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.

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