The Man Who Purred

There are approximately 100 million cats and 83 million dogs in the United States. Politicians rarely talk about them or pass laws to protect them, there are few articles in newspapers about the need for more funding to help them, and little is said of the estimated four million that are euthanized each year — 112 million over the last 28 years. But there were 1,352 cats that weren't euthanized during that time period because of a man near New Orleans who refused to kill them.

And it was this one man, some of the 1,352 cats and kittens he saved and the tens of thousands who spoke up on behalf of them, that were about to change everything.

As Henry was taken to the deputy's cruiser on the day of his arrest, walking over the wet brown and black marsh soil that caked to a man's shoes like a Louisiana gumbo sticks to one's ribs, he told young Orleans Parish Gazette reporter Jessica Rank why he had refused to kill those cats, and his words would become an anthem for the thousands who would roar on his behalf.

“Are you guilty, Mr. Louviere?”

“No,” said Henry.

“But they say you didn't do your job and euthanize those cats. Why not?” Rank followed up.

“Because they didn't do anything. They weren't sick or dying. The cats simply were, like all of us, just trying to live their lives. I saved the 1,352,” said Henry.

The 248-word, 5-inch article written by Rank and buried on page 18 of this low-circulation weekly newspaper would not have meant a thing had it not been for a little known no-kill cat shelter owner passing through Orleans Parish and stopping for a cup of coffee at a rundown convenience store after a long drive with another volunteer to rescue three cats.

Exiting the store with two 24-ounce coffees, Sheila Mercier went to the passenger side and handed her friend Lila Washington one of the cups.

Circling back around the front of her 1998 Ford Taurus station wagon, Sheila noticed a newspaper rack on the sidewalk, «Orleans Parish Gazette — Local News every week since 1954.»

The former newspaper copy editor picked up the free copy and got in her car, stuffing the 36-page tabloid in the sun visor above her head.

It was after midnight when Sheila read the article headlined, “Worker arrested at parish's animal shelter.”

She knew she must act to save this man who risked everything to save 1,352 cats.

Her friend, Lisa Adler, was not from the South but from a different South, the South Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, with its stately mansions and 8,000-square-foot vacation homes.

Together they would send a well-written plea spoken from their hearts and not from the carefully calculated and manipulative language of a sophisticated appeal letter from some corporate charity conglomerate — and that would make all the difference.

They would come from all of Louisiana and then from as far as Maine and Montana. They would come to a field across from the Orleans Parish Animal Control Shelter, but that would be just the beginning of the fight for Henry and the four million cats and dogs euthanized each year.

244 printed pages


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