Monday, September 19, 2005

In Their Words

What follows is a day-by-day account of the team's involvement in the relief effort to date. It was written by Donna L., the CAAT team leader. Due to the nature of the work, parts of this post may be disturbing to some readers.

Today (Monday, September 19, 2005) is day #5 at the Lemar-Dixon Animal Shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana. Due to computer and cell phone malfunctions over the last few days, we have been unable to update you directly until today. We have graciously been given permission to use the Red Cross' computer for a few hours every day until a new computer arrives with our second team coming down on Wed. Sept. 21.

Our first team of six flew into Houston, Texas from Vancouver, B.C. on Wednesday evening, Sept. 14. We then drove the five hours to Gonzales, Louisiana, arriving very early on Thursday. Quickly we set up our tents in the darkness and crashed. We have one Veterinarian and five animal health technologists this week. Our names are: Donna L. Registered Animal Health Technologist (RAHT) & Project coordinator and Dr. Tara H. from the Granville Island Veterinary Hospital, Janice B. and Tara G. who are RAHT's at the Vancouver Aquarium, Catherine A.- a vet.assistant from The Animal Clinic on Cornwall, and Jessica H. (AHT) from the Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital.

The Setting

The Lemar-Dixon Exposition Center is where a temporary animal shelter has been set up and is located approximately halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Armed military personnel are at the front gate and can be seen all over the property. There are six main buildings on the grounds. (open-air buildings with aluminum roofs).

Building One is the hospital. All seriously ill animals or any animals on IV fluids or are being watched more closely are housed in this building. Also the isolation ward (for Parvo virus and other extremely contagious diseases) is located here. It also houses all of the cats which are rescued and brought in. Building one is where the majority of the veterinarians and technicians are working.

Building Two contains dogs only. Dogs which are not well enough to be shipped out to other shelters across the country, and not ill enough to be in building one. It also houses one whole row of caged birds, hamsters, ferrets and some quite large snakes.

Buildings Three, Four and Six house horses only.

Building Five contains the healthiest and most robust of all of the dogs. There are a few which need am and pm medications given (such as eye medications, diarrhea meds, etc). The remainder of the dogs are shipped out daily to new shelters and foster homes. This makes room available daily for the 100-200 newly rescued dogs coming in from New Orleans.

There is a small food tent on the grounds for the workers - we are fed three wonderful meals per day and all of the bottled water, juice, soft drinks, and snacks we can eat. There is a woman's shower area and a men's shower area - crudely set up by the military. The ladies' shower area is patrolled by an armed military guard 24 hours a day. There is also a First Aid station for humans set up.

The temperatures here have been in the high 90's (Fahrenheit) and probably 80% humidity day and night. Many volunteers have collapsed of heat exhaustion and dehydration. None of our team has, as yet. Hopefully this doesn't happen. I nag the team continually about taking breaks and drinking at least a bottle of water an hour.

DAY ONE: Thursday Sept.15, 2005

Morning came quickly after only five hours of sleep. A two hour time difference doesn't help. We checked in at the volunteer desk, where we received our name tags, signed health waivers, and were sent to get our daily assignments. There is constant barking going on 24 hours a day.

Before we started our various assignments for the day we all had an opportunity to walk around the facility and check out some of the animals here. Every one of us shed tears, the first of many tear-shedding sessions today. Tara, Janice and Jessica spent their first day working in building one, the hospital performing various duties. IV catheter placement and fluid hook-up, medicating, working one on one with different veterinarians from all over the USA, running for medical supplies in the supply tent, holding animals for the doctors to examine and work on, and last but not least, cleaning kennels. Dr. H. and Catherine were sent to Building Five and spent their day going from animal to animal and examining and treating them.

Close medical records are kept on each animal as well as info on where they were found (house numbers or street names). Curfew in New Orleans every evening is at 5:30 pm and all rescue groups are required to leave the city. They arrive here at the shelter at about 6:30 pm with the 100-200 animals they have collected throughout the city (from homes, backyards or roaming the streets).

A boxer cross dog was brought in during tonight's intake who was so thin and emaciated and dehydrated that his hip and shoulder bones were actually poking through his skin, leaving a 4-6 inch open wound. He was immediately sedated and the wounds sewn up. I will try to include a photo of this dog here on this site.

