Katrina’s Animal Victims: Notes from the Field

Posted on September 27, 2005

Rescued cat from Buras, Louisiana on Oct. 13

(Gonzales, La)

ALDF sent staff members down to Louisiana to help
with the rescue and care of animal victims. Here is an account from
Eileen Stark, Anti-Cruelty Education Director, who made a second trip
to Louisiana in early October to continue rescuing animals still
stranded after Katrina. Her account from the first trip follows.

October 20, 2005

After my return from the trip to Louisiana in mid-September, I read
e-mail after e-mail describing animals still needing to be rescued from
New Orleans and surrounding areas, almost on a daily basis. Farmed
animals were the hardest hit, and I read gruesome accounts of the
horrors they suffered, possibly even worse than what they normally
suffer on factory farms. I also spoke with people in the field there
who told me how they had found countless dead animals locked in homes
without food and water, and also about animals who had such a will to
live that they somehow managed to survive, against all odds. Sometimes
they survived simply because someone left a toilet seat up! Now,
following my second trip to Louisiana, I can say from experience that
live animals are indeed still being found amongst the dead … some have
had to eat dead animals to survive … and they still need help today!

Like everyone in our office, I felt helpless and frustrated, so
when ALDF founder and general counsel Joyce Tischler announced that any staff
member would be allowed to fly to, or go back to the rescue effort, I
couldn’t pass up the chance. Due to other commitments on weekends, I
was only able to go for a short time during the second week of October,
and I regret I couldn’t stay longer. However, I am glad I was able to
offer some care to animals who had already been rescued and also rescue
and/or feed some others who were still homeless.

While making last-minute plans to fly into New Orleans on
October 11, I tried to get in touch with people currently there. It was
difficult, as the Lamar-Dixon shelter was shutting down and most major
animal groups were planning their official exit. I managed to get in
touch via e-mail with Pasado’s Safe Haven, a group based near Seattle
that had set up a shelter for animals in Raceland, Louisiana, about 45
minutes southwest of New Orleans. Their website said that they were
hoping to continue rescuing animals until Oct. 15. I had also heard of
a group of people based at a Winn Dixie grocery store somewhere in New
Orleans who were still rescuing animals, but I had no idea where they
were located. So, after arriving New Orleans airport fairly early on
Oct. 11, I picked up a rental van and drove to Pasado’s shelter.

I found the make-shift shelter in a rural area, situated in a pastoral
setting. The farm, reportedly home of St. Martin’s Thoroughbred Race
Barn, is owned by some very generous people who donated the space where
the animals were housed. By the time I had arrived, Pasado’s had
managed to ship out the majority of the hundreds of animals they had
acquired, and it was a far cry from what I had experienced a few weeks
ago at the shelter at Lamar Dixon Expo Center. There were approximately
130 dogs and 50 cats, and some were leaving every day. Most of the dogs
who remained were so-called dangerous dogs, many of whom were going to
be taken by a trainer who, I was told, uses gentle methods to change
their temperaments. About 20 of the cats I saw when I arrived were
loaded into a truck that night and taken to Seattle, on a grueling
4-day drive. The cats who remained were mostly FELV+ or FIV+ cats and
others with respiratory infections and very high fevers, plus a few who
were to be picked up by their owners. I wonder how they are now – one
very sick little cat was so stressed and frightened that she bit
someone, and tragically, that often changes the way people behave
toward them. I remember giving her gentle strokes when she needed some
love; I hope she’s improved and finds a loving home.

After speaking with a person in charge, it was clear Pasado’s
was done rescuing; he told me that they weren’t leaving food and water
anymore as the dogs forming packs would guard the food and were
impossible to catch. He said I would be very welcome at the shelter and
so I stayed and worked there that first night and the next day. Mainly
I worked with the cats and also assisted a vet with some minor
surgeries and administering medications.

