Monday, October 31, 2005

CAAT's Work Continues

After sending a total of 82 Vets and Techs to the Gulf Coast area to help in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the CAAT's work continues on with new ventures.

This past weekend, we manned a booth advertising our efforts at the Lower Mainland Dog Fanciers of BC's Fall show in Abbotsford, BC. Several slideshows were given outlining our work in Louisiana, as well as garnering support for our upcoming trip to Fiji, planned for the first 2 weeks of January, 2006. We will be spaying and neutering the hunting dogs of remote tribal villages there. Another trip is possible for the same purpose next summer, to Tuktuyuktuk, NWT.

In other exciting news, we are awaiting word on a feature on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Check back for details!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Work Continues 7 Weeks Later

The CAAT's final team deployed to New Orleans has been hard at work since Friday. They have been working mostly at the new LA SPCA shelter in Algiers, which is just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans proper. Donna reports that there are not a large number of animals housed there as yet, but they spent the day organizing and unpacking supplies at the newly opened facility. The LA SPCA's old shelter in New Orleans was severely flooded and rendered unusable.

The team has also spent time at the Noah's Wish shelter in Slidell, where their skills were put to excellent use with the many animals that continue to be housed there.

Another task the team has been given is examining the 'cadaver dogs'. A section of the Lower 9th Ward is only just being searched for human casualties, as the area has continued to be under water. The cadaver dogs and their handlers search homes for 3-4 hours in the morning. The dogs are then brought in for an exam: they are cleaned of the sludge in which they have been working, and checked over physically and for signs of stress. If they are cleared, they are fed and watered and then they go back to work. I don't imagine this is a pleasant task for the vets and techs involved, never mind the rescuers and dogs, but an important and necessary one.

The team has received word that they may have a hotel room donated for their last night, near the French Quarter. Hopefully they will get to spend their last night experiencing New Orleans as it should be.

Here at home, watch for an interview on Tuesday on Breakfast Television on City TV, and in the coming weeks, a spot on 'City Heroes', also on City TV.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Good Day

Our 7th and final team leaves tomorrow morning for LA. Team 5 returned today to Vancouver (very early this morning). Wendy came in to work this afternoon for our staff meeting. While she didn't share any specific stories, she was obviously very moved by her experience. She looked very much like I felt early this week. No words to express what she had seen and done. Just gratitude that she had done it, and a new outlook. I hear ya, sister!

Our final day last week was very moving for me personally. It was the day that I really felt like I made a difference. We were in New Orleans again, setting up a triage area. We moved it from the grocery store parking lot to a gas station: more shade and shelter from the hot sun. Quite frankly, I don't know how the team had managed the day before. From the heat to the smell coming from inside the grocery, it must have been unbearable. The pic below shows what the store looked like through a broken window. What a mess. I have no clue how they would begin to clean something like that up. It makes more sense to me to tear it down and start over...

As I said, we set up in a gas station, between the pumps. A table was set up with supplies, some crates set up as exam tables, and intake was organized. Kari Ann and Jessica did such a great job doing the latter. There was always a bit of confusion going on, and they made sure that paperwork was filled out correctly, and all these critters were id'ed so that they could be traced in the event an owner came looking. (On that note, great news! 2 kitties that were brought back to Vancouver to be fostered have both been returned to their owners down South. Jane of team 2 had brought them home with her. They were placed on, as all of the rescued pets were, and their owners found them!)

Pets started coming in about 1pm. The first was a lab cross that was quite dehydrated. Other than that, he was in pretty good shape. Tara Lee placed an IV catheter, and he was given a litre of fluids and then put in a crate with some food and water. He was a sweet guy, didn't make much fuss considering he hung out for most of the day until the truck was loaded. The pets rescued this day were bound again for Mississippi (if they were in need of further, but not critical, vet care), and others for Baton Rouge.

We had several more rescues brought in, some kitties, a bonded pair of dogs, and the usually assortment of pitties. My 2 most memorable:

Sheebi. She was a little lab cross. Quite skinny, but not in bad shape. Collar on, with rabies tag! I called the number and asked if they could trace it. Yes, they would call me back. They did, about 10 minutes later, with her name, her owners name, phone # and address. I asked if they could tell me what clinic the rabies tag was from, just in case I couldn't reach the owner? Yes, he could, the Prytania Vet Clinic, and they just happen to be open, he said. And he rattled off the phone number like it was his own. Hmmmm, sounds like it might be your vet. Nope, he is friends with the owner, though.

I called the owners number, no answer. So I called the Vet clinic and ask if they would be able to take Sheebi until the owner can be reached. Yes, they say! I was so happy, as was Amanda, the vet who had done the intake exam. So, we pop her up into the van, and off we go. The clinic is about 10 minutes from where we were set up. I can't say Sheebi was super happy to see her vet (she growled and snapped!), but at least we were keeping her close to home, and we knew she would be well cared for. Pic shows Sheebi, and her vet keeping his distance!

My other fav was a little Shih Tzu named Trey. I believe his owner had called and asked to have him checked on. This little guy was absolutely filthy and very emaciated. He had been sealed up tight in his house all this time. He must have been drinking the water that had flooded his house, or he could not have survived. He was examined, and found to have corneal ulcers on both his eyes--must have been so sore. We tried to clean him up as best we could, but it was only a sponge bath. We did spend some time trimming the hair around his eyes, so it would not rub and make the ulcers worse. He was such a little trooper. As anyone who has worked with the little guys know, they can be a bit snappish. Not Trey. I trimmed all that hair, and he only made a few little grumbles.

