At the age of 85, Rita Bingham would have expected to live a retired life in a state of relaxed peace, but instead she finds herself leading the charge for animal rescue organizations in the South West of Louisiana.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one doing this. But I keep going,” Bingham said.
Bingham founded the Low-kill Humane Society of West Louisiana, which operates from a small headquarters along the Lake Charles Highway in DeRidder. There, Bingham is home to dozens and dozens of animals she accepts from other rescue organizations and abandoned animals brought to her by community members. She’s become one of the only places for miles around that accepts cats, and she said she’s seen first-hand an outbreak of stray cats in southwest Louisiana.
“It’s awful, really. No one else accepts them; the municipal shelters here don’t take them, so where are they supposed to go,” Bingham said.
She operated the rescue for 23 years. She is the last original board member of the non-profit organization and she continues to network throughout the region to give animals presented to her their best chance at a healthy future. She provides them with medical care through local veterinarians who partner with her and temporary homes with the number of animal foster homes she has forged ties with.
It was through these networks and connections that Bingham met Lori Dover, the founder of the St. Huckleberry Animal Fund in Lake Charles. Dover strives to provide a happy and healthy future for the abandoned animals she rescues from Lake Charles and the surrounding area, but the lack of cat rescues has landed her on Bingham’s doorstep.
“There is no one out there doing what Rita does. No one. I carry all my rescues to Rita because through her determination and incredible willpower she was able to create a network of hope for these animals when nobody else did,” Dover said.
Indeed, Bingham works through social media and her local network of volunteers, which includes her personal friends and family members, to find homes for her rescued animals. She also drives every Saturday to Alexandria to participate in adoption events.
Yet in all her years, Bingham said she has never seen a cat overpopulation crisis like the one she sees today.
“I’ve never seen it like this. Not at this level, ever,” Bingham said.
Bingham currently has seven surrogate nursing mothers each feeding their second litter of adopted kittens. Including those nursing babies, Bingham now has 65 kittens under 12 weeks old in her care, not to mention the adult cats she has in her 26 kennels.
She said those numbers are nothing considering that she refuses more than 100 cats a day brought to her by members of the community. She said these are just the cats she knows, adding that there are countless others who roam freely through DeRidder and Beauregard Parish because there are no animal controls. for cats in the area.
“I can only take what I can take, but the biggest difference between me and any other rescue is that I answer the phone. You can’t reach those other places no matter how many times you call. People forget that “no” is also an answer. You just have to tell people,” Bingham said.
Bingham said that when explaining to people who bring abandoned animals to her why she cannot take the animal because it is beyond her maximum capacity, she said their gratitude for receiving a response was almost always obvious.
Those same people, Bingham said, will often help him with his fundraising efforts.
“We have garage sales here at the salvage building and the same people I have to turn down will bring me items to sell and raise funds. All because I took the time to explain to them what I’m dealing with. Then they see the crisis that I see,” she said.
Dover echoed Bingham’s sentiments on the seriousness of the issue at hand.
“There is an animal welfare crisis unfolding before our eyes in southwest Louisiana,” Dover said.
Dover said the natural disasters that have hit the region since Hurricane Laura, and compounded by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, have only made the situation worse.
In response to the crisis, Dover offered, through its St. Huckleberry Animal Fund, a free event at the Mobile Animal Spaying Hospital (MASH) in Lake Charles in August last year. The event helped 121 cats, and Dover said it plans to make the event recurring, hoping to offer three MASH events each year.
Despite her best efforts, Dover said she would still be lost without rescuers like Bingham.
“She is a true rarity on so many fronts. I’m so lucky and grateful to have met her,” Dover said.
Bingham, however, is not one to focus on his own efforts.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, Bingham took in more than 30 abandoned dogs in her home while continuing to network and care for the animals that were brought to her because no one else was responding to requests, but she ignores everything. praise.
“That’s what I’m doing. Because if I don’t, then who will. Tomorrow there will be more animals and more phone calls, but you know what, I’m still going to answer the phone .