Sunday, September 25, 2005

Storms, Strength and Southern Cooking

The following (with the exception of Sept. 25th) is CAAT leader Donna's update.

The last five days has been a virtual mixture of emotions and the days have all kind of blended into one. It could have been a nightmare, but instead there are many wonderful and meaningful memories. Experiencing a hurricane and several tornadoes in pretty much the same twenty-four hour period leaves an impression on your mind forever.

Day 7: Tuesday, September 20

After a day of very hard work at the shelter, Team One all went out for dinner to celebrate our last evening together and the amazing week we've experienced. We had a lot of fun - laughing, story-telling, reminiscing,taking photos of each other, and sharing with the team how incredible our last seven days here in Louisiana has been. All team members expressed their gratitude and appreciation for this awesome, once in a lifetime opportunity.

Day 8: Wednesday, September 21

Team One was up early, ate a little breakfast, said goodbyes to me,Donna,team leader, and headed out for the drive to the Houston, Texas airport, approximately five hours away. I spent the day feeling very alone and a little bit lonely. Team one was such an ideal team - no complaining, always cooperative, always appreciative of their duties at the shelter no matter what they might be, no bickering or gossiping amongst themselves, totally united. A one in a million team. Hard workers, conscientious, reliable and responsible. They truly set the standard for future teams and will be difficult to beat.

I spent most of the day on the computer at the Red Cross building, and then at 4 pm one of the Red Cross people offered to drive me to New Orleans to the airport to meet Team Two. One thing which really hit me while walking through the airport was how deserted and quiet it was. Not one restaurant or store was opened. Only two or three ticket agents were working at each airline counter, some had nobody. The Delta flight our Team was on was one hour late arriving. It was so great to see everyone, some I was meeting for the first time. We have three team members from Whitehorse, one from Saskatoon, several from Victoria and the remainder from Vancouver. There are four veterinarians on Team Two, and thirteen technicians and assistants. We also have a documentary producer/director with us this week. He produces documentaries for The Learning Channel, specifically the program "Animal ER". We feel very privileged to have Mike with us this week. He is shooting a one hour documentary on the Canadian Animal Assistance Team's work in Louisiana. After an hour long drive up to the animal shelter in Gonzales, the team unpacked and made up their beds in the volunteer tent, and we went for a tour of the facility. We were all in bed by 10 pm.

Team Two's members are: Susanne, Carla, Candace, Kari, Sonya, Jane, Daniel, Dita, Nick, Terill, Michelle, Robyn, Yvonne, Karen,Amanda, Michele, and Mike. They're in for the week of their lifetime.

Day 9: Thursday, September 22

The Team was up by 6 am, showered, has a bite to eat and reported at the volunteer desk, ready and eager to begin their duties with the animals. All were assigned to different positions, locations, and duties and started to work. There continues to be a large amount of animals present at the shelter. Last evening, approximately three hundred dogs and cat were brought in to the shelter during intake, all having been rescued in New Orleans that day. They are very thin, stressed, tired, hungry and thirsty but are in surprisingly good shape. The large majority of the dogs and cats coming in from the city are just full of fleas, worms of every sort, heartworm, and have eye and ear problems. It's pretty sad to see that they do not receive the high standards of love, attention and care that our animals in Canada receive. Certainly it makes us thankful and appreciative for what we have available to us at home for our beloved family members.

At 2:30 pm a meeting of all the staff and volunteers at the shelter was called and we were briefed on the progress of Hurricane Rita making its way towards Louisiana and Texas. We were told that the shelter here is predicted to have what they call a "Tropical Storm Warning", with winds of up to fifty to sixty miles per hour and large amounts of rain. Our Team called a meeting and we decided that we would stay together as a group and drive just northwest to Baton Rouge and stay there until the storm passes. We had been invited to a home of another volunteer earlier in the day. Several of us wanted to stay and help take care of the animals and prepare the shelter for the onslaught. But we decided to stay together as a team and at approximately 9 pm we convoyed to Baton Rouge. Half of the team was housed with Joey and Aimee in their home; the other half went to Aimee's parent's home down the street to wait out the storm.