Next up was a snack. Oh, my. Dr. Gord was stirring up the canned food a little bit, to make it easier for Trey to slurp out of the can. Ummm, don't need no stirrin', Doc, just lemme at it. We got some into a dish for him, and he dove right in. Then he lifted his head, beard covered in food, and looked around for more. What a sweetie. More of a big dog fan, but this guy'll be in mind forever. I hope his people find him. He was sent to the emerg hospital to have his eyes checked out further, so hopefully, he ended up staying in state.

A few other memorables:

the little black and white pittie that had a very wounded eye--the anterior chamber of the eye was full of blood. Tara Lee was kneeling down with her in her arms, and the little doll was falling asleep. She looked so relaxed and contented, perhaps for the first time in 6 weeks. She also was sent to the emerg hospital.

the 3 shepherds that were all found together, a bonded trio. One was almost certainly early pregnant. She was adamant that she not lose her buddies. The other two had been put in crates, and she was leaning against one of those crates as far as she could without actually getting in. She was going into a vari-kennel, with just little windows on the sides, so I made sure that when she got in, she knew that if she looked out there, she could see her pals.

lastly, a very scared black pittie. I looked over at Amanda doing an exam all by herself, and called over to see if she wanted any help. No, she replied, I think this dog can only handle one person at a time. Amanda, if I haven't already introduced her, was our Oklahoma vet that we adopted as Canadian. We also adopted Dennison, or Jersey as I called her, a tech guessed it, New Jersey. Both great ladies. I really appreciated Amanda for recognizing that that little dog was very nervous, and just needed to be treated softly and slowly. Good job doc!

I must also mention the lunch we had. The army (?) (national guard?) had sent a truck to help the local electicity company do some work on the gas station property. Amanda went and chatted them up, and got us MRE's for lunch. MRE stands for Meal, Ready to Eat. Rations. Wow. I had a veggie burger, there was some pasta dishes, some chicken, beef meatloaf. Didn't think all those could come in a box. And you could heat it up, if you could follow directions. And you got fudge, or cookies, and dried fruit, and m & m's. Good eatin'!

The end of the day came, and the trucks were loaded. It is a little bit difficult to just watch them go, and never know what became of them. But we knew at least that we had helped them out, if not to be reunited with their owners, at least to be fostered and maybe adopted. It was a good day.

We wrapped up our stay with a down south meal. I even tried fried alligator! It really DOES taste like chicken. Well, the texture anyway. It was a nice evening, spent with great people that I feel I got to know very well in just a week. Or maybe not well, but I got to know the passionate, loving, dedicated side of them. Gord, Brenden, Sarah, Tara Lee, Danielle, Chelsea, Jessica, Kari Ann, Jen, Michelle, Jackie, and Chris, you guys are all amazing. Thank you so much for giving your time and your love for this cause. I will never forget the time I got to spend with you.

CAAT 3 & 1/2
(Chris, Jackie and Michelle missing from photo)

I am awaiting a review from team 5 and will post as soon as I get it. Thanks for continuing to read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dedication and Observation

Thursday of last week our team was asked to man a triage center in New Orleans. Rescued pets were brought to the triage area, where they were examined by the veterinarian. Those stable enough were transported to a shelter 2 hours away in Mississippi. Those not were stabilized as possible, and transported to the Emergency Hospital newly opened.

I spent the morning making phone calls and arrangement's for team 5, arriving that day. They arrived around noon. I gave them a tour of the Lamar-Dixon grounds. I was certain they would want to rest for the day, as they had been traveling for 24 hours, but most of them wanted to get right to work. I arranged for them to help out in Barn 2 walking, feeding and cleaning. They spent the afternoon and part of the evening immersing themselves in what would be their life for the next week. A truly dedicated group, considering most of them had only a few hours of sleep.

While group 5 was working at the barns, I spent a few hours updating the blog. I got only part of one day done--so much had happened. The folks in the Red Cross building were so gracious at letting me use one of their computers.

As I was walking back to the barn area to grab some dinner and check on the team, I walked past 2 tractor trailers that were being filled with dogs in crates preparing to be exported to other shelters. I was surprised at my emotional response. I caught my breath at the sight of all those kennels. So many lost dogs; so many people without their beloved furry family members. As I continued on to the barns, I stopped to chat with a few of the people waiting to take their charges to the export trailer. From all over the states, from all different professions, for all different reasons, they were there to help. Animal lovers are wonderful people!

I met up with a few of the group at the food tent; they said their day was going well. Just stopping for a bite to eat before getting back to work. I headed back to the volunteer tent to get an update on the triage center from my team. They had some amazing stories.

