Archives for September 2005

Hurricane Katrina & Hurricane Rita’s Animal Rescue Updates

Hurricane Rita made landfall and fortunately lost some of her steam. Don’t dismiss the danger or complications of this hurricane however.

It is still too early for any updates but here are the latest I’ve received:

As Hurricane Rita draws near, threatening to make landfall in Texas, American Humane’s Animal Emergency Services continue our operations.Yesterday, we sent two teams into New Orleans in one more attempt to bring in more animals before Hurricane Rita made us head back to Gonzales and batten down the hatches at the Lamar-Dixon temporary shelter.

Winds this morning hit 50 miles per hour, and there were three to five inches of rain in Gonzales.We’ve heard reports that the levy is leaking in New Orleans.
We’re being hit harder than we expected!

Some of our volunteers are heading to Texas in support for Rita. While the Houston SPCA reports things are under control, we stand ready to assist in any way needed. It’s so important that American Humane, and all animal welfare organizations, stay united to help animals!

The Mayor of Galveston, Texas, advised evacuees to take their pets with them, a directive that will have a substantial impact on the well-being of the state’s companion animals when this devastating 2nd punch passes.

Since Wednesday at the Lamar-Dixon shelter, teams have been working through the night to secure the animals and the facilities in defense of the elements.

“We’re tying down dumpsters even, so the winds don’t blow the waste and create more havoc,” reports one responder.

The teams are tying things down, putting up tarps, and doing everything they can to stabilize the facilities so the animals stay safe!

Today, pet and family reunions virtually ceased because of evacuations in Louisiana. Wednesday, only 40 owners were able to get to the shelter to claim their animals, when typically about 75 arrive every day. Access to Lamar-Dixon is not restricted but there is flood warning. We want people to stay safe and know that we’re looking out for their animals while they’re in our care.

After noon Friday, volunteers and responders at the Lamar-Dixon shelter will hole up and wait for Rita to blow over.

We will weather the storm to protect the 800 dogs and cats and tens of other animals
that are making Lamar-Dixon their special home.

23 September 2005
Thursday, we were in New Orleans, doing everything we could before we knew we’d have to leave. One of the teams reported they were heading to a house in New Orleans in search of a particular cat. Finding that she wasn’t there, they began to leave, when suddenly five more cats wandered out of hiding spaces, seeing if they could have the food and water we brought. And, of course, they could.

Kerri’s team responded to a call to the third floor of an apartment building. They went up, but found no animal. Coming down, they heard meowing, and from out of nowhere, came the cat, bolting into one of the responder’s arms. Kerri said it’s as if the cat said, “It’s about time you got here!”

At one house, we entered and heard the sound of a bird whistling of all things: Beethoven’s 5th! We immediately started whistling back, trying to comfort her and letting her know help was here. We got to the talented bird, and also found a cat on site. We brought them both back to the shelter to safety and are pleased that both are doing fine.

At our sleeping headquarters in one of the many RVs at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, a beagle and two cats have joined us. The beagle is the sweetest thing, and after the long days in the field, they make even our temporary crowded camper feel like home.

(Rebecca Simmons)
Less than a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated a large swath of the Gulf Coast, the storm’s wicked stepsister, Hurricane Rita, was poised late Friday to hit Texas and Louisiana with nearly the same ferocity. The Lamar-Dixon emergency shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana, currently home to about 1,000 animals displaced by Katrina, was expected to feel Rita’s wrath—even if the facility was well away from the eye of the storm.

Not that anyone at the shelter was taking chances on Friday. Nonessential volunteers were evacuated, animals were secured in their converted horse stalls, and the remaining staff on the ground were holed up wherever they could find shelter.
Despite wind gusts predicted to reach 50 mph on Saturday, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said on Friday that the three large, open-air barns on the Lamar-Dixon grounds, where animals are being housed in stalls, can withstand high winds. “We are very confident in those structures,” he said.

To further fortify the barns, commanders at Lamar-Dixon positioned tractor trailers around the sides of the structures to form a protective barrier from the wind and rain. Commanders also stored supplies—including food, crates, equipment, and carriers—in the trailers to keep them dry and damage-free.

Katey Briggson, a volunteer from Grass Valley, California wasn’t worried about the safety of the animals. “I think that we are very well-prepared for this storm. The whole operation is very organized,” she said.

