everything’s gonna be. You just adjust and you go from there. You gotta adjust to the situation you’re in, right? Yes, yes. Unfortunately with COVID-19 you can’t really plan a lot. You can try. But it’s kind of ever changing and uncertain. Just kind of going with the flow a little bit. Which for planners is very difficult. You know, that’s kind of what we’re having to do. Yes.  I hear you 100% and I completely agree.

 And you know, one of the things that I’m coming to find from talking with different organizations is that this whole COVID pandemic has really, it’s almost forced organizations to think outside the box. Like you said, like you’ve got a lot of people that are very crafty and can come up with things. But I think that’s one of the positives that I feel has come out of this is, you know, everybody’s had to cancel their events. You know, that’s no secret to anybody and it’s extremely tough. But it’s also forced organizations to think of, How can we still get people involved without being able to go out and about? So that’s where all these virtual events are coming in handy, and I think that those are great. I think that a lot of them are gonna be used even after COVID. I think it’s a great way. But I think you know one of the things for you guys definitely seems like you guys have great programs. You guys have a great supportive community that respects you guys and is pretty well involved with you guys and I think that that’s one of the benefits that you guys have. I was actually shocked to see that you guys actually reopened this week. It’s definitely a shocker. I was surprised to see that. I mean, I’m happy because I, you know, we always, we know the struggles. We know the events are being canceled and the funding and stuff, but like you said, it’s definitely scary. It’s still so common and the pandemic is still out there, and it’s running rampant.

 Yeah, I mean, we did open. It is definitely not the same as it used to be. There’s intakes for adoptions. I mean, appointments for adoptions, appointments in taking animals. But, you know, we, CAA is actually still separate from animal control. And so they were resuming services on the 15th, I think they actually did the 16th. We opened a day ahead. So for us to really stay on top of our intake, we knew we had to start, really adopting our animals and getting them into homes. So, you know, it was a decision that was very hard to make, but we have to do what’s best for the animals, and that was trying to get as many in homes as possible. Our fosters are great. Animals are still going into fosters every day. But you know when we feel our intake might be a little high, which we feel like it. It’s summer months. People have been holding onto animals for months, a month or so at this point. We really just, we knew we had to make the decision and open.

Yeah, no. And I mean to get all those animals in foster in such a short amount of time is truly amazing. I mean, that was huge, when you told me that that was a huge thing. Because finding fosters, in general, to take in a few animals is tough. So the fact that you did such a large amount was truly awesome. Yes, our community stepped up in a way that, you know, we haven’t often asked them to do that. And the response we got and how they stepped up. I mean, we had a, we still had to limit the people in the building to keep our team and the community healthy. We had a line of people at our door waiting hours to pick up foster animals. It was remarkable. It was you know, something we have never really seen here. And so it, you know, just heartwarming and remarkable and really just kind of made a scary situation a little bit better. But, you know, it also taught us, we should be asking more help from our community. You know, while we have a great team here, we can only do so much without our community support. So, really, it kind of started that conversation with our team. Like, how do we start engaging our community more to foster, to help reunite pets in the field, really help in ways that they might not have helped before, when they were looking to, you know, volunteer or foster or whatever that may be. And you know honestly, though, Gillian, it really sounds like you guys have an amazing support system by, you know, and by that I mean your community, not just your staff and everything like that. It’s those numbers and to, you know, wait that long to foster an animal. I mean, you guys definitely were blessed there for sure. We were, that we were. I just love hearing that. 

So one of the things that I always love to include in the podcast is if any of our listeners are either in your area or just are feeling generous and want to help you guys out to support you guys or possibly donate. What is the best way that one can get in contact with you guys? You know, usually, they just stop by, but can’t do that right now. You visit our website caabr.org and we have every way you can get involved. If you’re interested in volunteering. If you’re interested in fostering. If you’re interested in donating it is all on our website, and it can actually direct you to who you need to speak with. So if you need to speak with a counselor, it’s there. A volunteer coordinator, it puts you in the right hands so you don’t get lost. Everything’s there, just visit our website and it’s you know when things hopefully get back to normal. If you haven’t been to CAA,  please come by, get a tour. We’re very proud of our facility. Come by and see and learn. Talk to us in person about how you can get involved, but for now, go to our website or our Facebook page.

 Awesome. No, definitely. I’ve enjoyed talking with you today and learning more about you guys. I’m definitely excited to see what’s in store for you. I’m excited to see that you guys are open again and not fully functioning yet the way it used to be. But, hey, it’s a start, and I think it’s a great start. So do you have anything else that you’d like to share with us today before we wrap things up? No. Thanks for having us. And they’re having me and thinking about CAA. And, you know, I know you’re speaking to a lot of other animal shelters. Thank you for all of that and that we all are looking. We always like to brag about our organizations and get the word out. And thank you so much. Yeah. No, we’ve enjoyed having you. And trust me, we definitely checked you guys out and love what you guys were doing. And we definitely feel like you deserved the feature spot this week. So thank you so much for that. Thank you. 

Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a Dooberteer, sign up for free at www.doobert.com. At Doobert, we know that together we can save more animals.”

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