The concept of the Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission began as the brainchild of Pinckney Wood, then president of the Coalition of Louisiana Animal Advocates (COLAA). Mr. Wood envisioned the creation of a commission within state government to meet the many challenges that existed to the well-being of animals in Louisiana. No doubt this idea was brought about by Mr. Wood’s previous and ongoing involvement in several animal welfare related issues. Mr. Wood, along with fellow COLAA member, Dr. James Riopelle; East Baton Rouge Animal Control Director, Hilton Cole; and then Louisiana SPCA director, Laura Maloney had been involved in lobbying efforts to strengthen animal cruelty statutes, outlaw cock-fighting, ban the private ownership of large cats (tigers, lions, etc.), and prevent “canned hunts.” Pinckney lobbied strenuously for the commission and was eventually able to garner the support of Representative Melinda Schwegmann of New Orleans, the former Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. With the strong, unwavering support of Representative Schwegmann, Act 656 of the 2001 Louisiana legislature became a reality, creating the Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission within the Office of the Governor, and the Louisiana Animal Welfare Fund within the state treasury. The bill, signed into law by then Governor Mike Foster, also established the composition of the commission and set the length of each member’s term to two years.
In 2004, Act 74 of the legislature, introduced as Senate Bill 530 by Senator Paulette Irons, also of New Orleans, lengthened the term of members serving on the commission to four years. Representative Warren Trish, Jr. of Lafourche Parish initiated a bill in 2004 that gave the commission authority to establish a bank account and to expend funds from the account for programs to ensure and promote the proper treatment and well-being of animals. In 2008, Senator Butch Gautreaux of St. Mary Parish sponsored a bill eventually enacted into law, giving the commission the authority to inspect the state’s public animal shelters, to gather statistics, records, and other information from shelters, especially information related to intake, adoption and euthanasia. All municipal and parish animal shelters, as well as private organizations contracted to shelter animals are subject to LAWC inspections. The LAWC Shelter Inspection Program has proven to be a crucial and successful program for the state in helping to identify the needs of local shelters across the state. In 2014, the LAWC Shelter Inspection Program was enhanced to offer a more comprehensive evaluation of shelters. The new evaluation system focuses on helping shelters achieve their ultimate goal of providing a quality, effective shelter for the animals and people they serve.
Most recently, Orleans Parish Senator Troy Carter’s bill establishing the Louisiana Animal Shelter Registry became law in 2016. Parish governing authorities must submit a list of all public shelters located within the parish’s jurisdiction. Addresses, management contact information, and hours of operation must be included in the report. The statute also requests that The Basic Animal Data Matrix, be reported electronically through the website, www.shelteranimalscount.org. Shelters incapable of internet access are asked to submit the same information in paper form. Shelters are also asked to submit a brief narrative description of the methods used to comply with shelter spay/neuter legal requirements.
Since the creation of the commission several members from all backgrounds have served on the panel. The entire commission consists of fourteen appointees, all appointed by the Governor. One nominee each from the Governor’s Office, the Louisiana Department of Health, the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Quarter Horse Association, and the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association, may be appointed to the commission. In addition an at-large small animal veterinarian, an animal control director, a commercial breeder, an at-large appointee from the public, three representatives of operating humane societies or private animal shelters, and two veterinarians nominated by the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association complete the make-up of the commission.
Pinckney Wood, the “father” of the commission served as its first chair. Since Mr. Wood left the commission in 2010, Dr. Gary Balsamo, State Public Health Veterinarian from the Louisiana Department of Health; at-large appointee, Amy Cannizaro Burris; and commercial dog breeder, and Mary Lee Oliphant have served as chairpersons.
The Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission played an integral role in outlawing cock-fighting in Louisiana. In addition to the explicit duties of the commission specified in law, LAWC has contributed over $75,000 in grants to spay/neuter programs in under-served populations around the state, conducted 47 shelter/agency inspections, sponsored training on animal encounters for law enforcement, advocated for animal welfare legislation at the state and local level, cooperated with Louisiana humane organizations in educational programs, supported the creation of a voluntary animal rescue organization certification program, and supported the investigation of animal cruelty and neglect complaints. In addition, the commission has worked closely with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine‘s Shelter Medicine Program to identify ways to improve shelters across the state.
Today, the work of commission continues in its unwavering commitment to improve animal welfare in the state of Louisiana.