The first week for the animals roars into the state with 40 events

Gov. Bobby Jindal recently signed a proclamation declaring March 21-29 as Louisiana Week for the Animals. Among the dozens of events are a Dress Down for the Animals fundraiser for parish employees in Lake Charles, Chimp Haven Discovery Day in Keithville, Blue Dog artist George Rodrigue book signing at Baton Rouge Community College, Woofstock Festival in Covington, Tulane University Law Night in New Orleans and a pet blessing at the Ouachita Animal Shelter.

Animal World, a Memphis-based magazine and animal welfare group, has coordinated the first-ever Louisiana celebration with a 75 local and national sponsors.

Having an entire week of activities across the state brings a myriad of animal issues to the attention of a broad audience. “During the bookend weekends, animal rescues, zoos and other attractions have the possibility of hosting two events,” says Michelle Buckalew, Animal World publisher and national event coordinator. “Monday through Friday allows libraries, schools, shelters, law enforcement to really participate.”

In 2005, Best Friends Animal Society partnered with Animal World USA to produce the Tennessee’s inaugural event. The collaboration proved so successful, the organizations set their sights on promoting a week for the animals in all 50 states, the U.K. and Zambia within four years.

“It makes no sense that 4 million animals are euthanized every year in the United States,” Buckalew says with missionary zeal. “We’re trying to jumpstart the movement. We’re creating generational change. When you get the schools and libraries involved, you have lit the fire.”

Buckalew aims for the annual event inspire incremental change year round. For example, a child may become exposed to the idea of pet adoption by making a poster in school to display at a pet blessing. If a family member decides to get a pet, the child may suggest the family go to a shelter, rescue or petfinder.com rather than the classifieds to find for their perfect dog, reptile, kitten, bunny, etc. And suddenly, one more animal has found a home and escaped being euthanized.

Besides increasing public awareness of animal issues, the event seeks to honor, encourage and empower rescue and other animal advocates by offering new approaches and opportunities to ease and advance their work. “We want to connect [shelters and rescues] to the community at large, [so] we can get resources pointed toward people and animals who need them.”

Buckalew believe the tight economy is no obstacle. “When times are toughest, people get out of their comfort zone and donate what they can. That may be product rather than funds; but, it can still make a significant difference,” she asserts. “For example, maybe Kodak could give digital cameras to every Louisiana shelter to photograph animals to post on petfinder.com, or Sprint could provide phone service to help with costs.

“We’re supporting the people in the front lines, doing what they don’t have the time or the resources to do. We’re stirring the pot up to see what happens. So far, we’ve been able to create tremendous energy.”

For a complete schedule of Louisiana’s Week for the Animals, visit louisianaanimals.org.

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