August 18, 2015 | Posted in Andy The Everydog

Ani-Mates-A-Cell-of-Their-Own-425PXIn the wake of the mammoth destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thousands of dogs, cats and house pets became homeless, walked the battered streets of Louisiana’s parishes or, worst of all, perished.

Many of their owners left food and water for them, thinking (hoping) they’d return to their homes after their forced evacuations and as soon as the storm passed.

That didn’t happen.

Animal rescuers from many states came to Louisiana’s aid and went about saving dogs on floating roofs, cats in attics — any creature they could reach. They were brought to local emergency animal shelters, particularly to the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, LA — a venue for rodeos, livestock shows and horse exhibitions. The facility soon became the site of the largest animal rescue operation in U.S. history, where hundreds of volunteers and veterinarians cared for more than 8,000 rescued animals.

Soon, space at the Dixon Expo Center was becoming scarce.

Jimmy Blanc, warden of the Dixon Correctional Institute in Baton Rouge, made a hugely helpful decision. He had recently lost his 17-year-old Yorkshire Terrier and wanted to do something good for abandoned animals. Not only did he end up providing shelter and care for rescued animals; he also gave prison inmates a chance to give back to living creatures — canines and their friends —  in a pure, unselfish, honest way.

He contacted the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), eventually secured a $600,000 grant to construct a real, working shelter on prison grounds and arranged for animals to be transported there.

A makeshift clinic was set up,  initially with 12 prison inmates, a team of LSU vet students and community volunteers working to help feed, walk the animals, clean cages and eating bowls, mop floors, etc. Injured and malnourished pets were nursed back to health and many were even reunited with their original owners.

The shelter, appropriately nicknamed Pen Pals, is overseen and managed by Warden Smith’s junior officer, Master Sergeant Wayne Aucoin.

The building contains a surgical suite, exam tables, anesthesia devices; a grooming area, a computer room and an educational library. Inmates working with the animals are permitted to consult veterinary texts and other materials which help them spot diseases such as roundworm and parasitic infections.

Working at the shelter is one of the most-wanted jobs among the inmates; yet the positions are carefully meted out, as prospective inmate workers are thoroughly screened. The standards for this type of work are high at Dixon Correctional; few are chosen. For those few and the animals they reach, it’s a win/win situation.

“Working here humanizes them. It teaches them to think about something other than themselves. You can see they’re concerned about these animals,” says Warden Smith.

Because of its well-equipped shelter and the dedication of its caregivers, Dixon Correctional is also a noted, no-kill adoption center and the only one of its kind in the country.

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More information may be found in The Bark magazine, No. 75, Fall 2013 issue.