Hearing set in defamation suit against former animal shelter director

    The Companion Animal Alliance is continuing to deal with fallout from the controversy involving its former executive director, Desiree Bender, who was asked by the board to resign last fall for incompetence, lying to the board and inappropriate behavior, among other reasons.

    In the months since, Bender has targeted the CAA and its board on social media, accusing them of being cold-blooded, animal killers who sold live and dead animals to the LSU Vet School for research.

    She has also hired attorney Jill Craft to defend her against a defamation lawsuit two CAA employees filed earlier this year in 19th Judicial District Court. The employees claim Bender targeted them on social media and accused them of mistreating animals. Bender has denied the allegations and argued that she was forced to resign after voicing concerns about animal mistreatment at the shelter.

    A first court hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 5 in Judge Janice Clark’s courtroom.

    In the meantime, the agency recently fired a CAA employee that board chairman Christel Slaughter describes as a “mole” for Bender.

    Slaughter says the employee had posted pictures of a dog on a social media site that has targeted the CAA, purporting to show the animal was being mistreated and left out in the hot sun, when, actually, it had just been bathed and was drying off.

    “She wasn’t the first employee to do something like that,” says Slaughter. “We’ve had to fire a couple of employees, who were trying to misrepresent what we do and make us look bad.”

    Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cleared the agency—after a six-month investigation—of any wrongdoing in connection with allegations levelled by PETA and various animal welfare advocates, charging it was “wholesaling animals” to other organizations for profit. 

    The agency is still awaiting a report from an outside consultant, who was hired by the board last spring to review the agency’s practices and ensure it is moving in the right direction. Slaughter says a report is expected sometime this fall.

    “We look forward to releasing it when it comes out,” she says. “We have nothing to hide. We are completely transparent.”

    The organization was founded in 2010 by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to run the city-parish shelter and reduce the shelter’s kill rate.

    In order to reduce its capacity, it waived adoption fees last weekend, which enabled more than 140 dogs to find a new home, Slaughter says.

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