They had many animals come through in relatively good shape, and a few in not so good shape. A few of their more memorable:

A black shepherd named Diggy. He was very dehydrated. They hooked him up to an IV catheter and fluids (remember they are in a grocery store parking lot!) and give him a bit of food. Tara Lee was walking with him, holding up his fluid bag. After about a litre and a half, She notices he is starting to act strangely; he is holding his ears funny, and his back end doesn't want to work. She calls Gord over, who reexamines the dog. Gord can palpate an intussusception (this is where the intestine 'telescopes' inside itself). Diggy probably was so dehydrated, he could be bothered, but with IV fluids, he felt better enough to feel sick. He was taken to the emergency hospital that had just opened up. He was taken to surgery, where a mass was found on his intestine at the site of the intussusception. That part of his intestine was removed, as well as a biopsy taken of a spot on his liver. He was doing well after surgery and the next morning. They were awaiting histopathology results when we left. I think it is so great that Tara Lee recognized that something was wrong with this guy. A lot of these patients were given IV fluids and shipped off to Mississippi. If Diggy had made that trip, he may not have made it. Way to go Team Canada!!!

Another was simply #41. He was in respiratory distress when he came in to triage. He also was taken to the emerg hospital, where he was diagnosed with pulmonary edema (fluid on the lungs). This was likely due to his heavy heartworm infestation. Down there, if a dog is outside, and not on heartworm prevention, they have it. Cats too. One of the reasons why I personally think it is not a good idea to be bringing these guys back with us--we don't have heartworm in the Lower Mainland, and we don't need it! But I digress. The cool thing about this case, I thought, was that he was one of a bonded pair. This emergency hospital was so great. The allowed the other half, who was not in need of hospitalization, to stay in a portable kennel within eyesight of #41. They understood that these guys had been through enough stress in their lives in the past few weeks, they didn't need separation to be added.

The emergency hospital is Southeast Veterinary Specialists, Drs Rose and Stephen Lemarie. They had recently opened for after hours emergency care to help care for animals affected by the Hurricane. These folks were scheduled to break ground on a new facility the Monday Katrina happened. Instead, they continue on in their present facility (which includes a hydrotherapy pool), of which they gave us a brief tour. They were very short staffed, due to the fact that many of their techs had lost their homes in the hurricane, and were having to take time off to rebuild their lives. And yet they continued to take in injured pets. God bless them! I pray that they get the opportunity to build their new facility--small repayment. And I pray for their staff members who lost so much. Your new Canadian friends are thinking of you!

I think everyone fell into bed exhausted that night...Triage again the next day.

I did speak with the teams in LA today. They are all still doing well. They continue to do wonderful work, helping out at the prison, as well as at the Slidell shelter. Team 5 heads for home tomorrow, with Team 6 staying until Saturday. Great job you guys!

Monday, October 10, 2005


I spoke with Wendy of team 5 a few hours ago. Both teams 5 and 6 are safe and doing well. Some have been assisting with the almost 1000 animals at a shelter in the town of Slidell, and some have been going to a minimum security prison to help Rural Area Vet Services head Dr. Eric Davis with some dogs that are sheltered there. I will try to get a more comprehensive update from them.

To continue with last weeks journal...

We arrived at the Posado shelter with our very sick kitten. We prepared a fluid bag and an IV catheter. I find it fairly difficult to place an IV in a patient that small (6-7 wks old), never mind an anemic, shocky kitty. But the catheter angels guided my fingers, as I placed it with no problems. We hooked her up to the fluid bag, and said a prayer, not hoping too much. She was treated for fleas and place in a kennel in the hospital area.

The team that had been there all day had been working hard at intake. These vets and techs were dealing with frightened, sometimes aggressive, and very dirty animals, and were so great with all of it. Team Canada was rocking that barn! As pets came in, they were examined, scanned for a microchip, given one if none was found, dewormed, given flea medication, had their picture taken, assigned a number, and given a kennel. Strict records were kept in order to maximize the chances at reuniting them with their owners.

I helped with intake for a few hours. I lost track of how many animals were brought in. It was just a non stop barrage of flea meds, dewormer and paperwork. I remember thinking how grateful I was for Dr. H. making us learn how to estimate patient weights, as there was no scale around!

There was an dog isolation 'ward' set up in the back of the shelter behind the barn. There were a lot of pets with suspected ringworm, as well as the bloody diarrhea that you can expect in those conditions and with that many dogs in one place. It certainly was not ideal as far as isolation goes, but it was what we were able to do. Care was taken to walk those dogs in a different area from the general population, and their kennels and dishes were washed separately.

There were a fair number of dogs and cats that needed medical care beyond just the initial intake. Mostly just meds and treatments, but with that many pets, getting them all done with the few vets and techs there was a challenge. There were the occasional minor surgeries as well, minor lacerations needing to be sutured up. One was a little pup who had been attacked by one of the pitties. They were both being walked at the same time, and the pittie just jumped the little guy's leg and wouldn't let go. When they were finally separated, the little guy had a fairly deep gash that needed suturing. They popped that brave little soul up on the table, a little local anesthetic and a drain tube later, and he was sutured up. I don't think he had time to even react it all happened so quickly!

I think we left that night about 9:30, dirty and tired. We stopped at a McDonalds on the way home, and I'm sure they will be grateful never to see us again. A group of 13 smelly Canadians is likely not great for business...We all got to our cots and just fell into bed, only to be up early the next morning and back at the Shelter again.

Wednesday we were back at the shelter. I checked on our little kitten first thing. She was standing! Very wobbly, but at least she wasn't just flat out. She had the slightest hint of a pink tinge to her gums too. I was pretty happy about that.

