Grant Parish in Louisiana goes to the dogs
Toby was in dire need of a savior. The nondescript brown dog spent his days at the Grant Parish Sheriff’s Office (GPSO) animal shelter huddled in the back of the kennel, terrified of everything. When local resident Patricia Davidson Thornhill turned up at the Louisiana shelter to take him home as a foster dog, his savior seemed to have arrived. Soon enough, however, Toby proved himself to be Patricia’s savior as well.
“He was so painfully shy that he stayed in the yard for about a week before stepping foot into my house,” Patricia says. “Even after he came indoors, Toby had to be approached quietly and slowly so as not to frighten him.”
Then one day, while Patricia was suffering through a bout of sciatica, Toby made a fateful decision.
“I was sitting in my recliner, crying in pain, when all of a sudden Toby came over, put his foot on me, then laid his head on my leg,” she says. “It was the first time he got that close. I had only planned to foster him, but that day I decided he wasn’t going anywhere. He showed me his heart and I knew it was meant to be.”
We call that a foster win for both Toby and Patricia. Happily, though, it didn’t turn out to be last time she participated in the satellite foster program that Best Friends helped the shelter launch earlier this year.
It’s a program that has been a long time coming for a community that didn’t even have animal control services before 2013, when the Grant Parish Sheriff’s Office established a department to try and manage the large number of stray dogs in the area. Today, two officers handle about 100 service calls every month, and inmates from the local detention center care for dogs housed in 40 kennels (half of which were recently built by those same inmates). There was no official foster program and no one to start one.
So, how’s it panning out so far? Well, in a few months the program attracted three dozen foster homes, and 75 dogs have gone to new families, which includes nine adopted at Grant Parish’s first adoption event in August.
Free foster programs for animal shelters
Foster programs are critical to lifesaving, but they are often out of reach for shelters struggling just to get through the day-to-day work. In 2021, a team at Best Friends considered the possibility of helping these shelters remotely and began the first satellite foster program at Polk County Animal Services in Florida.
The Best Friends staff worked virtually to recruit, train and support foster volunteers, set up the technology infrastructure to keep things organized and do anything else needed to make the program successful. Volunteers were soon taking in kittens from the Polk County shelter (where the greatest need was), caring for them, driving them to veterinary appointments to be spayed or neutered and even helping match them with adopters. In the first year of the program, more than 600 pets went from the shelter to foster homes.
While many shelters (like Polk County) need help handling large numbers of kittens, that isn’t the case at Grant Parish. Instead, the community struggles with stray dogs.
“This was a problem that we dealt with over and over, and when I took office as sheriff, I knew this problem wasn’t going away,” says Sheriff Steven McCain. “Our goal is to not have any more stray animals. Is that possible? No, we know that, but we do want to have a place where we can find homes for the ones that we do pick up.”
Grant Parish goes to the dogs
Lee Ann Shenefiel, Best Friends regional director, first learned about Grant Parish in 2020 when she was doing research to see which Louisiana shelters needed help reaching no-kill.
“We granted them some funds for vet services and had planned to work on more projects until COVID put the brakes on everything,” Lee Ann says. “Then Sheriff McCain called me early this year to tell me he had expanded some rescue partnerships and wanted to be able to have a place to house dogs waiting to go to other organizations.”
Although he asked for funds to double the number of kennels, Lee Ann suggested a foster program instead, and Sheriff McCain agreed. In no time, Sherri Plemons, Best Friends coordinator of lifesaving outcomes, was hard at work posting foster requests with local social media groups. It didn’t take long for the community to respond.
Funding, support drives lifesaving
“It just grew so quickly,” Sherri says. “The private Facebook group has gained more than 300 members since May. There are also many people who reached out and said that although they couldn’t foster, they wanted to help in other ways.”
That includes driving dogs to a veterinary clinic 35 miles away for spay/neuter. Best Friends gave GPSO a $10,000 grant to cover those surgeries.
“The financial side has been a huge help, but the organizational skills and suggestions have been even bigger,” says Chance Durand, who’s the animal control supervisor in addition to being assistant warden at the detention center. “The personal help, knowledge and ideas from Best Friends have done so much for us. It's been a tremendous partnership, almost too good to believe. Best Friends went above and beyond for little old Grant Parish in Louisiana.”
“I guess I'm always skeptical of a stranger showing up with a cold call saying, ‘We’re here. We want to help,’ says Sheriff McCain. “I'm looking for an angle, like what are they trying to get out of us? What we've found from Best Friends is that they're not trying to get anything from us. They just truly want to help and that has been the same with everyone we’ve dealt with.
“Speaking as somebody who donates money to what I hope are good causes, whether that is St. Jude’s or our local church, you hope that what you're willing to contribute is actually being put to good use. In our case, the proof is in the pudding. It's just been a tremendous partnership.”
“Little old Grant Parish in Louisiana” is an example of how caring people, both at the shelter and in the community, can make a remarkable difference and save lives.
Fostering one pet helps many
Fostering a pet from your local shelter, opens up space to help even more pets in need.