Log 11 - 15 September 2005

Every day since Katrina hit has been non-stop for our rescue teams, and the past few days have been no exception.

We received a call from the ATF to assist in an evacuation: a man with eight dogs, eight cats, and three birds had been stranded in his house by flooding and was refusing to leave without his animals. Our rescuers met up with the ATF team in New Orleans and I was given incident command of the entire operation. The area had been submerged for so long that the stagnant water had become a toxic sludge of human and animal waste and trash, chemicals, gasoline, and who knows what else. The stench was so bad that our teams had to rub Vick’s drops under their nostrils in order to breathe, and even with waist-high rubber waders and boots, we avoided direct contact with the water. To reach the house, our team joined the ATF in three amphibious military vehicles. Once we arrived, I climbed to the roof of the vehicle I had ridden in and hopped from roof to roof like a frog on a lily pad to speak to the man stranded inside. After the trauma of the hurricane, flooding, and being so cut off, the poor man was overwhelmed to find his house surrounded by military vehicles and emergency personnel, so it took a long time of conversation and coaxing to gain his trust. But even then, he was too terrified to leave even with his numerous animals and was worried he’d be separated from his animal “family.”

Instead of forcing the man to evacuate in his fragile state, I worked out a compromise with him that if he allowed us to make sure the animals were healthy and not in need of immediate attention, we wouldn’t demand that he leave his home. Despite all they had been through, the animals appeared well-cared for, and the man was not in need of supplies, so our teams moved on. Next on our list was a request from a woman in Hawaii to rescue two cats from a home. The woman’s sister had been evacuated from New Orleans and was unable to return for her cats. Now at a shelter in Houston, the woman couldn’t reach us directly so all her communications were being relayed by her sister. No one knew how long she would have to be separated from her home and friends and neighbors, but she knew she didn't want to be separated from her cats a day longer than necessary. It took a full day and a dozen phone calls to ascertain the location of the woman’s home and coordinate our operations from there.

The house was locked and all the lower level windows were barred. Without a key, gaining access was tricky as we wanted to leave the house undamaged, and not opened. After phone calls back and forth between us, the woman in Hawaii, and her evacuated sister in Texas, our job was made easier by learning there was a ladder in the crawl space below the house. I climbed to an upper-level window and thanks to so much water damage from the hurricane I was able to wiggle and pull off the bottom of the window sill and pry the window open.

We caught the first cat with minimal difficulty but couldn’t climb down the ladder carrying the crate. But Graham fashioned a rope out of sheets and safely lowered the cat’s crate to the ground. When the second cat proved to be impossible to catch climbing straight up the wall and leaping over our heads to avoid capture we made good use of a laundry hamper. With the cat contained, we still faced the challenge of transferring it to a crate to be securely transported. I found a Tupperware-type lid, which I slid beneath the laundry basket, tipped the hamper over, replaced the Tupperware lid with an open crate and tipped the hamper again. The cat safely ended up where he needed to be and we were able to bring him to the shelter. 
Back at the Lamar-Dixon, the rest of American Humane’s responders spent the day assisting shelter ops in Barn 5. Despite the fans that had been rigged up all throughout the stables to keep the animals and people cool, the work was grueling. With the heat and humidity here, our clothes become soaked through with sweat just standing still in the shade let alone racing around non-stop trying to keep the dogs fed and watered, and their cages clean. Meredith spent so many hours washing food bowls and toys, her clothes and shoes (and feet!) were so saturated, it will probably take an equal number of days for them to dry…

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