We had also admitted another cat the night before who was 10-12% dehydrated. That is severe dehydration for a cat, and they won't survive long without treatment. She hadn't wanted to eat the night before either. Our vets hadn't arrived yet, so we had one of the Posado vets check her. He felt her dehydration had much improved and recommended we give some subcutaneous (under the skin), and encourage her to eat. She was still so dirty also. I pulled her catheter, gave her the subcutaneous fluids, and went in search of something tasty for her. I found some seafood moist food, and put some in with her. She didn't wolf it down exactly, but she did eat a fair bit. We were very encouraged. I gave her a bath as best I could with a bucket of water and a sponge, and borrowed one of the groomers brushes and brushed her out. She looked (and I'm sure felt) much better.

I feel like I may have written about this dog already, so forgive me if I am repeating myself. About midmorning, Tara Lee came back to the dog area from the barn where she was doing intake, and told me I had to come see this dog. I went up to the barn with her, and was completely speechless at what I saw. This pitiful creature lying there, skin and bones and not much else. I knelt down beside him, and gave him my hand to sniff. He looked so weak, he could hardly lift his head, but his tongue flicked out to lick me, and his little stubby tail wagged. I asked Tara Lee "How is he still alive?". She looked at me, smiled, and said "He's a miracle". His name was Tiger, and he had been shut up in his house or garage since the storm. His owner had called and asked for someone to go check on him. I had to go and grab my camera and get a picture. I had tears rolling down my face as he ate a small bit of food (too much at once would just make him vomit), and then he got up on wobbly legs and went out for a pee. A miracle.

We were just getting finished up with all the morning treatments and vet checks and were about to break for lunch when the organizers called a meeting. The Posado group, who were running the shelter, felt as though they had reached their limit of animals they could take. They were on a private farm, and there was only so much room. They were asking the HSUS volunteers (which we were) to finish up with what we were doing, and then we would be done at that shelter. The volunteers were all sort of shocked, especially us. They only had 1 vet there, the rest of their veterinary team was out in the field. There was no way they could handle all the treatments. We offered our services, at least for the rest of the day, and it was accepted. We were sure there were some more bureaucrat reasons for the dismissal, but we were only concerned that the pets be taken care of. The rest of the team stayed, while I was asked to go with another volunteer to check out a new shelter in the Slidell area (different from the one we already had people at).

I was going with Jean, a lady from Manitoba originally, who now lived in Kentucky. We got directions from the woman who owned the shelter and we were off. She told us we were about an hour and a half away. We missed the turnoff she told us to take, but saw from the highway signs that we could get to Slidell the way we were going. We ended up in a traffic jam of cars that moved about 2 miles in 1 & 1/2 hours. One of the bridges had been damaged in the hurricane, and was missing a section, so 3 lanes were having to merge into one. On top of that, the other route to Slidell was closed due to an overturned tanker truck. Never had the experience of that kind of jam before. Hope to never have it again...

We finally arrived at the shelter about 3 hours after we started. It was a converted house, and was used as a boarding facility as well as a groomers. The woman running it was obviously an animal lover, as she also did wildlife rescue and had a fawn in residence. She had 40 dog runs, all full with boarders and rescues to be shipped to other shelters soon, and several cats. The facility would likely have been fine for a shelter of rescued pets, but the logistics of getting there would be difficult. We spoke with several people in the traffic jam that said that afternoon traffic was always like that with the other bridge out. Having rescued pets in vehicles for that long would only add to their stress I'm afraid. The shelter was ruled out as an option.

Jean and I headed back to Lamar-Dixon. The main highway was still closed due to the tanker, so we went a little out of our way through Baton Rouge back to Gonzales. I have always wanted to go to Baton Rouge, even if it was just passing through. We arrived back at the Expo Grounds just in time for a 10:00 meeting. A triage center was to be set up in New Orleans the next day (Thursday), and rescued pets that could make a 2 hour trip would be shipped to Mississippi in an air conditioned tractor trailer. Those that were too critical to make the trip would be sent to an Emergency hospital that was open in New Orleans.

Next up: Triage in a grocery store parking lot.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

It Seemed Like Days

Continuing on with Tuesday...

All about the city I continue to be amazed at the destruction. Houses moved completely off their foundations, like they were picked up and placed in the street. Old trees completely uprooted. Cars thrown on top of other cars and fences. Power lines laying in the street. Boats everywhere there shouldn't be boats--on medians, on houses, on top of cars. Outside of one house, parked against the curb perpendicular to the road, was a bright yellow Aztec, the doors all hanging open. I imagine it was stolen and just abandoned. It was weird to just see it sitting there, like someone had forgotten it.

We had been given instructions to look for a dog at a house, but we had no address, just 'white house with peach trim'. Likely a neighbor or the National Guard had called it in. We found the location: it was a 2 story house. One of the others went upstairs to search, while I looked downstairs.

The front door was open. I walked in to absolute destruction. The foyer was a shambles of furniture and plants. Mold was 3/4 the way up the walls. The ceiling tiles had all fallen to the floor, completely waterlogged.

I went into the room at the back right of the house, whistling and calling for the dog. It must have been a girls room; pink walls, lacy curtains, photos collaged on the walls. In this room, the mold reached almost to the ceiling. I could not walk very far into the room. The bed was totally collapsed and covered with belongings, likely landed there as the water receded. There were toys, clothes, videos and CD's. Again, I was struck with the fact that this was someone's home, someone's belongings that were completely lost to them. It was so easy to forget that, when there were so few people in the city.

