Log 03 - 03 September 2005
Our volunteers and fleet are heading into Louisiana. Communication back home is difficult right now, but we were able to forward our letter of clearance from the Office of Asset Management. This letter was e-mailed to expedite our entry into the state. We are moving into the area and hearing more and more reports of animals in need. We're working with other organizations, and will call in another report as soon as possible.
Flight to Denver, broken water line, flat tire, and a very long drive equals one long day. Our truck rolled into the staging area at Jackson, Mississippi, at 2:30 in the morning. A couple hours of sleep, and we were up, getting the truck ready for what we hope will be a busy day. Many evacuees from Southern Mississippi have been relocated to the dome at the fairgrounds in Jackson. Fortunately, a number of evacuees were able to smuggle their pets out. As well, an animal shelter was established four days ago and currently houses about 70 dogs, three pigs, a couple of goats, a couple of snakes, and a cat or two.
At 10 this morning, a team meeting was held of the HSUS, Code 3, ASPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, United Animal Nations, Humane Society of Missouri, and of course the American Humane Association. Fortunately for us and for the animals in southern Mississippi, we have been given the green light to work the southern coast. Once we leave Jackson, we must be completely self-contained and have adequate fuel. The gas stations limit the amount of fuel you can purchase, and the lines extend often times a half a mile in both directions.
We have heard that there are 70 dogs and 40 cats currently being housed in Slidell. Today 120 dogs were transported out of the southern coast area to other shelters. Our hope is that we can help the animals here, doing an assessment, getting an idea of what activities we might have to take care of, and eventually, either leave a team down here, or take our entire team when we move into Louisiana, where we have been asked to come and support the animal relief efforts there.
1900, or 7 pm: Our team’s all together in Hattiesburg. It isn’t until you reach Hattiesburg that you remember that there was even storm. Each mile, as you head south from town, brings an exponential level of destruction. Signs are mangled, store fronts destroyed, and trees thrown across cars. About a mile south of town, we see a fuel truck with a power pole lying across the hood, and power lines dangling on the road.
We’re trying to reach Gulfport before dark, so that we can send a unit into Ocean Springs with food and water for a couple who have been without power since the storm and have been sending me text messages since Tuesday, urging us to hurry. Each day I’ve had to tell them that we would be there just as soon as we could or as soon as we were allowed to get in.
Now 2100: Arrived in Gulfport and were advised that no night operations are allowed -- a curfew is in place and so will have to head to Ocean Springs at first light tomorrow. The truck broke down and is two hours behind us.
Log 04 - 04 September 2005
No e-mail, dictating this report by phone after two exhausting days of activity. We stay in regular communications with our headquarters team in Denver. I know they all want to know what’s going on and would all be here right beside us if they could. It has to be a frustrating position for them to be in. I know here in Louisiana for all the rescues teams there are short nights and long days but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now than here saving animals and making a difference.
We’ve made it into LaFayette, and are moving on to New Orleans today. We’re planning to start rescue work this afternoon or this evening. Our team is working with Animal Rescue League of Boston, United Animal Nations, ASPCA, HSUS and the VMAT teams from FEMA to get as many animals saved as quickly as possible. We’ve got a great American Humane team and we’re giving this effort 110%! We’ll keep you updated and thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.
Log 05 - 05 September 2005
Hello from the scene of Incident Command in the Blackham Coliseum in LaFayette, Louisiana. From an operational standpoint, we have two primary focuses: sheltering and water rescue. Nicholas Gilman of the Animal Rescue League of Boston has geared up water rescue efforts for today, and Ginger and Meredith of American Humane, and Sandy Luppi from ARL-Boston will head up our sheltering operations. I’ve been answering the phone, sending requests, juggling resources. I am very fortunate to have an awesome group of people out here. These are folks I can delegate to and be confident that things will get done safely and effectively.
We are coordinating with other animal welfare organizations, so that we can all accomplish what we’re there to do -- save animals.
We were up to midnight (again) loading boats and supplies for the water rescue efforts and cleaning out vehicles and preparing for sheltering tasks. Our water rescue group was up at 4 AM today and on the road at 4:30, and the shelter opened up at 6:30.
Water rescue operations had started in the New Orleans area, but all water operations were ceased in the early afternoon by emergency management when it was determined that units should not be in that area. Hopefully this will be only a minor setback. It’s been so frustrating knowing that we have so many animals in need -- so many rescuers willing to help, and so many obstacles to overcome to get to them.
I want to share some of the encounters we’ve had on our way to Lafayette
We spent Saturday night in the parking lot in Gulfport -- at the construction site for the new Humane Society. The building looked great! Early Sunday, we headed west out of Gulfport en route for Louisiana. Early indications from the state headed us for Gonzales but we were rerouted to Lafayette.
Volunteer Ginger has family in Slidell, so we parked the rig and our vehicles while she and Meredith went in to rescued poor little Yoda the Cat. After we broke down the back window, Yoda made a beeline from the fallen sheetrock for the utility room. We were able to reach her and hug her like she’s probably never been hugged. She immediately became one of our team. We brought her to the Blackham Coliseum and have given her more food and water each day than she’s probably seen in a week. Our teams are working hard so that all the animals in this disaster can be found and rescued like Yoda.