On my second full day there, Deborah, who works in our
California office, got in touch with me. She also had come down to
Louisiana and was working at a veterinary clinic in Belle Chasse (just
south of New Orleans) that was caring for over a hundred animals. She
knew I wanted to do rescue work and had found a couple of phone numbers
to try, so I called them. A splinter group off HSUS based at Lamar
Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales until Oct. 14 was dispatching people to
specific addresses where animals were said to be, and I hooked up with
them the next morning.

I was asked to go to a town called Port Sulfur in Plaquemines Parish,
which had been one of the hardest hit areas, to try to rescue and/or
feed/water about 30 dogs who were reportedly abandoned and running
around loose there. While gathering supplies for the trip, I heard
heartbreaking things, such as
rescuers are finding dead animals in the attics of some homes where
rescuers had broken in before, because they hadn’t looked in the attics
the first time! After teaming up with a partner, Sara, we loaded up
the van with food, water, leashes and carriers, and drove south into
and through New Orleans. There was actually traffic on the freeways,
something we hadn’t experienced a few weeks ago. It felt exhilarating
to drive over the Mississippi River, but I had no idea what we would
find at Port Sulfur.

Heading south on Hwy. 23, we must have gone 25 miles until we started
noticing the massive, shocking destruction. Never before had I
witnessed such devastation: there were houses simply flattened, houses
on top of cars, houses ripped apart, contents strewn for miles. The
highway had been cleared of debris, but there were actually several
entire houses blocking the road so that you had to detour around them.
I saw a truck halfway up a tree, furniture in trees, and houses
surrounded by trees that looked amazingly intact. It was when I spotted
a large, dead steer at the side of the road, that I knew it was going
to be bad. The poor helpless creature looked like he had been thrown
into the pavement; I didn’t think he starved to death because he looked
fairly rotund. It was upsetting and made me leery of letting my eyes
leave the road again.

We really had no idea where we were, since the towns and most
road signs there were virtually gone, so when we saw a police car we
stopped to ask about the 30 dogs. The officer said he hadn’t noticed
them but suggested we drive on into what was Port Sulfur. The entire
town was strewn about, either from the massive winds from the two
hurricanes, from storm surges, or from flooding … or all three. As we
drove south on Hwy 23, we looked for any sign of animal life. We saw an
extremely thin dog running around in what used to be someone’s yard and
house. Sara noticed a road (Hwy. 11) behind the house; we took that so
we could get closer to the dog. He was extremely fearful and ran away,
so we left food and water and made a mental note to check back on him
later. As we were leaving, a truckload of friendly National Guards
stopped and asked if we needed water. We asked about the 30 dogs but
they had no knowledge of them; instead they told us about a bank in the
town of Buras where they had fed 2 dogs and a gray cat, and an adjacent
YMCA where one dog had been hanging around. They also asked us if we
had seen an Appaloosa horse they were looking for, which we hadn’t.
They kindly gave us directions and we proceeded on.

Finding this bank and YMCA was no small feat, and along the way
we encountered other animals. Out of the corner of our eyes we’d see a
flash of an emaciated tabby cat or a dog scrounging in the debris. We
even saw a domesticated duck who was looking for food. As we walked
toward the duck on crusty earth that sounded like we were walking on
crispy corn flakes, we realized we were walking on some sort of shells.
Assuming that the duck probably was getting nourishment from the dead
mollusks or shellfish there, we left him a large tin of water. We
probably stopped about 10 times, leaving food and water for various
animals we had caught a glimpse of but were too scared to catch. It was
the hottest part of the afternoon, so it wasn’t the best time to see
how many animals were really there. At dusk, when it’s cooler and they
show themselves, we would be on our way back; curfew there was 8 pm. We
also saw some dead animals, now skeletons trapped in the putrid debris.

We tried to spray paint messages on structures (if there was anything
left standing) near where we had seen an animal, along the lines of DOG
- OCT. 13 – F/W. At one point I stopped to feed a frightened black cat,
who disappeared when I approached with food. I sprayed the fence with a
message saying that I had left food and water, and, walking back to the
van, saw a small commercial building to the south which was demolished
inside although the exterior was fairly intact. I gasped as I read the
marking on the building: 5 (humans) dead.