I returned to the foyer, and was surprised to see my foot prints on the floor--I hadn't realized that the floor was totally covered with a film of mud and dirt. I went into the next room, continuously calling and listening closely for any sign of the dog we were looking for. It was a living area. Again, furniture all over, mold up the walls. The ceiling tiles again were soaked and falling onto the floor below. No sign of the pet.

I went back outside and searched around and under the house. A lot of houses, if not most, are up on foundations and many pets had taken refuge in the coolness and safety underneath. Not in this case. I met up with the others who had searched the upstairs and the backyard, but with no signs of the pet.

It was so difficult to be looking for these critters and not finding any sign of them, not knowing what had become of them. Only a fraction of what the owners must be feeling.

As we were driving around to our other addresses, we passed a vacant lot that we had passed a few times. Only this time, I saw more than just a lot. It wasn't obvious, but right in the middle was the body of a medium sized dog. I think we must have driven past more slowly than the other times, because I picked up on what it was from seeing the collar. In my head, I ran all the scenarios of what might have happened that he was there in the middle of the lot. Did he drown, and that's where he lay when the water receded? Was he crawling across the lot to his house when he just couldn't go any further? Or was he killed by one of the packs of dogs that were now running loose? I didn't tell any of the others with me. I never shared that one with anyone until now. I just wanted to leave him at peace, free from whatever hell had taken his last breath.

Our last house of the day was my first experience with the sludge that everyone was talking about. I had been in house that had dirt and mud on the floor, but not like this. We walked in, and and someone stepped up on some debris to go into the kitchen, they slipped. They caught themselves with no harm done, but I looked down at the inch thick sludge that covered everything. The smell was indescribable. Acrid and rotten. The countertops also were covered in this stuff, only it had dried and cracked so that it looked like it could have been meant to be there: a funky design in the tile.

I went down the hall and checked the bathroom. It took me a minute to realize what all the blue things were in the sink, toilet and bathtub. They were pee pads, probably laid out so that the floor wasn't soiled. A lot of people had put them or newspaper out, along with food and water, thinking they would be back within a few days. No sign of the dog.

The next door was a child's bedroom. There was so much debris leaned up against the door, it took myself and Sarah leaning against it to get it open enough for her to get through, and she is pretty tiny. She looked around as much as she could without having to climb over mountains of clothing and furniture, but nothing.

Rebecca had gone to search the back of the house, but had found nothing either. A search of the yard revealed nothing. Once again, all we could do was hope that the dog had gotten out the open door and was picked up.

As we went back out to the van, I heard a noise and looked up the street. It was simply a leaf, skittering along the pavement. A simple thing, but completely 'ignorable' if there is traffic, people working in their yards, children playing. I was struck with the total quiet, the complete 'ghost town feel'.

Before getting back into the van, we tried to clean our boots off as best we could. This stuff was thick and gooey and was not easily cleaned. I got as much as I could off, and then wrapped my boots in plastic to not get it all over the vehicle. We started the hour drive to the shelter, with the kitten we had rescued what seemed like days ago. Kat continued to pick off fleas and syringe water into her.

To be continued

Determination Until the End

This is the story of the second address, in Chelsea's words.

On Tuesday morning Danielle and I woke up before sunrise and prepared to leave for search and rescue in New Orleans. We went with Dan and Casey from Team 3, both who had been in and out of the city all week long. Prep and packing of the van was quick and we were soon on our way. The drive in alone, was an eye opening experience. On the outskirts of the city most of the hurricane damage is from the winds, but as we travelled further into the city we could see the devastation from the flooding as well.

The neighbourhood we searched was Northeast of the French Quarter, and had experienced extensive flooding. The damage was visible inside and outside of homes. Waterlines reached about 4 feet and could be seen on abandoned vehicles and the outsides of buildings. The interiors of the buildings showed another level of destruction. It looked like the houses had been picked up and shaken and then placed back down in the same spot. Everything inside was scattered, broken or flipped on it's side. Every object was covered in toxic scum from the flood water or mold from the humidity afterward. The feeling was that of sensory overload, every sense was bombarded by something. It was really overwhelming and like nothing I have ever seen before.

One of the first few homes we entered, we couldn't enter through the front. So we had to walk along a very narrow path between the side of the house and a chain link fence, climbing through branches scattered along the pathway. When we reached the back of the house and forced our way through the door, the mess we saw inside was unbelievable. The back room had a washer and dryer in it that had been lifted by the flood water and moved several feet forward. The floor was littered with filthy debris that came from both inside and outside of the house. Past the laundry room, was the kitchen. It also had appliances and furniture that had been moved or knocked over. Kitchen items and food were strewn everywhere. There was rotting food, and more mold and waterscum covering everything. The smell will stay with me forever. It was so awful and penetrated through our masks. We wore boots to protect our feet, but we still had to be careful because the floor was slippery and uneven with debris. We wore gloves to protect our hands, while we shifted through the everything. We had to use flashlights in some of the rooms because it was so dark and hard to see.

It was in the very next room, by the light of the flashlight that we found what we hoped we would not find. In the corner of the bedroom, behind the door, we saw a dog that had not made it out and had not survived to be rescued. It looked like the dog had gotten trapped in the room and couldn't get out. It was horribly sad to see and what made it even more heartbreaking was that on the wall in the very corner of the room where the dog was laying, there were scratch marks from where the dog had been trying to dig it's way out. It appeared that the dog's body had been in the same spot for some time, probably since shortly after the flood, and my hope is that the dog didn't suffer for very long. I hope that the owners can take comfort in knowing that their dog showed such strength and determination to the very end, and that they know where there dog was amidst all the chaos. They will be able to have some closure.

