At long last, shelter for animals harmed in hurricane on fast track

Legal News Line Jul. 17, 2008, 10:46am

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-In the days following Hurricane Katrina, donations to build an animal shelter in the town of Slidell, La., poured into a California non-profit called Noah's Wish.

Almost three years later, Slidell Mayor Ben Morris said the project is finally progressing.

Morris told the City Council last week design engineers for the shelter had been hired, and that the money needed for the project was ready.

The California attorney general's office was holding $3 million of the project's funds in trust amid concerns the donations would not be spent as donors were told.

In 2006, California Attorney General Jerry Brown began an investigation into how the nearly $8 million raised by Noah's Wish was being spent.

Brown's spokesman, Gareth Lacy, told Legal Newsline the investigation revealed the organization "had gotten off track" with its finances.

"This was not a serious fraud or mismanagement," Lacy said, "but more of a case where the non-profit got too big, too fast. They have to use the money for the intended charitable purpose and this settlement straightened that out."

California law, Lacy said, does not allow for money to be raised for one cause, in this case the high profile need for a shelter after Hurricane Katrina, and then used to fund similar activities in other areas or other causes.

According to St. Tammany News, a financial statement from Noah's Wish showed $1.4 million spent on hurricane relief efforts and about $4 million remained in the organization's account.

Brown and board members of Noah's Wish reached a settlement in 2007 moving the $4 million into a restitution fund, of which the attorney general's office said $3 million would be spent on building Slidell's shelter and the remaining $1 million distributed through a charitable foundation to assist other animal victims of Katrina.

"The funds will now fulfill the donor's intent - to aid animals harmed by Hurricane Katrina - starting with a complete reconstruction of the animal shelter in Slidell," Brown said following the settlement.

Morris told the City Council that the money is in a trust fund, established by the Louisiana attorney general's office. Funds can begin to be drawn from the fund once construction begins.

Demolition of the existing building should begin in the next two to three weeks, Slidell Animal Control Director Damian Anti told the St. Tammany News.

Anti said the new facility will double the existing kennel space, have larger adoption rooms, more isolation rooms and meeting rooms, and will include a clinic where veterinarians can spay and neuter animals.

More News