After checking out a wrong bank and many wrong turns later, we
finally found the bank and YMCA that we were told about in what was
left of Buras, Louisiana. As we slowly drove into the parking lot, I
saw what looked like the shape of a dog about 300 feet away, just
sitting, waiting. When I walked closer, I realized it really was a dog,
and he started toward me, wagging his tail. He looked to be in fairly
good shape and was more than happy to see us! As we fawned over him and
fed him, we felt sure we would be able to take him away from his
predicament. Sara stayed with him as I walked around looking for the
other 2 dogs and cat that the guards had mentioned. I walked and
walked, called and called, even went inside what was left of the bank,
a smelly, damp building that apparently had been cleared up a bit by
the military.

As it was getting late, we decided to try to get the docile dog into a
carrier. Unfortunately he wasn’t so docile when we attempted the
capture, and got away. We managed to gain his trust and get a hold of
him again, but this time his collar broke. Awhile later, Sara managed
to get a different leash on him and I went to get the van. As I was
driving back over to them, I spotted the gray cat! By the way he was
stretching, I think he may have been snoozing under a shrub all this
time. I was ecstatic and whipped out a can of cat food and dumped it on
the pavement. He ate it in minutes and took a sip of water from my
water bottle. After some cuddling I quickly got him into a carrier. By
this time Sara had figured out a way to get the dog in the carrier
using hamburger given to us by a well-meaning Red Cross volunteer who
stopped at our van to offer a free meal. Although I’m vegan, I was very
grateful for that piece of meat that day!

It was getting to be 7 pm and starting to get dark, but we were
elated that we had actually physically rescued a dog and cat. But we
saw more homeless, hungry, thirsty animals as we were driving north. We
stopped until we were out of food and were heartbroken we hadn’t been
able to rescue more. One that sticks in my mind was a very thin steer
who I saw standing in an area next to where I had earlier dropped cat
food and water. He was nibbling on a couple of blades of grass and my
eyes filled with tears because I had nothing to offer him but water.
How he would have loved the delicious green salad I had had for dinner
a few nights earlier. I have since informed the LA SPCA about him, but
don’t know what, if anything, has been done for him and other surviving
livestock down there.

We were to leave the cat and dog at what was the “shelter of
the day,” the Southeast Animal Foundation (SAF) in the Garden District
of New Orleans. As we approached the building I began feeling like I
couldn’t put this sweet cat into a noisy, smelly shelter and later have
him be shipped who-knows-where. But as we entered the SAF waiting room,
my worries faded. Here was an air-conditioned, sweet-smelling vet
clinic that wasn’t full of barking dogs. We caught two very nice
employees just as they were leaving for the day and they tucked the two
animals into their cages for the night, with plenty of food and water.
We were relieved, but both Sara and I wanted to adopt the cat and dog,
so we said we’d come back the next day, Friday, for them

The rest of the trip is almost a blur. Friday morning the cat
was checked over by a vet and the wonderful staff at SAF and given
vaccinations required for a health certificate. My cell phone was
nearly dead, so I asked Rick, my husband back in Portland, to call the
airline to be sure I could take a cat as a carry-on. They made a big
fuss, but as soon as he paid the $80 fee we were good to go. Without
going into nauseous detail about my missed flight and poop in the
carrier, we made it back to Portland in 10 hours. Ashley, as he is now
known, was a perfect angel all the way home. And as we waited for my
checked luggage, I raised the carrier to my face and the carrier
started vibrating … the little guy was actually purring, after all he
had been through.

I have been checking PetFinder.com to see if anyone is missing him;
nothing has turned up. He is a perfect Southern gentleman, so sweet and
loving. He appears to be about 2 or 3 years old and I’ve named him
Ashley. He likes to move his food and water dishes around in the middle
of the night so it sounds to us like someone is doing dishes in the
next bedroom. He has hookworms so has to be isolated for at least 3
weeks, and we hope to keep him if things work out with our other cats.

October 27, 2005

Ashley is gaining weight fast! I can hardly feel the bones that
I felt just a week ago. His coat is also becoming very shiny and soft,
proof that high-quality food does wonders for health. He purrs all the
time, is very playful now, and really loves fresh catnip!

