A lifelong animal lover, the Texas native’s career as a volunteer and unofficial guardian angel to St. Martin Parish’s unwanted dogs began some 15 years ago after finding an abandoned dog on a roadside.
“When I came to Lafayette, I started working with some of the local groups, then I got involved with Animal Cruelty and Katrina Lifeline. I’ve made a lot of connections in the dog world with people in the United States and Canada, and they were concerned with the high rate of kills we have here. In other areas it’s not this bad. They have a high spay-neuter program in place, and don’t have a lot of animals running loose in the street getting killed or having puppies. So when they see what’s going on in the South, they’re really alarmed about it.”
Once rescued, Borges takes the dog to a veterinarian for an examination, shots, and spaying or neutering. Then, they’re checked for heart worms.
“We have a high rate of heart worms in this area ... It’s real expensive, so, we try and get them treated before they leave here.”
From Fran’s, the dog’s final destination might be as close as Lafayette or as far-flung as California, Pennsylvania or even, more and more frequently, Canada. She’s adopted out hundreds of dogs and in the last three months has saved at least 36 animals from St. Martin Parish Animal Control with the help of officer Sara Glasgow.
“It’s been unbelievable. It’s taking all of my time... I have 14 dogs of my own here, and I’ve been so busy with these others I’ve sort of put them on a back-burner. So I’ve got to get busy and move some of my own out.”
Borges hopes to find local volunteers to help pick up the dogs, take them to the veterinarian or to Baton Rouge, where a Mississippi dog boarder cares for them until they are ready to board the planes. The most pressing matter currently, she says, is the high cost of gasoline. She works strictly on donations, and all money goes to the pets.
Another hope is to involve local high school students in the rescue operation
“They do this in Lafayette,” she explains. “Whether it’s to help bathe the dogs, or just fundraising to get the dogs spayed or neutered, or to buy food for them. I just think it would be a great opportunity. If they only knew some of the stories about these animals, because I worked for Animal Abuse... it’s hard. It’s very, very hard. But when you get an animal that has been abused, and you’re able to save it, it’s very rewarding.”
One of Borges’ most memorable rescue efforts involved a Siberian husky and a boxer mixed chained together in a yard in Henderson.
“They were so starved, you could count every bone in their bodies. It’s things like that that motivate me. There should be more people getting involved when they see a dog being abused, but nobody wants to. In the normal situation, when you see animals being abused, you’re going to see people being abused. Kids being abused. I’ve learned that people just want to close their eyes to things around here. And I think, as a community, we shouldn’t close our eyes.”
When she got the dogs, they were unable to eat, and had to be administered special food. After a year of nurturing, the Siberian was adopted out of Lafayette, while the boxer flew to a ritzy California neighborhood.
“We have applications when you want to adopt a dog. You have to fill out an application just as if you’re adopting a child. People think we’re nuts...” she laughs. “But you know what ‘dog’ is spelled backwards, don’t you? And God has created these animals for a reason, and I don’t think it is to be abused. I might be a little out there when it comes to this, but it is a great reward to know that I have saved all these animals.
“It’s a teamwork effort of a lot of people pulling together to do what we do.”
People like Martha Escoyne. At her own expense, the California native bought and refurbished a large front-end access truck with insulation, air conditioning and heat, and room to accommodate 35 dogs comfortably on their journey from Louisiana to new lives.
Escoyne became aware of the plight of local pets through her association with Hazel Theriot of the St. Martin Parish Humane Society and volunteer work at the St. Martin Animal Shelter. Since then she’s provided sanctuary to dozens of unwanted dogs on her own property, housing them in heated and air conditioned kennels by night and allowing them unlimited frolicking time in nearby woods, or a swim in her pond by day.
Just how handy a purchase that truck turned out to be was plain on April Fools Day of this year when Escoyne delivered a handful of dogs to New Orleans and found out that another vehicle meant to transport over two dozen more to the North Shore Animal League of New York wouldn’t be able to make it.
Escoyne, who’d just returned from a trip to Connecticut, agreed to undertake a journey that would strike many a layperson as a logistical nightmare of regular stops to feed, water and take the 30-plus dogs out for exercise.
“There are tons and tons of people like me out there,” Borges reflects.”When you get that many people working together, it’s sort of like a religious group. Some people you don’t hear about. They’re doing it on their own.”
St. Martin Parish Animal Control officer Sara Glasgow, who has been instrumental in the rescue effort, reports that with the recent change in operating hours, the Animal Shelter has seen an unprecedented rise in adoptions.
“January and February’s adoptions were 25-30 percent. March went up to 48 percent, and for April we’re about 79 percent already. On Saturdays, we used to them by appointments only because we were only in there for a couple of hours, and that was mainly to clean and feed. Now, one person is in there just for adoptions... Saturday before last, I did 12 adoptions, and this past Saturday they did either four or five.
“It’s actually jumped up. Even at night, between five and six we’ll get somebody two or three times a week.”
The shelter is now open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. While closed on Sunday, Glasgow says they will still do adoptions by appointment.
Volunteers interested in helping out are encouraged to contact Fran Borges through her website at http://stmartinhumane.org/frans_pet_haven.htm.