This dog and this day I will never forget.


Well, we have arrived home safe and sound. I got home at 3:30 am myself, and slept til noon. I am looking forward to being with my family tonight for Thanksgiving dinner. Here is a continuation of Tuesday, with the reminder that parts are disturbing.

We had gone into town with another team. We each had our zones to search, but at one point we all met up. The other group (Danelle and Chelsea of team 4, and Dan and Casey of team 3) looked somewhat stunned. They told us of 2 addresses they had just been to. This is the first, in Danielle's words:

Deserted street, very quiet, power lines draped across the road. The address we were to investigate was on the second level of the house. We all walked slowly up to the house, trying to figure out how to gain entry. There were pillars on either side of the porch. I took a step to the right of the driveway, hoping to see a set of stairs that could lead us to the second floor. It took me several seconds to realize what I was seeing instead.

The dark tan sunbaked remains of a large dog was hanging from the chain link fence. We all stared at it in sadness and horror. He looked to be a lab or maybe a rhodesian ridgeback. It had one front leg caught between the house and the fence, the other was over top of the fence. Its thick leather collar was snagged on the fence, caught as he had tried to jump over the fence to escape. I could only hope that the collar had helped to end the animals's life without prolonged suffering. The four of us stood there silently looking over the body. It was in a moderate state of decomposition; its teeth and part of the jaw were exposed, as well as some of the foot bones.

Chelsea and Dan entered the house to check for more animals. None were found, and the house was severely contaminated with mold, so the finished quickly. We left to meet the other team.

An hour later we were more cheerful and focused on the job at hand, but still very distracted by the thought of the owner returning home and finding that their dog had almost made it. We all knew we had to go back.

Dan and Casey carefully lifted the dog off the fence and laid it on the ground beside the porch. "Sorry, friend", I heard. Someone before us had spray painted a message on a sheet of plastic fencing laying in the driveway. It read "1 dead dog-so sorry".

I know this experience was very difficult for all of us; my eyes still well up whenever I think about it. I don't think Chelsea and I could have prepared for something like that.

I should also mention that Casey and Dan had gone on search and rescue every day they were in LA. I admire their selflessness and determination. Thanks guys--you're amazing.

I went out with Dan and Casey my first day of search and rescue as well, and I agree, they are amazing. When this group told me that they had gone back to such a horrifying sight, so that the owner would not have to see it, I knew that they understood what I think many of the volunteers had forgotten. That each of these pets had a person attached to them in some way, that had already lost SO much. It seemed as though some of the search and rescue teams were mostly interested in how many THEY found. I think it had become a feel good story for them, instead of being unbelievably grateful that any had been found period, by anyone. Wanting so badly to help, going through all these houses and not finding anything was so frustrating...And then realizing that this was a good thing, that it meant that the pet had either made it out themselves, or already been rescued. My thanks to my team for always remembering that the people attached to the animal appreciated that we were out there, even if we didn't find their pet. Or if it was bad news, they at least were not left wondering what had happened to their precious family member.

More to come.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Team 4, Day 2

Well, we are here at the New Orleans airport on our way home, flying out to Atlanta first, then into Seattle. It has been a long week, but a good week. I am going to try and get Tuesday posted for you now, but I have only 25 minutes, so we'll see how far I get.

I went out on search and rescue again today (Tuesday). Some of our team went to the Posada shelter. Posada was a group out of Washington State who have dealt with animal disasters before. They were on someones farm, and were using the barn and a corrall. People would drive through the barn with the animals they had rescued, and they would be triaged and examined, and then they would be admitted. They would be given dewormer, flea control and any medical treatment needed, then placed in a kennel.

We drove into town, and waited at a major intersection for our other vehicle to catch up. City is still very quiet, not much activity. I went around a building while we were waiting, and on the side of the building across the lane was a business that had the siding ripped off. I started to take a picture, as it seemed to me SO indicative of the destruction. As I was focussing, I realized that the picuter could never get across what I was experiencing. The picture didn't smell of decay. You couldn't hear the siding sliding and scraping across the wood underneath. You couldn't see that that noise would have been totally drowned out by the traffic on that corner, had the city not been empty. There was no way that that picture would do justice to what the owners of the business would have been feeling because of the damage to their building. I didn't take the shot.

We were in a poorer area of New Orleans today. Our first rescue (well, actually, our only one) was a kitten that someone had found in a dumpster and had given to the army. The army called us and we went to where they were sheltered. It was about 5-6 weeks old, covered in fleas, so anemic from the fleas that its gums were white, and could hardly lift its head. Kat must have picked off 100 fleas off that little baby over the course of the day. She syringed her water, and attempted syringing food, on and off throughout the day, until we could get it to the Posada shelter an hour away.

We went to a house that there had been reports that there was a dog. We walked through the front door, and a couch had been moved so that you had to balance yourself on it to get between it and the open door. I glanced at it briefly, and thought 'that's a nice floral pattern'. Then, when my hand slipped over the surface, I realized that the 'flowers' were actually 3 different colors of mold that had grown in flowery patterns. Yellow, black and brownish mold. Sure glad we had masks. We searched the house, and then I removed my gloves and left them there, as I didn't want anyone to be breathing that in the vehicle while we were driving.