March 1, 2006

Ashley is a just a doll and fits in so well in our home. One little
quirk is that he tries to bury everything he thinks is out of place,
like his food bowl after he’s eaten and anything the other cats have
done outside the litterbox — he’s quite the little helper. He also
loves to run around the backyard, gazelle-like, with his long legs and
lean body almost flying through the air. He has a very soft way of
looking up at me that just steals my heart!

Notes from Eileen’s first trip to Louisiana:

Thursday, September 15:

It has been a very hot, chaotic week at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center
in Gonzales, Louisiana, where two other ALDF staff members and I have
been helping care for the rescued animals: cleaning cages, walking
dogs, and giving support to those who are here waiting to be reunited,
hopefully, with their human companions. Rescue teams are bringing
animals in from New Orleans, and as the animals are retrieved or moved
to other shelter facilities, more keep arriving in Gonzales to take
their place. There are likely hundreds of volunteers here, but maybe
not enough that are willing to clean cages, etc. There are dogs, cats,
caged birds, goats, horses, bunnies, hamsters and even a ferret. On a
positive note, I think the carriage horses from the French Quarter are
getting a much needed vacation!

I write this many days after we arrived because, honestly, I
was just too tired to get out a pen at the end of the long days. Our
trip began early on Saturday, September 10, as we nervously left the
Portland Airport bound for Baton Rouge.
When Lisa, our office manager, and I arrived on Saturday night, we
learned that the owners of the Lamar-Dixon facility had visited that
day and expressed their extreme disapproval of the situation, as the
facility was dirty, drains were clogged with dog food, vehicles parked
on grass, etc. We were also informed that camping there might not be
possible the following night. Regardless, and with no other options, we
set up camp. We bumped into Stephanie Engelsman, an ALDF staff
attorney, who had arrived a couple of days before us.

The expo center is like a fairground with 5 barns containing rows of
stalls designed for horses and cattle. There must be nearly 1000 dogs,
about 300 cats, and about 500 horses, plus some birds, rabbits and
other smaller animals; the majority of the animals have been rescued
from the parishes of Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard, and have
either been rescued from the rooftops of houses, second story
balconies, or from inside homes. The victims brought in may be dazed or
fractious or sick, but all are thirsty, hungry and scared.

Early Sunday morning, Lisa and I asked where we were most
needed and we were told to help clean up and move supplies that were in
disarray; there was to be a health inspection at noon. Many supplies
had been donated — food, carriers, leashes — but there had not been
time to get them in any sort of order. After about 4 or 5 hours, we
were so hot and exhausted that we decided to lie under a tree for
awhile. There were times when all I wanted to do was whine and count
the days until I could get back to my comfortable life, but then I
would remind myself why I was there and snap out of it.

Later in the afternoon on our first day we worked with some of the
dogs, cleaning their cages and taking them for walks. Many are sick,
dehydrated, suffer from diarrhea and look miserable. But it’s very
encouraging to see tags on some of the animals’ cages, noting that a
dog has been identified and that her human companion is on his way, but
those are few and far between, and the whole situation is just
heartbreaking. I can’t say enough good things about the volunteers who
have come out to help here. One man from Duluth, Minnesota, packed up a
semi truck stocked with supplies and made the long drive to the staging
facility here in Gonzales. As he was leaving Duluth, a neighbor offered
to come along and was ready to go in 45 minutes, and so the two men
made the drive together to come help the animals stranded by the
disaster.

After a second night in my damp tent, Lisa and I agreed trying
to find a motel room might allow us better sleep and therefore more
energy. Before leaving Portland I had tried to find one, but was told
everything was full. Nevertheless, Monday morning I drove into Gonzales
to check on availability. By a stroke of luck, I found a motel room,
which to us seems like Shangri-la! All day Monday we continued to work
with the dogs, mostly cleaning cages and walking them. It was hot and
sunny, so if the dog was willing, I made a beeline for the shade of a
huge, beautiful oak tree.