The Volunteer State
Once preparations for the hurricane were completed, the number of volunteers on-site was scaled back from approximately 180 to 40-50 emergency personnel to care for the animals.

“We have asked all nonessential volunteers to evacuate the premises until Sunday
morning, when the storm is expected to pass,” said Pacelle. “We don’t want to put any more people at risk than absolutely necessary.”

As a precaution, the volunteer housing tent—a giant air-conditioned facility provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to sleep about 300 people—was dismantled on Friday morning, lest Rita rip it to shreds. By the early afternoon, FEMA had arranged an alternate shelter in Baton Rouge with 100 beds, where
volunteers could stay through Sunday morning. Cots in the barns were made available for emergency volunteers who planned to stay on site at the Lamar-Dixon shelter.

If volunteers and staff didn’t have enough to worry about on Friday, they also had to deal with two tornado warnings in the Gonzales area. Workers were forced to find shelter in bathrooms and wait out the threat of twisters. No one was injured.

Unfinished Business
The weather certainly slowed down the primary work of the Lamar-Dixon facility: rescuing and sheltering animals. That work could prove even more vital after Rita passes. On Friday, Rita’s rains opened up breeches in previous damaged levees in New Orleans, pouring water into the predominantly poor Ninth Ward, which had already sustained heavy flooding. The rising water levels have the potential to make rescuing animals, who have been waiting for help for nearly a month, even more difficult.

Despite Rita bearing down on them, workers at Lamar-Dixon continued to move animals, with the idea of opening up more space for rescued dogs and cats. On Thursday, approximately 150 dogs were transported to the Dixon Correctional Facility in Jackson, Louisiana, where the animals will stay until they are reunited with their owners. “The inmates and wardens are very enthusiastic,” said Pacelle.
More animals will be exported once the storm clears on Sunday or Monday, allowing additional animals to be brought into Lamar-Dixon.

Fifty to 60 rescue teams also set out for New Orleans on Thursday. Because Lamar-Dixon was running at capacity, the teams spent most of the day feeding and watering animals who appeared relatively healthy and/or comfortable in their current locations. The teams did rescue animals who were in critical condition, and brought them to Gonzales.

The Eyes on Texas
West of the Lamar-Dixon facility, residents in Texas were bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Rita, but one thing was different compared to the folks in Katrina’s path: This time around, animals were a part of the evacuation orders. In Texas, evacuees were urged to take their pets with them.

Katey Briggson, for one, noticed the difference. The Californian drove through Texas on her way to Louisiana, and noticed many animals being evacuated from south Texas. “It was great to see cars with pets leaving with their owners,” she said.
In addition, many shelters in Texas were heeding Katrina’s warning. “Texas has a stronger infrastructure in terms of shelters. Many shelters in south Texas have already evacuated, including those in Houston and Galveston,” Pacelle said.

“It really seems that officials in Texas understand the importance of evacuating people and their animals together,” Pacelle added.

Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana state line early Saturday morning with winds of 120 mph. It dropped to a Category 1 hurricane shortly after making landfall. Damage and power outages were reported from Galveston, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Rita continues to move northward through Texas and Louisiana, bringing heavy rain and wind and isolated tornadoes. Inland flooding will remain a major threat over eastern Texas, western Louisiana and southern Arkansas for several days.

Hurricane Rita Impacts Hurricane Katrina Rescue Efforts

Well, things are pretty bad and let’s hope they don’t get much worse in the hard hit areas. Evacuations are underway in preparation for Hurricane Rita–fortunately many pets are being allowed on the buses with their owners.

Here is an update from the field from Eric Rice’s Press Release:
” The situation in the region is dire. National Guard units in the areareport their troops are haunted by the “eerie” howling of dogs and cats leftlocked in thousands of homes by people who thought they would be returninghome shortly after the hurricane subsided. According to psychologists, theloss of a pet ranks in the top five of life events that cause people majorstress and depression. Many hurricane evacuees, already traumatized by theirlosses, are literally begging relief workers to save the animals they left behind.”

The BIG problem for many Hurricane Victims is the trauma related to the loss of their pets. Relocation efforts to make room for pets still being rescued are going to make it really difficult to reunite pets with their owners.

American Humane Update:
20 September 2005
Out in the field today and looking in the windows of our next target, we were greeted with frantic meowing. We found three cats inside that couldn’t possibly have been more excited to see us. Then, as we were loading them into crates, two cats appeared from the bushes next to the house and we lured them to our waiting cages with food. We dumped dry food into the cage and they swarmed on it like sharks at a feeding frenzy.

