One of the original 19 parishes in Louisiana, St. Landry Parish is named after the 28th bishop of Paris. Saint Landry founded the city’s first hospital, dedicated to Saint Christopher. And as many know, Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. According to legend, he was crossing a river when a child asked to be carried across the mighty waterway.
This bit of history is deeply symbolic and reflective of the recent story of St. Landry Parish Animal Control in Opelousas, LA. You see, in December 2022, our partner BISSELL Pet Foundation, received an earnest plea from the shelter for assistance. For one reason or another, employees resigned and the staff numbers dwindled, while the intake of residents continued to increase at a dismaying rate. With nearly 300 animals in their care, and very little resources, the small shelter had a grim future. Their desperation was apparent, and Cathy Bissell and her team responded. Through BISSELL Pet Foundation’s National Shelter Alliance, a group of organizations across the country support shelters in distress by assessing their needs and providing insight, assistance, and material and structural needs until they’re able to find their way forward.
Within two weeks, over 200 dogs, puppies, cats and kittens, and 8 horses, were transported to shelter and rescue partners throughout the country.
Shelter directors, care managers, veterinarians and technicians arrived at the shelter to find hundreds of struggling animals, as well as a community who were all in need of a bit of rescuing. Within two weeks, over 200 dogs, puppies, cats and kittens, and 8 horses, were transported to shelter and rescue partners throughout the country. Race for Life Rescue was among the transportation teams, and we made two flights with residents from St. Landry Animal Control to adoption centers on the east coast. But it was the kind of story that stayed with us long after the plane was empty.
A small, rural shelter in Louisiana, like so many across the US, had become overwhelmed and exhausted, broken by the weight of circumstance. To some extent, haven’t we all been there? And the only thing more powerful than perspective, is compassion. Burdens are lighter when lifted by the hands of many, and so many hands showed up for this community and its pets. Organizations from Texas, Michigan, Missouri, Arizona, Florida and Virginia arrived in phases, offering handling and behavior experience, animal control and law enforcement training, ideas for improving living conditions and staff protocols, educating caregivers on disease management and adoption.
After a few months, a new shelter was created, with a staff that works to make the lives of these animals better, as well as each others. They have a program and a purpose; and a renewed sense of joy. This isn’t to say that their job is easier, that looking into the eyes of those left and lost souls has become less painful, but creating a safe environment driven by effective action most assuredly saves lives, and that makes for a good day. Each life saved has the opportunity to find a loving home. These collaborations and partnerships build trusted relationships and a deeply rooted support system, so communities like St. Landry parish know they aren’t alone or overlooked. Sometimes we have to fall apart in order to come together, stronger than we were before. And that type of resilience is the backbone of this parish, its people, and its namesake.