Basically, the whole operation seemed dysfunctional (although
Stephanie says it has gotten better since she arrived), and the
information we get is mainly through the rumor mill. For example, a
volunteer told me that animals’ owners would have 18 days to claim
them; then another told me it would be 30 days. We have since been told
that adoptions will begin on October 16, with fostering set up 2 weeks
prior. However, Lisa witnessed a rottweiler rescue group loading up
rotties to be fostered, so apparently the fostering, in some capacity
anyway, has begun. We have also heard that some animals are missing, a
sign that perhaps people don’t approve of the long wait to foster an
animal. There is also no real “system” in place for volunteers to sign
in and be matched up with an appropriate job; there are no daily
meetings except for those going out into the field; we just go where we
think we are most needed and roll up our sleeves. It’s very
frustrating.

On Tuesday, since my back was bothering me, I decided to try to
do somewhat less strenuous work (although almost everything you do here
is strenuous, due to the heat – even people from Texas were complaining
about it!). I offered my experience as a former vet tech, but since I
was rusty and they were only seeking certified techs, I was more than
happy to work in the cat area. It’s such a sad sight: young cats and
kittens climbing on the sides of their cages trying in vain to get out;
older cats who seem to know what’s going on and are obviously bothered
by the incessant barking around them, lean against the back of their
cages, trying to get as far away as possible. Several partly feral cats
cower in corners and look absolutely terrified. I see cats panting,
even though fans have been set up to give a breeze, and alert vets when
possible. But I remind myself that they are the lucky ones, and get on
with my work, feeding, cleaning cages, changing litter, checking water
bowls.

I was there when two men from New Orleans arrived and were
reunited with their two cats. They had split up to search for the cats
in the barn and I happened to be working in a stall across the aisle
when one of them found their cats; his face absolutely lit up. He ran
to get his friend and the four of them were reunited! When we made eye
contact I could see the tears welling up in their eyes, and that was
the catalyst that pushed me over the edge … I cried mostly because I
was so happy for the four of them, but also because I was witnessing
such misery and fear, and because I was so tired. I still get tears in
my eyes when I think of them. I did notice more owners here today in
the cat area, looking for their beloved cats among the rows of crates,
but sadly, most don’t find them and we are at a loss as to what to tell
them (except to check back every day), and they walk away in despair.

Stephanie told us about a man who was actually standing there in line
to claim animals when his own dog was brought in! A lot of animals are
moving around … some animals who are believed to be homeless or don’t
have an address on their paperwork are being moved to other shelters in
or outside Louisiana, making room for more animals to be brought in
here for immediate care. We hear numbers, such as 400 dogs coming in
tonight, but only 7 or 8 show up in the truck. There are other shelters
nearby taking animals; LSU is taking many of the sickest. A tech I
worked with told me she had worked there previously and that it was
very organized and that the animals are getting the best care.

There are veterinarians here, helping the sick and heavily
stressed animals, but not enough. We heard that several veterinarians,
who had driven from Missouri and Kentucky with their own supplies, had
been turned away at the gate after the state veterinarian would not
grant reciprocity. Later, a vet we spoke with during a break told us
that she was able to come in through FEMA.

Wednesday, Stephanie was able to get into New Orleans with some friends
and was able to rescue a dog who had been trapped in a carrier since
the storm, as well as a puppy and a cat in bad shape. We also heard of
another dog who had been left in a small carrier on top of a kitchen
table — 2 weeks later, he was in bad shape, his skin scalded from his
own urine. Others told of a just-rescued lab from a rooftop, who drank
three gallons of water, barely pausing for breath between gulps. And
there was the story of the three, tiny 6-week-old orphaned kittens who
followed a couple of national guardsmen on the streets of New Orleans,
desperate for water, food and care, until they were picked up. We also
heard other, more gruesome accounts, like some pit bulls who had been
left chained up. When the powerful flood waters came through, they were
decapitated.

I witnessed another reunion between a woman and her cats. I
laughed for the first time around the cats when I saw her three cats
prancing around the cage with their tails straight in the air, a sure
sign of joy.

