By Jim Wilkerson
On Tuesday night, at the end of the Police Jury’s monthly meeting, members and supporters of 4 Paws confronted the Police Jury who voted in October to defund the animal rescue shelter.
4 Paws Director Sue Martin was the only person in the audience who signed up to speak, and, unbeknownst to her and her allies, no one else could technically address the Jury during public comment. And per Police Jury rules, she only had three minutes in front of the microphone.
Equipped with an entire binder and ready to give a lengthy presentation, Martin quickly tried to organize her thoughts to give a significantly shorter speech. Her primary focus was on a couple of bullet points in a handout published by the Police Jury for those at the meeting, which claimed:
· “4 PAWS continued to refuse animals brought to their facility by the animal control officer” and;
· “4 PAWS does not accept: vicious dogs; sick/diseased dogs; cats; owner-surrendered dogs (These represent the vast majority of animals picked up by the Animal Control Officer)”
“We have never, ever, turned away an animal brought to us by (Deputy) Rob Sasser,” Martin said. “They were not brought to us. This is very disturbing. Your comprehensive plan is sending our animals to a kill shelter. We can do better than that.”
When told her time was up, 4 Paws supporters did not leave quietly and confronted the Police Jury about the rules.
“Can we ask questions? Do the citizens have any rights to ask any questions?,” one person in the audience asked.
“No ma’am, you’ve got to sign up,” Police Jury President Richard Durrett responded.
“So, you’re telling us that we are not allowed to comment? That’s unconscionable,” another complained.
A small crowd of 4 Paws supporters soon formed by the exit door, where some were deciding whether to stay or leave. Police Juror Skip Russell calmly invited them to “talk, and listen, and visit.”
An informal meeting then commenced with Police Jurors sitting at their respective seats, while some workers continued packing up the room. The unofficial setting did not deter the 4 Paws community from treating it like an official meeting.
Judith Howard, Terry Nix, Lauren DeFreese, and Jayne Jenkins each had an opportunity to speak. Howard, Nix, and DeFreese spoke directly in defense of 4 Paws and of their sacrifices made to keep 4 Paws going, while Jenkins advocated for an affordable spay and neutering program that an entity like 4 Paws could provide.
Some Police Jurors then offered alternatives to 4 Paws’ current operating procedures in an apparent effort to compromise.
When asked directly why he voted to defund 4 Paws, Russell responded: “I voted to make a change. The reason I voted to make a change is we are responsible for picking up dogs. We’re not responsible for keeping them, say, for ten years. We can’t afford to do that.”
In response to Howard’s question of why Lincoln Parish does not have an animal shelter, Juror Logan Hunt said that he’d be “open to partnering with the City [of Ruston]…to try to get that project back.”
Russell ended the conversation by telling Martin, “I think a number of us would like to sit down with your board of directors and just talk…If you’ll set up a meeting with your board and let us know days in advance, we’ll get a group together and we’ll all sit down. Let’s sit down and let’s move forward.”
Martin agreed, “Let’s do that…There’s so much we need to talk about.”
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