Everywhere we go, the folks are so nice. We pulled into a small town just outside Slidell for something to drink and I asked a resident for directions. She started pointing and was speaking normally when her voice cracked and she just broke out in tears. She explained that she was so moved by all of the folks who were willing to come and help that she couldn’t help getting emotional.
Even the cops are friendly! At a gas station, we were put in the front of the line, given our own pump, and even allowed to exceed the $25.00 limit. What a wonderful group of people just wanting to help us get to the animals. When Ginger told them we were headed for New Orleans one of them piped up, “Honey, you stay right here and we will take good care of you.”
Our caravan was just coming into Lafayette -- one more exit to go -- when the right front tire of our rescue rig blew. Connor said it was like wrestling a 2000-lb bull to the ground, this 82’ of truck loaded with food and water. I doubt there are a lot of drivers that could have handled that load any better than Connor, and we are very fortunate to have him. Our truck is also our home. We promised the state veterinarian that we would be self-sufficient, so Connor talked the tow truck operator into pulling the truck intact into the shelter area so that we would have our sleeping area and generator while we waited for help.
We finally pulled into Lafayette at about 3 PM, and as I walked up to the shelter, a young lady came right up to me. Before I could introduce myself, she me a bear hug. No sooner had she let go, that I received another one. They were so happy to see us. What a wonderful job these folks had done on starting this shelter. The animals were well cared for, the shelter was spotless, the paperwork was well organized and the place even smelled good!
What was most impressive was that this entire shelter was set up by a relatively small staff over a very short period of time. These folks have been staffing the shelter since it opened and are truly looking forward to a break. Our goal is to help them run the shelter while we bring in additional resources.
Log 06 - 06 September 2005
The teams and I are running on empty, but I have some highlights to share.
The shelter in Lafayette is coming along nicely. We’ve been working with Virginia Lee, the Animal Control Officer for the City of Lafayette Police Department. She is one awesome lady. As one of the officers mentioned tonight, “she is cut from a different cloth.” The local staff here finally got a day off and so our team will be pulling an all-nighter to cover them. It has been since Tuesday that they were able to get away, and hopefully things will continue to improve for them. The Nashville Humane Society is bringing down a team to assist in this operation so that the American Humane Association can move into Gonzales and help the folks there.
Our water rescue teams had a good day today. Nick, Brian, Mark, and Mike brought in 14 cats on their first mission and finished the day by rescuing and bringing to safety 23 cats, one dog, and an albino snake. I guarantee you there are some happy folks tonight. Tomorrow, we will add Connor to the group so that we can get another team on the water. Friday we will add more teams and five boats. Hopefully a whole bunch of critters will be able to come home.
Log 07 - 08 September 2005
The total numbers of animals at the shelter in Gonzales are going up slightly as more people are evacuating the area and leaving their animals with us. We had a young man bring in a dog late yesterday after spending three days in the flood waters, the Red Cross took the human and we took the dog. The shelter is gearing up for the possibility of similar situations.
The two water rescue teams had another successful day rescuing animals in the New Orleans area. When you are doing water rescue operations that require breaking and entering, the amount of time to complete the mission increases significantly. In situations where animals are just plucked from roofs, etc. a good team can average 4-6 animals an hour but a difficult access may take an hour just to get in. You need to remember that in floods, your platform is your boat and that is not the most stable area to put a ladder. Couple that with never really knowing what you are going to find on the other side and you have all the ingredients for a scary rescue. I remember well a situation a number of years ago when we were trying to get into the front room of a home. We broke out the front window and as we were shining our light in, out jumped a 100-lb German Shepherd taking the remainder of the window and frame with him. He had had about enough of the water rising in the home and decided to take his chances outside. These are the types of rescues Mike, Connor, Brian, and Mark were dealing with yesterday as they responded to homes that had been called into the hotline. For the most part, the animals are still looking pretty good. Today, we once again have four rescuers in the water and two who are transporting animals from Metairie. With some clever positioning, we were able to fit 27 dogs and four cats into our truck and trailer. We literally ran while we loaded as it was nearly 100 degrees and we had to get moving to cool off the animals. They arrived at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales a bit weary and stressed but in good condition.
Abandoned animals are being taken to Lamar Dixon Expo Center. It’s a wonderful setting and is organized well and operations are going very smoothly. The scene is a bit like a RV show with every imaginable rescue group in camp. I won’t begin to mention them all but it was fun driving in and seeing some of the lesser known groups. It’s awesome that so many folks are willing to drive from Connecticut, Maine, Boston, San Diego, and Spokane to name a few to help the animals during this tragedy.