 

Friday, September 16:

After a failed attempt to get on a search and rescue team in the
city earlier in the week, I was determined to do it yesterday, our last
full day in Gonzales. Lisa and I arose at 5 AM to attend a briefing,
then got our gear and supplies together. We were told that although the
state was requiring credentials to get in the city the following day,
we did not need credentials to get into the city on this day. So, we
loaded the rental car with carriers, food, water, buckets and litter
boxes to use as huge water bowls, a hammer to break windows, gloves,
goggles, camera, etc. and went on our way.

But getting into New Orleans was no small feat. We first tried
to enter via the freeway and were turned around at an exit in the city
by armed state police who said that we needed credentials. Explaining
the situation was of no help. We tried contacting the team leaders but
couldn’t get through, so, thoroughly frustrated, I turned around and
drove back to Gonzales. Unfortunately no one back at Lamar-Dixon knew
what to do, and, still determined to get into the city, I decided to
try another entry. This time we took Airline Highway, and were able to
get past a check point where they were checking state IDs (perhaps the
cell phone in my hand looked like an ID?). We thought we were on our
way, but were stopped a second time by police. Again, they turned us
back, and after making a U-turn, I spotted some PETA people and stopped
to talk. While we were talking, a PETA employee, who had been talking
with one of the officers, ran over and shouted, “We’re in! Follow us!”
And so we did. I shouted to him, “What did you say?!” and he replied,
“Tricks of the trade!” I still don’t know what he said to get past the
officer.

I think it was 1:30PM by the time we got past all the
checkpoints and curfew was 6PM, so we had little time. Each team had
been assigned to a quadrant where we were to drive slowly, calling for
animals. Unfortunately, when we finally got to our quadrant, we saw
that it was still under some water. This water was almost black: a mix
of brackish water, a sludge containing hydrocarbons, decaying matter
and who knows what else. The stench was overpowering, to say the least:
a combination of sulfur, other chemicals, death. A few streets in our
quad were passable, but not many.

Just a block or two down a boulevard, I spotted a skinny black cat who
started meowing when she saw us, then another tabby two doors down.
Both looked dehydrated and very hungry, but since they weren’t
"critical", Lisa got through the water and left them with a large bag
of dry food with wet food piled on top, and a huge water bowl. We were
also instructed to write “SPCA / date / F/W” on the houses in large
letters, as a signal to others that the animals had been fed and
watered by the SPCA on such and such a date.

A little later we found a very thin dog on a porch where we
also left food and water. We had been told to call out while driving
slowly down the street, to listen for dogs barking and look for other
animals, and it just broke my heart to see all of the quiet, locked
homes where there were, no doubt, cats and other small animals locked
inside who weren’t able to make their voices heard. We were informed
that we were only to take out animals in "critical" condition (although
death was certainly imminent for all of them) and to feed/water
whatever other animals we found. I was very bothered that our only way
of finding animals from inside closed residences was to listen for dogs
barking. We were told not to break into homes unless we heard
something. I knew we were missing all the cats, because they could not
call out to us like dogs did. As we crept along the deserted and
destroyed streets, calling for dogs, I kept thinking that we must be
passing homes with dying cats inside. I also knew that displaced people
had given thousands of addresses where their animals were left, but we
were not given any of those addresses. I was angry we were not given
that information. I wanted more than anything to break into all those
homes but of course couldn’t, and now live with that memory.

We found a few other dogs and cats and left food and water, and
also left food and water on a few street corners, so that hiding
animals could find it later. One of the many helpful National Guardsman
and police there told us that they see many dogs running around at
night, so we’re quite sure that what we left will be found by some
needy creature.