We went into another house that said there was a dog. The wrought iron fencing had been pulled out from around the porch, and there was a broken window. We went inside, avoiding the downed power lines (there was still no electricity in many part of the city). We went through the window, and we could immediately see that the dog had been trapped inside for a length of time, but he was no longer there. There was water damage everywhere. There was a lot of feces all over the floor. A bag of chips had been ripped open and licked clean, a small snack I am sure for a starving dog that hadn't eaten. The dog bowls were pushed under the couch; I could see the dog trying to lick every last morsel of food and water out of them, and getting them stuck under the couch in his efforts. I think that is what is hardest for me, being able to put myself in the animals position, and thinking about what it must have been like for them, wondering where there people were, why they were so hungry and thursty, when was someone going to come and get them. We searched under beds and in closets, but there was not dog there. I hope that he got out through the broken window, and was picked up as a stray and is in some nice shelter somewhere.

Well, I still have much to say about Tuesday, but my time is up. We will not be getting home until early tomorrow morning (Sunday), so I will not be posting again until at least Sunday evening. Thanks for continuing to read.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Full and Emotional Days

Well, now I understand the difficulty teams have been having posting to the blog. There is no time! There is a meeting every morning at 5:30 for any rescue or feed and water teams that are going into the city. We are out there until 5:30 or 6:00 pm, then have to return to the shelter of the day (sometimes an hour away) to have the pets paper work completed, examined, given flea and worming medication, fed and watered and put into a kennel. Then the drive back to the Lamar-Dixon grounds, grab some dinner and shower, and it is 11pm, and you need to go to sleep. If you are not out in the field, you are walking, feeding, medicating, intaking and organizing at the shelter. And it is all worth it :-)

I have been trying to write things down at least, so that I don't forget anything so that I can post it. Some things I have wanted to forget... For that reason, please be aware that some of the things I will be writing here will be difficult to read.

I drove into Gonzales from New Orleans Airport with Donna. There were many signs down on the highway, the air as soon as you stepped off the plane was muggy and smelled of mold and mildew. There were huge fans in the airport, not running, but obviously had been used. Driving down the highway I saw a Public Storage facility that had the walls completely ripped off, and someones belongings were hanging there. Amazing. Coming from a place where we get maybe 80km/hr winds, it is hard to understand how wind can do that much damage.

On Monday, I went into the city with some of the group that had been here for a few days, Rebecca, Dan, and Casey. They were a fun group to be with, and it was nice to be with people who had done this, and knew the ropes. We had an area that we were assigned to. We were to be going to houses of people that had called and said they had to leave their animals, and could we check on them. (At first the rescue groups were just going to houses that they heard animals and getting them out) We drove into the city, and just before our exit, the group with us got a flat tire. They called us on the walkie talkie to tell us what had happened, so we turned around to give them a hand. But the highways here are really confusing, the on ramps are all elevated, and it is sometimes very difficult to get back going the way you came. By the time we did, a nice Sheriff had stopped to help them, and sent us on our way. The team went to get their tire fixed, and then went on to the shelter in Raceland to help out there, and we continued on to our area. I was very silent, just taking in all the damage I was seeing. Cars are all up on the meridian (either driven up there by residents in the hopes of keeping them from being flooded, or moved up there by the army/city workers to get the streets clear). The water marks are very obvious on the cars, you can see how high the water was. Up to the top of windows of an SUV in places. Black water marks on the buildings up 3, 4 up to 6 feet high. Hard to imagine what it looked like when the water was there. There were street lights down, red, yellow and green lying in the street. Many street signs were twisted and turned so that you couldn't tell which streets were which. I can't get wind that does that. Cars in lots, an entire lot of brand new Toyotas, covered in white salty residue, pushed up against, on top of, and over each other. Trees down everywhere. Branches, garbage and debris all over the medians, cleaned up and moved out of the streets. Very little traffic, few cars on the street, very few people. No power, no street lights, just temporary stop signs, and mostly ignored, as there is so little traffic. Lots of traffic rules broken, the wrong way up one way streets, left turns where not allowed, lots of u-turns, as there is simply no one to run into. We had credentials (basically your license photocopied onto a letter from the NOPD Chief) that allowed us into the city if police stopped us, but with "Animal Rescue" written on the side of the vehicles, any police that we did see smiled and waved at us. Or stopped us and told us where they had seen dogs or cats loose. Residents also, the very few that we saw, would wave at us as we drove by. The people here are so amazing, wonderfully spirited. "How y'all doin'" was a very familiar refrain.