We retired to our tents at 9pm for a sticky, restless sleep. It'll take some getting used to this tropical weather. Oh for an air conditioned place to sleep.

One exciting and amazing experience which happened to me today is that I was just walking along between the animal buildings with my backpack on my back. I have a Canadian flag patch on my backpack and a cap I wear here with a flag on the front of it. A gentleman walked up behind me from out of the blue and said "Oh, I see you are from Canada." He shakes my hand and thanks us for coming and helping. He then introduces himself as an official with Homeland Security for the United States Government, from Wash. DC. I got so excited and told him that he is just the man I've been wanting to talk to for two weeks. I told him how the Canadian and Provincial governments have not been able to help us with funding whatsoever thus far because they have not received an official invitation for Veterinarians and Technicians to come from Canada and help here. They need the invitation to come from none other than Homeland Security.

He immediately took my name, phone number and email address and gave me his and assured me they would do that immediately. I couldn't stop thanking him and shaking his hand. How amazing is that? What are the chances he'd see my flag and come and talk to me. Not a coincidence, in my opinion.

DAY TWO: Friday, September 16

Morning brought us an even hotter and more humid day, well into the hundred degrees. The team was up at 6 am and to work by 7 am. Dr. H. and Catherine worked in Building Five again today. They are already getting quite attached to many of the dogs there. So many sweet, affection-starved dogs. They look at you with their sad round eyes as if they are pleading with you to take them out of their cages and love and play with them. It breaks your heart to realize they will probably never see their owners again.

One thing we've especially noticed is the large number of Pit Bulls here from New Orleans. Probably 70% of all the dogs here at the shelter are Pit Bulls. And all unneutered. We have found out today that the reason they are unneutered is because people use them to fight each other. It's an illegally run sport in New Orleans. Another reason is that the owners are usually so poor that they cant afford to neuter or spay their animals. A few of the unspayed female dogs are here with huge mammary tumours. Not a pretty sight. It makes one appreciative for our high standards of animal care in Canada.

Tara, Janice and Jessica worked all day again in the hospital building. We all sat on the lawn in the shade and ate dinner together tonight. Everyone on the team has expressed time and time again their deep appreciation for this incredible opportunity to be here and to do this for these poor homeless creatures.

I spent the day trying to get my laptop computer to work. At one point, after asking several people where I could get help with it, was directed to another large building on the property and was told the Red Cross people were in there and to check with them. I wondered why the Red Cross was here and what they have to do with the animals. I walked in the front door and to my complete astonishment the entire building was wall to wall people (evacuees) and beds. I started to cry when I saw this. It was very touching to see over 1700 people all under one roof.

Once the Red Cross staff found out I was Canadian, I was treated like royalty. They led me up to their headquarters on a stage up front, and introduced me to their top computer technician, Brian, who spent two hours with me and my computer before declaring that my computer was toast and not usable. I have requested a new laptop be sent down with team two next Wednesday.

Also today my last means of communication with my teams in Canada and home was not usable - my cell phone. With no pay phones on the fair grounds, I was left helpless. It was very frustrating, to say the least. I needed to make preparations and arrangements with Team two members and with our travel coordinator to arrange flights for everyone coming down next week. The Red Cross has agreed to let me come into their building whenever I need to and work on their computers until my new one arrives.

While I was in the Red Cross building, a heavy thunder storm rolled in with strong winds. The rest of my team literally picked up all of our tents with all of our belongings inside and shoved everything into our rental vehicle. When I arrived back at our campsite later in the evening, the tents were all gone. I walked around a little confused for about five minutes until one of the team came and told me what had happened.

There were so many volunteers collapsing to the ground in the heat today that the US Government took pity on us and had a very large tent set up on the property with wooden floors, air conditioning, and nice bathrooms. They also brought in over 300 camp cots for us to sleep on. We put our tents away and moved into the volunteer tent and for the first time since our arrival we slept soundly and in coolness. It was so wonderful. Thank you US Government!


After a terrifically restful sleep in the cool, we arose early and went to work. Dr. Eric Davis (Head Veterinarian of the Rural Area Vets Organization - a division of the US Humane Society and who we are registered under) had arrived last evening from California and I was immediately put in contact with him. He promptly put aside all he was doing,pulled up two chairs and we sat down and chatted for over thirty minutes. I expressed to him some of my concerns with the conditions for the animals and the scheduling of the workers, and he made note of them. He said he would be spending the day organizing the workers to be put to use most efficiently. Less chaos and confusion.