Dropping food/water on New Orleans street corner

A couple of weeks ago, soon after the storm had hit New Orleans, an
acquaintance in Eugene, Oregon, had informed me that her daughter’s
three cats had been left with only a week’s worth of food and water in
a second floor bathroom of a house. She had reported it to every animal
group she could think of. When I told her I was going to Louisiana, she
made sure I had the address, along with the address of people across
the street from them who had chosen to stay and were caring for the
animals in the neighborhood as best they could. When I got to Gonzales
I gave the addresses to two people who told me they could get the word
out to those in the field. I had no idea if they were ever rescued, and
since it wasn’t very far from our quadrant, we drove to the address. As
we drove down the dry street, I saw a man, out of the corner of my eye,
coming after our car. He turned out to be one of the two people who had
remained behind and were taking care of animals. Not one rescuer had
been to the street, which at one time had been under 7 feet of water,
and when I asked him about the three cats, he said that he was able to
get in the house after the water subsided, but that one of the cats had
died, probably of a heart attack due to what he described as terrifying
sounds after the flood: helicopters flying extremely low and other
sounds that probably stressed the poor cat to death. All I could think
of was that at least he didn’t die a prolonged death of thirst or
hunger. The other two were fine, although they had gotten outside, and
they were feeding them. They also found a sweet dog who they are
fostering and continue to care for the other animals in the
neighborhood. They told us stories of neighbors being forced to leave
at gunpoint, and how they hid out in their house, feeling persecuted.
As crazy as it sounds for someone to want to stay in the city when it
was being evacuated, it was this couple and I’m sure others like them,
who kept the animals on their street alive and relatively well. We left
them with cat food and water, and some canned soup and beans for
themselves.

They also told us that they were very concerned about a friend’s cats a
couple of blocks south and would we please stop to check on them. We
did, and we were greeted by a man who said that he had been feeding the
cats, but he also told us about a dog across the street who had not
been fed or watered, to his knowledge. Other rescuers had been to the
house previously, as the word DOG had been spray painted on the front
of the house. As we were checking out the house, we discovered that the
door was unlocked. Because the dog was shy and hiding in a back room,
we left plenty of food and water for him and felt assured that the man
would look after him.

Some National Guardsmen had told us that there were many cats running
around the French Quarter, so we drove there on our way out. By now it
was 5:30, and the curfew was 6:00pm. We dropped off cat food there, and
while we were making one final food/water drop in another neighborhood
as we attempted to find the freeway, a National Guard truck stopped us
and asked if we wanted to take a victim. Out pops this frisky, playful,
young German shepherd, who didn’t quite seem to realize the gravity of
the situation. The Guardsmen turned out to be from Oregon and we talked
them into keeping the dog, or at least we hope we did.

The city, a virtual ghost town, appeared like it was stopped
in time: cars, taxis and buses abandoned or carried to their final
resting spot by the floods; freeways with no traffic; a lone bird on a
wire. The eeriness was unsettling and made me think of some weird
Twilight Zone episode that made me want to hide my face when I was a
child. If it hadn’t been so awfully hot, I would describe it as
chilling.

I will never forget the heartrending experience here and I’m
grateful that ALDF sent me and paid for my expenses. But I feel that
what I did was such a small dent in the humongous disaster; the
willingness to help is perhaps all we have to offer. Many
more volunteers are needed, so if you have any time to spare, please
consider venturing down to Louisiana or Mississippi as soon as you can.
In New Orleans alone, at least 3000 address need to be check on, and
they are extremely short-staffed! Other homes besides the 3000 may have
cats and other small-voiced animals trapped inside as well!

Tragically, it is crystal clear that we cannot depend on our federal
government to intervene and help these sentient beings who are as
capable of suffering as we are (if not more, considering that they
suffer from not understanding what’s happening to them). I think of how
it would take probably only take a few troops and fairly little expense
to get all of the surviving animals out. If you would like to volunteer, please go to the following websites:

http://www.hsus.org/

http://www.la-spca.org/

http://www.uan.org/

I can only hope that with the next disaster there will be better
preparation, organization, communication and that people be allowed to
take their animals with them. Clearly, we need the federal government
to standardize protocols for rescuing and caring for animals left
behind in hurricanes and other natural disasters, as well as man-made
disasters. For now, even though things seemed to be improving when we
left Gonzales, at least for the volunteers there, I hope that fostering
can begin much sooner, so that more animals can placed in loving homes
more quickly.

 

 

Eileen Stark


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