I shuttered to think of what would have happened if they’d been left a couple more days.
It was too hot for the cats to stay in the car while we continued our operations, so we returned with them to the staging area where they were loaded into an air-conditioned mobile clinic that would eventually transport them to Lamar-Dixon, along with all the other animals rescued from New Orleans today. Lamar-Dixon has been asked to prepare an evacuation plan for the 2000 animals and hundreds of volunteers being housed there in case Hurricane Rita heads in that direction.

Work at the staging area was just as non-stop as ours had been. Teams like mine were returning with loads of animals, spraying down their cars and clothes to decontaminate, cleaning crates, and collecting their next batch of assigned addresses. Meanwhile, dozens of residents who were just returning home were bringing sick animals to us because there was nowhere else they could be treated. Just as many residents were coming to the staging area to pick up food and supplies for their pets. One woman was feeding more than 100 animals in her neighborhood, so a National Guardsman had to help load her car with enough food.

While we were at one address on our list, we were approached by power company workers who directed us to three houses on the street where dogs had been abandoned. Thank goodness they did because the situation for these animals, which hadn’t been reported to us, was dire. At the first house they asked us to visit, we arrived in time to save two miserable dogs, but we were too late for the third.

At the next house was a dog with a severe skin affliction living in a fenced yard surrounded by overturned dog houses. Through a lower window, American Humane responder and vet Dr. Lorna Lamden spotted a dog inside. It was a black and white pitbull puppy about 4 or 6 months old. Lorna couldn’t get inside because the window was barred, so she had to pull the puppy out through the bars while straddling the windowsill and outside stairs! It took no coaxing to get the dog to climb out to her he had been trapped inside a tiny laundry room for weeks with no food or water. How he managed to survive for so long was beyond a miracle. But despite all he’d been through, he was full of energy and affection for his rescuers, and not surprisingly, frantic to eat what we gave him.

With no more space in our emergency vehicle and the military curfew fast approaching, we could only feed and water the dogs in the third house.
Back at base I heard the highlight of team leader Meredith’s day. One of the addresses on their list was a block outside the military check point, which keeps the city closed to all people without official clearance to enter. She said they were approached by an evacuated New Orleans resident who was devastated to not be allowed to return to his home to feed his pet gecko. He bought the team lunch, and gave them his address, house key, and food, which he was not able to take to his pet himself. The team went in, found the house and gave the gecko food and water. He told them, “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found you guys.”

The highlight of my day was being able to call the woman whose three cats we had rescued. When I told her that her pets had been safely removed and were aside from being ravenous perfectly fine, she burst out sobbing. She was so emotional for the rest of the call that she could hardly hear me explain how to get to her pets.

HSUS Update:
19 September 2005
The Woodstock of Animal Rescue
Hurricane Katrina’s emotional impact on people living far from the disaster area is obvious in the number of volunteers who have poured into the Lamar-Dixon site—often spending precious vacation time and paying their own travel expenses to get there. They hail from states as far away as Alaska and even several Canadian provinces, and their stories share a common theme. By rescuing and caring for lost and abandoned animals, they’re able to contribute to the relief efforts and exorcise some of their personal pain of bearing witness to such widespread human and animal misery.
Living conditions at Lamar-Dixon are spartan by most standards. Nearby hotels are booked through the end of the year, so many volunteers sleep in their cars or in tents. For those who manage to make an early meal, the dining area holds about a dozen plastic or canvas chairs. The rest make do with wooden pallets, drink coolers, and upturned buckets, or sit cross legged on the bare ground. They wash off the sweat and grime of a hard day’s work in makeshift showers at the end of a barn, where bathing suits are recommended since the black plastic sheets that serve as shower curtains provide less than perfect privacy.

Conditions for volunteers are improving: last week brought the addition of a massive FEMA air-conditioned tent with 50 cots. And tables, chairs, and portable shower facilities are promised for later this week.

Even so, Lamar-Dixon could easily qualify as the summer camp from hell for anyone without a deep love of animals and a drive to be of service in this catastrophe. But Craig proclaims it the Woodstock of Animal Rescue—where the highs come from witnessing joyful reunions between people and their pets and providing fresh water and two squares a day to dehydrated, often emaciated animals who have overcome tremendous odds to survive.

Peace, love, and happiness, indeed.