Day 10: Friday, September 23

After a restful sleep, and a breakfast of Southern cheese grits with butter, several of the team members decided to drive back to the shelter to see if there was anything we could do to help prepare for the gathering storm. Things were under control and practically ready at the shelter, with all of the animals and supplies secured. No more volunteers were needed at that time. They thanked us over and over again for showing up to see what we could do to help. We drove back to Baton Rouge in very heavy rainfall, sometimes so heavy it was difficult to see through the windshield. We arrived home safely and then made a trip to a nearby Wal-Mart to purchase food items to help out with the feeding of Team Two for the next couple of days.

By late afternoon and evening the winds started to pick up and blow with a lot of force. The rain continued off and on throughout the evening and through the night. Our host and hostess, the parents, Henry and June, decided we all needed to experience some good Southern cooking. A huge pot of Jambalaya was cooked up by the neighbour, Mitch; the rest of the team came to Henry and June's house and we had a Mardi Gras party and tried to forget what was happening outdoors with the storm. What fun we had! June and Henry came out dressed in Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse costumes; June brought out a box of beads for us to wear and take home; Mardi Gras music was playing in the background; photos were being snapped all evening. We really had a lot of good, clean fun. We all were experiencing an underlying degree of concern and stress because of the oncoming hurricane.

Day 11: Saturday, September 24
When we arose at 8 am this morning the worst part of the storm was over. It had gone on all around us while we slept. All of the hydro and telephone lines are placed underground here in the South, so with all of the storms they have here, there is no danger of power being cut off or phone lines. Maybe Canada needs to do the same. The power flickered on and off a couple of times during the entire storm. We were all glued to the television weather channel to see reports of what the storm was doing and where it was heading. They stated that several tornadoes were heading in the direction of Gonzales, where the animal shelter is located. We were very concerned for the volunteers and the animals left behind there.

We were all very restless and anxious to do some work, no matter where it might be, so we drove to the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, about a fifteen minute drive, and volunteered to work for the afternoon at the shelter there. All of the dogs and cats at the LSU campus have owners. Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina brought their dogs and cats their for safe-keeping. The facility was much cleaner, the animals had much more space for themselves - sometimes a whole horse stall for one dog, they each received special food, hardly ever a dirty poopy bed. What a difference between there and the Lemar-Dixon shelter. Just not enough help from volunteers and also the fact that the animals at the L.D. shelter did not have owners, they were from a lower class of people than the animals at the LSU shelter. It was like the Hilton Hotel compared to a low-budget, run down hotel. We wished we could be back caring for the very needy animals at the Lemar-Dixon shelter. But we had to wait until the storm had passed. There were large amounts of water running down the roads and driving was difficult at times. We exercised extreme caution in driving around in the rain and the flooded streets. Perhaps tomorrow we can head back to our familiar shelter with the animals we are getting to know well. Henry and June's daughter, Cathy, cooked us beans and rice for dinner, another popular southern dish. They are the most hospitable, loving, generous, caring, sweet bunch of people you could ever want to meet. We are so very very grateful for opening up their hearts and their homes to us.

Day 12: Sunday, September 25

"Rewarding, but disturbing", is how teammember Jane describes the work she is helping with. I spoke with the team just minutes ago. They have since been allowed back to Gonzales. Some of them were at the shelter there today, with most of the team in New Orleans, working at the triage center in the city. There continue to be animals rescued in New Orleans, almost a month after Hurricane Katrina. Their will to live is quite amazing. Donna reports that their bodies are in rough shape, but their spirit continues to be strong. The team is just finishing work, at 9:30 their time, and are preparing for the drive back to their hosts' home, where a nice Southern dinner awaits.

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