Louisville Metro Animal Services’ main shelter is tucked away from its entrance on multi-lane Manslick Road; an unassuming collection of structures hidden behind a curvy, almost-bucolic avenue that does little to prepare the prospective animal adopter for the deplorable conditions found within. Last week, a friend and I ventured here posing as such prospective adopters to witness, firsthand, the results of ex-LMAS Director Gilles Meloche’s Mayoral-approved brand of “change.” Our findings are about as depressing as you might expect.
At first glance, the property reminds me of the compound in “Jurassic Park” — an illusion that lasts only about thirty seconds. Our guide points out that the personnel and administration “buildings” are actually FEMA-style trailers stacked on concrete cinder blocks, built in response to an August 4th flood that has left a lasting and indelible mark on the understaffed, overcrowded facility. The former administration building — barely 30 paces from the FEMA boxes — is closed off and defunct.
Inside the cramped front offices, blue-shirted staff and volunteers assist a handful of “customers” while our guide gets the okay from the manager to venture into the facility’s bowels. After a few moments, we leave the office and enter the cat sector, which is broken up into individual cells filled with plush toys, litter boxes and innumerable tiny pillows. One of the rooms – quarantined due to an outbreak of ringworm — featured a space heater; the only heating apparatus of its kind in the entire building, whose central heat has been offline since (you guessed it) the August 4th flood. The cells are chilly and teaming with felines, a few of whom appear to be sick — runny nose, languishing posture, etc. — but the atmosphere is won over by how adorable they are.
We move on into another cat-specific room, except this one is different: Off-limits to the public, this large concrete-walled room houses cages upon cages of sick and dying cats, packed in many instances 6 to a cage.
One of the volunteers is weeping.
“It’s just awful,” she says. “This place is so messed up…”
She tells us that they had just finished transporting about 60 cats to be euthanised in the veterinary technician’s trailer, and that it was way more crowded just a few hours ago, we might’ve been able to adopt one of them. After drying her eyes she squirts a few pumps of Purrel onto her palms and gets back to work.
And there’s a lot of work to be done. So much, in fact, that not much of anything really gets done: A white cat with a missing eye, its socket gaping, unsewn and mucosy; dying cats lay prostrate and growling in boxes of their own filth; a psychotic kitten pawing through the wire-mesh, mewing incessantly; another curled into a fetal position and shivering with obvious pain. Just in this particular area, the best these handful of volunteers can appear to do is keep things from getting too dirty and ferrying animals to be euthanised.
Our guide examines a kitten — a tabby — saying it appears to have pneumonia: A white sticker with the words “On Treatment” is affixed to its laminated data sheet, as it is to most data sheets in this room, which means medication. We bring the tabby to the volunteer’s attention, who says she’ll try to attend to it but instead goes about cleaning a cage. We sanitize our hands and move on.
Outside, the dogs are doing their thing, which mainly consists of either  cowering out of fear and/or sickness, or  barking insanely. The pens are lined in about four deep rows that force you to come back the way you came in order to proceed to the next row. A good many of the pens are filled with excrement and feature irregular couplings: One cage had two gigantic mastiff-type dogs, whereas others just house a lonesome Boxer or mutt. Most of these animals are “on treatment” as well. In one pen, a Boston Terrier had severely cut its paw — via clawing at the chicken wire, most likely — and was profusely bleeding amidst another dog and piles of their shit.
Waste canals are cogged with leaves and fetid green water, and like the rest of the facility the dog pens have no heat to ward off the frigid Autumn nights. Passing a crying couple unable to retrieve their lost dog, we re-re-sanitize and head back to the front offices. My friend and I decide to actually become prospective adopters and rescue the pneumonia-stricken tabby after learning that no attempts have been made in the hour since we brought it to the attention of LMAS personnel. We explain to a blue-shirted staff member our intentions, that we basically want to adopt the cat and take care of its veterinary expenses, and are told to wait for the veterinary technician who’s standing across the room, idly chatting.
“We’ll have to wait for her to get done talking,” the volunteer says in a half-sigh.
Eventually we speak with her, but are shocked at her answer.
“If the animal is sick then we don’t allow you to take it home with you,” she told us. “So no.”
“Well,” my friend replied, “All I want to do is take it to a veternarian,” which pretty much provoked the white-frocked doctor to dismiss our intentions entirely, and to chide our guide for allowing us into off-limits areas. We left soon after, crestfallen and in need of a chemical bath.
In the wake of Meloche’s resignation, the seedy details of his LifeTime-network-TV-thriller sexual misconduct are dominating the news cycles, but the conditions at LMAS’s shelter — the largest of its kind in the state — remain the same. Meloche, along with fellow “change agent” and current interim director Wayne Zelinsky, have been building this house over the last three years. If you want proof for yourself, drive out to 3705 Manslick Road and bring a box of Kleenxes. They’ll come in handy in more ways than one.