Ana Zorrilla

GREG MILES PHOTOGRAPH

New Orleans is a city of animal lovers. but like any other area of the world – be it urban or rural – pet overpopulation and animal cruelty are a definite reality. We would like to think that people are advocates for animals, their pets; yet there are many who are not.

Ana Zorrilla’s enthusiasm for her job is contagious. The LA/SPCA facility, located in Algiers on the West Bank, is an impressive complex. The lobby in the main building is bustling with employees and potential pet adopters.

The hardest part of visiting the facility is when Zorrilla takes me into where the animals are kept. As a self-proclaimed cat lady and favorite aunt to my friends’ dogs, I’m in love with all of the animals.

In a separate room, there are animals who are recovering from abuse; one particular dog is all skin and bones. Zorrilla tells me the dog had gained weight. I had mentally prepared myself for this walk-through – but I’m still holding back tears. I want them all to have homes.

Many people don’t realize that it’s hard, expensive work to own a pet. The ASPCA website gives statistics for how much it costs to own a cat, dog, rabbit, guinea pig, bird or fish for the first year. Basic costs for a cat, broken down by category, are $675 (including the $175 for health insurance); a medium-sized dog is $695 (including health insurance). The costs may seem daunting, but there are programs that can help with veterinary bills and food.

It is a testament to Zorrilla’s dedication that the LA/SPCA facility exists and is growing – there are plans for a second phase of buildings. I am also impressed with the website (la-spca.org) as it’s a wealth of information and includes information on dog obedience classes, pet health and CPR classes, as well as an owner/pet “Barking Boot Camp.”

 “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals,” wrote German philosopher Immanuel Kant. And for Zorrilla, that’s a feat that she and her staff face everyday.  

What was your job prior to joining the LA/SPCA? I was director of education at the nonprofit Summerbridge. It was a group that helped children get into good schools in order for them to enter into teaching. I was there for 10 years before Hurricane Katrina. Right after the storm, the program closed for a bit. ... and I couldn’t bring my dog to work.

Then, I had heard about the job at the LA/SPCA to help raise money, and I honestly thought it was only going to be for six months. The interview with my predecessor, Laura Maloney, which I thought would only be a half-hour, ended up being three hours. It was so fascinating. The hardest part was how to reconcile working in a place where animals being euthanized was a reality.

In your own words, what’s the mission of the LA/SPCA? To alleviate animal suffering and at the same time to strengthen the human/animal bond. To alleviate neglect and cruelty; so much is that people just don’t know how to take care of their pets. Educating about pet ownership. And to try to curb overpopulation.

I have a great team here – the staff and volunteers are phenomenal.

What kind of animals can you adopt from the LA/SPCA? Any kind of cat; dog – mixed breed, pure breed, even designer breeds (such as a puggle – a combination of a beagle and pug) and dogs with AKC certification; rabbits; guinea pigs; hamsters; and birds.

What doesn’t the LA/SPCA put up for adoption? Fish and snakes. Larger animals, such as horses, pigs and goats, we send to rescue groups that specialize in them. Wildlife – we work with the Audubon Zoo and nature rehabilitation centers. With certain animals, such as possums and raccoons, there’s a fear of rabies. What animals do you find are particular issues in New Orleans? Feral cats and pit bulls.

Pit bulls, because there are just so many of them and their reputation. Of course, some of them are aggressive, but there are many who aren’t.
Feral cats, because they can seem to be a nuisance, particularly if they’re not fixed, and people will do cruel things to them. What people don’t realize is that they control the rodent population. You can bring in a feral cat to be neutered and vaccinated, and then return the cat to its original neighborhood.

Of course people need to do research on an animal and its breed before they adopt it. But what is one thing that many people forget or don’t realize before adoption? People need to be realistic about their expectations. Each animal and breed is unique and different. Any animal will need time for transition to a new environment. You have to give the animal time. The LA/SPCA can help an owner deal with transition issues. Pet ownership is fantastic, but not for everybody.

Are there any trends that you see locally with animal cruelty? This past summer, for some reason, we had a big problem with tethering – dogs couldn’t get to shade or to water, or they would try to climb over a fence and accidentally hang themselves. With cats, in the summer it’s access to water and in the winter they crawl into vehicles to get warm, and when a person starts a car they’re killed.

If I don’t have a lot of money, but want to spay/neuter a dog or cat, how much does it cost? What care services does the LA/SPCA provide, or not provide? The LA/SPCA has Community Clinic where we do low-cost spay/neuter ($25 for a feral cat, for example); a basic wellness package that can include a vet exam, testing for various diseases and parasites, vaccinations, as well as microchipping. The LA/SPCA doesn’t treat sick animals, [or offer] chronic or emergency care or extensive procedures.

We can also work with someone on price.

If I see a stray animal, what do I do? Call 368-5191, extension 100. Even if you get an answering machine, you must leave a message. The voicemail is constantly checked. Or email dispatch@la-spca.org.

True confession: I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I went skydiving and loved it!

At a Glance
Age: 37 Occupation: CEO of the Louisiana SPCA for five years (before that she was the vice president of development) Born/grew up: New Orleans Resides: Mid-City Family: Husband, Jose; daughter, Isabela; dogs, Jack Russell Terriers Mila, Pepper and Sparky (who was our foster dog); current foster dogs Molly and her six puppies. Education (High school and college): St. Mary’s Dominican High School; Undergraduate degrees in English Literature and Secondary Education from Loyola University; master’s in educational administration from University of New Orleans Favorite book: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese Favorite movie: Bolt (but my guilty pleasure is Bridesmaids) Favorite TV show: “Top Chef” or “Food Truck Race,” but my true favorite is “Chopped.” Favorite music/musicians: Michael Franti & Spearhead Favorite food: Dark chocolate Favorite restaurant: Rue 127 and Velvet Cactus Favorite vacation spot: Beach Hobby: Dancing to Nintendo Wii’s “Michael Jackson Experience”

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