Log 08 - 1 September 2005
American Humane Responders Ginger and Meredith have joined us from Lafayette after assisting our friends from Nashville Humane in getting familiarized with the shelter operations there. We also have two teams cleaning Barn 5 where incoming animals arrive, and another team was sent to LSU Agricultural Center to assist with aggressive dog behavior. In Gonzales, we're cleaning the shelter area thoroughly. We were very discouraged to learn that some animals were being turned away and rescue operations had been suspended, but now things are looking up. We remain committed to working through the proper channels and to keep our response efforts at their strongest! It’s been a hard weekend, but our work is so important.
Log 09 - 1 September 2005
Operations started early as usual. The teams were out the door and into the field by 4 am. American Humane Responder John Marretti shared an interesting story about one of his feeding operations. He and his partner approached a house and heard what sounded like a human crying. They notified the federal emergency team in the area, which broke into the house, followed by American Humane. As they entered and looked around, moods were tense as our Responders didn’t know what to expect. Then, mystery solved! Inside was a tiny Chihuahua, happy to get food and water and be rescued to safety. Needless to say, John and his partner got a little ribbing from the federal emergency team.
American Humane Responders Meredith and Ginger, along with Sandy who joined us from ARL Boston, arrived in Gonzales from Lafayette in time to work the full day of backbreaking overdrive in Barn #5. Now going on 14 days of solid relief and rescue efforts with American Humane in the stifling heat and humidity, with only a few hours of sleep a night, they looked dead-on-their-feet. They went to bed looking forward to sleeping their first day off since just after Katrina hit. As the rest of us were preparing to crawl into our “beds” in tents and cars and rescue vehicles and bunks on the truck a handful of American Humane’s Responders went barreling from the staging area, snatching up their rescue gear as they ran. It was close to one in the morning after a full day in the field, but they had seen a loose dog running by, and they wouldn’t be getting into their beds until they’d gotten the dog to safety.
Log 10 - 14 September 2005
We have a new friend in the shelter section of our Rescue Rig. She’s been with us since last night, a black cat with a white chest and white whiskers who we’re all calling “Key Kitty.”
We received a Fed Ex package a few days ago at our staging area at Lamar-Dixon. Inside was a key and a note, asking the American Humane Association to please go save a cat that had to be left in an apartment when her family evacuated.
With only the hand-drawn map on the note to guide them, our rescuers took off to find the animal. The street address wasn’t even listed on the city map, but we kept looking. Finally, we got to the spot a four-story apartment building. We knew we’d have to be extra care, you never know how the storm has compromised the structure of the building. Team leader Holly Phalen and our volunteers went inside, shining flashlights through the dark hallways of the empty building. Finally a tiny kitten met us at the door of a unit. She’d been living alone without a supply of food and water for nearly two weeks.
Seeing how the teams responded to the cat was no different from the care and love I’ve seen them express over and over again since we got here. They hugged and pet this kitten, trying their best to let the animal know she’d be safe now. Everything would be alright.
I called the phone number the Key Kitty’s family had included in their letter and told the woman who answered that someone in New Orleans was anxious to say hello. As if on cue, the kitten meowed into my cell phone. The woman’s response reminded us all again just why we’re here.
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…
Log 12 - 16 September 2005
Our entire team of volunteers will be in the field from now on, and yesterday we had one group devoted to water rescue, while the rest scoured their area on-foot, calling out “here kitty-kitty,” whistling, and following each animal sound they heard.
At one point, their calls were greeted by desperate meows and the team looked up to see three cats staring anxiously at them from the roof of a second-story house. Instead of spending valuable time pulling out their equipment, the team backed their vehicle up under the eaves of the building. The cats had probably sought safety from the flooding by climbing on the roof but had been stranded there for over a week once the waters receded. When our responders climbed up to the roof of the truck and reached out for them, the cats leapt eagerly to safety.
A short while later, one of the responder’s whistling was answered by a bird chirping. Our responders followed the sound to a house, which had already been searched by federal teams, meaning all they had to do to gain access was rip open the duct tape on the window. Inside, they found a parakeet in a cage, calling out loudly, as if in relief, at the sight of our team. But when Bill picked up the cage to carry it to the vehicle, he found rabbit droppings underneath. Bill told me he thought, “Now that’s strange. Parakeets don’t poop rabbit droppings.” So the team began a thorough search of the house, quietly checking behind doors and lifting furniture. Finally, they found the pet rabbit crouched under an armchair, and both the rabbit and bird were loaded into the truck.
But work at that house wasn’t done yet. During their search for the rabbit, they discovered an aquarium with a fish and a frog. The fish seemed pretty content, but the poor frog was exhausted. The aquarium had become filled to the brim with flood water, and without being able to climb onto something to rest or escape the smooth-walled container the frog had been forced to swim for days to keep from drowning.
Out on the street again, the team got information from federal emergency personnel that there was a dog in a house down the street that was in a very bad state. What our responders found at the address was a devastated house, its floor coated in several inches of mud and mold. When they entered, they immediately spotted the dog -- a schnauzer that stood frozen on the couch. As if shell-shocked, the dog didn’t respond to having strangers in his house or even seem to notice them at all. He just stood where he was, staring into space. The team got him into a crate to be brought back to the shelter.