At 11 am, Dr. Davis sought me out and asked if our team Veterinarian, Dr. H., and her assistant Catherine and myself would be willing to go down into New Orleans and start euthanizing dogs and cats. The Louisiana SPCA would be bringing the animals to us at a temporary triage emergency center they have set up there. We agreed to go immediately. We were given a magnetic sign "Humane Society of the United States" to place on our vehicle, grabbed all of the supplies we thought we would need, met up with the lady who would be leading the way for us into the city and started to drive.

The atmosphere in the vehicle was very heavy and not many words were spoken at the thought of the solemnity of the job that was ahead of us. New Orleans is in ruins. I sat with my mouth open as we drove past street after street of downed and damaged homes, garbage and branches and debris everywhere on the streets, vehicles flipped over and vandalized and sitting in the middle of the streets. Utter devastation. Armed military everywhere you look.

The LA SPCA trailer arrived with perhaps 30-40 cats and dogs. Their generator had broken down on their vehicle so the air conditioning was not working for these animals. We quickly assessed as many of the animals as we could and concluded they were suffering from heat exhaustion, more than any other problem and did not need euthanizing. There were two older small poodles brought in that were flat out, but all vital signs were normal, but very dehydrated. Donna placed an IV catheter in the one dog and hooked him up to fluids immediately. The other dog was in better shape, at least raising his head.

We told everyone that to save all of these animals' lives we needed to beeline it to our Gonzales shelter. We immediately packed up and started to drive the one hour. Once the animals arrived and were able to be placed in coolness, they perked up and started to get up, eat and drink and walk around. Not one needed euthanizing. We felt really good about the work we had done, otherwise all of those animals would have been dead.

We were also told that the police in New Orleans had started shooting dogs roaming the streets today because they were becoming a dangerous threat to humans. They were so hungry that they were killing smaller dogs and cats and were starting to try to attack humans to have something to eat.

We were emotionally and physically exhausted when we arrived back at our campsite tonight. The other three team members had also spent the day in New Orleans, going into abandoned homes with bags of dog food and water to give the animals until they could be rescued, and also working at the Triage shelter downtown. Quite an amazing experience we are all having here. We will never look at our lives the same again, I'm sure.

DAY FOUR: Sunday, September 18

Tara and Janice again accompanied a LA SPCA woman into downtown New Orleans today, delivering food and water to some of the most poor neighbourhoods in the city, the slums. They saw some horrible sights which will affect their lives forever. They went into one home and found a beautiful cat curled up on the bed, dead. In the back yard was a dog which had been tied to a chain, and it was hanging dead over the side of the patio. Very disturbing.

Jessica worked at the triage center again today - working hand in hand with the main veterinarian there. They saw over 70 animals today and shipped them up here to our shelter. Dr. Huggins and Catherine were back working in building five, medicating and checking on all of the dogs. I spent the day doing the team's laundry and buying a few much needed items for the team. I spent an hour being lost in the dark, ending up way out in the boondocks somewhere. Don't ask me how that happened. It probably has something to do with my lack of a sense of direction. The vehicle even had a compass on it but that doesn't mean anything to someone who is directionally-challenged. Is that a word? All of the team members made it back safely tonight with many stories and experiences to share.

DAY FIVE: Monday, September 19

All of the team members arose early and headed down to New Orleans for the day. Dr. H. and Catherine to deliver food and water to animals shut up in their homes awaiting safe rescue; Tara,Jessica and Janice to the Triage center for the day. I have stayed behind to work on the computer at the Red Cross building and do this update.

The team only has one more day here before they fly back to Vancouver on Wednesday and team two comes down. Seventeen team members will be coming this time. four veterinarians and thirteen technicians and support staff. They need all of the help they can get here. So many dogs have to spend hours and hours laying in their own feces and urine every day until the volunteers can clean their kennels, bathe them and walk them. It's so time consuming and such hard work. I'll update you more tomorrow on our team's progress and efforts today. A HUGE THANK YOU once again to all of you for your financial support, your best wishes and your thoughts and prayers for us and for all the the wonderful animals here who need help and our love. God Bless.

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