Although the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been operating in New Orleans for more than a century, the staff members think of their history in two parts: before Katrina, and after Katrina. They spent the days before the storm assisting evacuations for animals around the city and from their Lower Ninth Ward shelter, but the hurricane left almost nothing for them to return to.
What the storm did leave were hundreds of animals in need, along with the people committed to helping them. The team had been caring for abused and neglected animals in New Orleans since the days when a standard family vehicle had four legs and ran on oats, and they weren’t about to stop now. They set up a makeshift shelter and clinic in a coffee warehouse and went to work, preparing for the return of their own animals as well as rescuing and caring for cats, dogs, horses, pigs, snakes, and other animals left abandoned and homeless in the ruins.
“We came back, and we still worked,” said accountant Evelyn Simon, who put in 14 or 15 hour days to divide her administrative duties with scrubbing kennels, scooping feed, and walking the animals. “It wasn’t nine to five, five days a week. It was whatever you had to do, whatever it took.”
No tail turned away
Almost a decade later, the Louisiana SPCA is up and running with close to 90 employees and provides services from rescue and adoption to community education, youth programs, and working with police to fight animal abuse. One team might lead a disaster preparation seminar for pet owners while another stands at the ready as NOLAPD breaks down the door of a cockfighting ring.
“A lot of people think we take the animals and just put them in cages,” Simon explained. “But when they come here they’re overwhelmed—first with how many animals they see up for adoption, but also the facility and the time and the care we put in with these animals.” A stay at Louisiana SPCA means being walked, groomed, paired with compatible friends, and even read to by a small army of volunteers ranging from high school teens to the organization’s own board members, who together donated more than 67,000 hours of their time last year.
Louisiana SPCA needs all the help it can get. The nonprofit’s philosophy is to take on any and every challenge that comes their way, whether the needy creatures be boa constrictors, miniature horses or, in one case, a family of tigers. Even though they weren’t set up for giant felines (which had belonged to a local drug dealer), they helped relocate them to a Colorado organization that was. “We don’t turn anything away from our doors. If we can’t handle it, we try to find someone with the resources who can.”
Fighting to rebuild, tooth and claw
That kind of passion for animals is why the team was ready to get back in the city after the storm and continue to do their jobs with whatever resources they had left. But for Simon, the organization’s sole accountant at the time, this wasn’t much: “I lost everything,” she said. “We did not have a backup, and we were in the Lower Ninth. Other than some reports that were on the top shelf, it was all gone.”
She did the only thing she could think of: call for help. “I don’t know how other companies were at that time, but I can tell you how Cougar Mountain was. They said, ‘We’ll help you get up and running.’ They sent me down a disk. They helped me get everything back up. They helped me rebuild my reports. I was starting all over again, and they were there.”
Piecing together what records she could and rebuilding the system from the ruins was no easy journey, but Simon said Cougar Mountain was always on hand to help and never charged her for support. Almost a decade later, the relationship hasn’t changed. Until recently, Simon was a lone woman managing Louisiana SPCA’s financial operations, which for a group with dozens of services, events, and programs, would be an organizational nightmare if it weren’t for Cougar Mountain’s systems tracking each kibble purchase and $5 donation at a bake sale. “It was a little intimidating at first, because it is a lot. But keeping track of all my cost centers and being able to break things down and pull up any P&L, I’m not complaining.”
Support for SPCA may come via $100 at an event, a monthly credit card membership or a grant left in the will of animal lover. “You also get the little old ladies that will send their dollar bills wrapped in aluminum foil,” Simon said. “The software helps me keep it in the smaller picture, and when I want it, it will help me put it in the big picture. The big pot might have $50,000, but I can break it down, and see that, maybe, $10,000 came from the Dog Days event, $5000 came from that race, and the rest of the money came from direct mail donations.”
And when it comes time for the nonprofit to be held accountable, “There is a complete audit trail. I can never be deleted off the books. If there’s ever any question, just by looking at it, you can see what actually transpired.”
Ready for anything
Simon’s job will never be easy no matter the software, but she can’t remember a time when she hasn’t wanted to spend her life protecting animals, whether scrubbing kennels or compiling expense reports. “We’re here because we love what we do. If you’re here, it’s because this work is in your heart. It’s in your blood.”
And if another hurricane does hit, this time Louisiana SPCA will be ready, whether among the kennels or in the record room. They’ve been watching out for Louisiana’s animals since 1888, and they plan to keep doing it, each dog, cat, snake, and tiger, for another hundred years, no matter what storms it has to weather.