We arrived at our first address, put on boots, gloves and mask, and entered through the open front door. Behind the couch was what was once a beautiful big Rottweiller. He had been dead for awhile. It was not unexpected to see this sort of thing, but horrible to come across. I don't think I can put into words what it was like. I keep starting sentences and then deleted them, because what comes out is not right. I wanted to get down, and give him a pat, and tell him how sorry I was, but there are obviously health hazards to that. So I said a little prayer, and closed the door quietly behind me. We were immediately flagged down by a woman 3 doors down, who told us that the next door neighbor had a cat and that it was wandering around. The cat then came up to us. The neighbor said that she had not seen the owner at all, and wasn't sure if she would be coming back. We picked up the kitty, and went to see if we could find a piece of mail or something that we could use to find the owner. We went around to a back door, and it was open. (There was a window that was broken on the side of the house, but we always checked for open doors before going through windows. We pushed through, and I found an insurance document with a name. While I was doing that, Dan went through to the living room, and there was a bunny in a glass cage. He put his front feet up on the edge of the cage and looked at us as if to say "What took you so long". I couldn't believe it. How in the world could a rabbit survive 5 weeks? His nails were unbelievably long, curling around on themselves, he was thin, but he was alive. We took him out and put him in a kennel with some water, which he immediately slurped up. Someone found a cell phone bill, which had the owners number on it, so we called her. She was very happy we had found her pets, but then immediately asked how we had gotten into her house. We explained that the human rescue teams had come through, and we just went through her door. She said that she would not be back into town until Sunday, so we told her how she could find her pets when she returned. She told us where we could find bunny food in her house, so we took that and moved on to our next address.

We went through about 30 more houses that day, but found only fish. Their water was very dirty, but they were alive, so we put their aquarium in a cat kennel. We saw many loose cats throughout the day, but we could not get near them, so we just put out food and water for them. Basically a bag of food cut open and a large tin turkey roasting pan full of water. We went by a house that was not on our list, but as we were driving by I saw a dog lying by the fence. I got Dan to stop and we backed up. I thought the dog was tied up, but as we approached he took off. We put out food and water for him. The way he was lying in the yard, behind the broken fence, I am sure that he lived there. I am certain that as soon as we were out of the area, he would be back to wait for whoever he was waiting for. That one will stay with me. He was so scared that he didn't want to have anything to do with us, but he was sure as heck going to go back home and wait for his people. I cannot imagine how scared those poor critter must have been in all that wind and rain. I just hope his people come home to him.

We were stopped by a woman who said that she couldn't care for her cat as she was leaving, and could we take it for her. Her neighbor had heard the cat the day before. She didn't have keys to her house, she would have to go through the window, but some keys were being brought over. We went into the house, and there was cat feces every foot. The carpet was absolutely soaking wet and squished when we walked. It was very dark in the house, no lights, and the houses are so close together, not much light gets through the windows. We grabbed our flashlights and started looking. Under beds, couches, in closets, behind furniture. Upstairs, in the attic, no kitty to be found. There was a terrible odor in t he bathroom, the smell of rotten. We could not see the kitty anywhere, including behind the washer. There was many, many flies. There was an open bag of wet cat food in there, moldy, so it could have been that, but I think when she clears that room out, he may be in there. She asked if we thought he could be dead in there somewhere and I gently replied that was a very real possibility. She thanked us for looking, and we left. I left feeling as if she didn't have enough to deal with, with cleaning up here house, she was now going to have to deal with her cat. Very sad.

It was getting late, so we started to head out to the shelter. As we were heading out, we were stopped by some people in a truck, who told us of a cat they had seen that was not able to walk well, and told us where to find it. So we turned around, and went to the address. We searched for awhile, and then a skinny, wobbly old kitty came out to us. She looked just stunned. We quickly got her something to eat, which she gobbled down very quickly. It was so great to be able to find here, and give her some relief. She had the sweetest little face. We put her in the kennel with more food and water, and headed out again. We had a very difficult time finding the highway, kept getting turned around. Again we were stopped by someone who had seen a dog running loose. We stopped to quickly fill up a feed station, when behind us a pack of dogs went running by. 6 dogs, 4 and then 2, went running across the street. They hardly gave us a look. Just on their way, returned to mostly feral ways. Different breeds, shepherd crosses, maybe an australian shepherd cross. Like nothing I have seen. Just 6 dogs that had banded together to increase their chances of survival. They just found some of their own, and continued to live. If this is how it is now, we will find a way to survive. We could learn a lesson in acceptance from them, I think. We went to the parking lot where the dog was seen and we saw a very lame dog. He looked SO sore. He was walking as though every step was excruciating. We got out to see if we could get him, but he immediately started to run. So we immediately stopped. We didn't want to cause him any more pain by making him run away from us. We dropped some food and water for him. I wished I had some Metacam that I could've put in the food in the hopes of giving him some relief! As we were getting back into our vehicles, the police drove over and told us that we would want to be getting out of the city NOW, as darkness was falling, and there had been reports of shots fired every night. No problem we said, we would love to get out, could they direct us? They did, and off we went to the shelter.

The drive to the shelter was about an hour and a bit away. When we arrived, we had to wait in the intake line, so we had a look around. Hundreds of animals were sheltered already, of every kind. After our animals were taken in, the folks from the other team headed for home, but I stayed behind to help my team with intake and treatments. We finally returned home about 11pm, with a dinner of McDonalds. It was an emotional day, and we sat around outside the volunteer tent, where we slept, and had a chat and a beer. I was tired, but I needed to debrief and talk about what had happened throughout the day. I finally got to bed at about 2 am, and was up again the next morning for the 5:30 meeting.

I was hoping to get totally caught up with this tonight, but my fingers are starting to cramp. I know that there are many people reading this with family members that have either already come, or are here now, so I apologize with not keeping it updated more often. Know that we are all very well, and appreciating that we can help. And appreciating all of your support. I will post again as soon as I can.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Overnight Flight

At long last! We arrived in LA this morning at 9AM local time, after flying out of Seattle yesterday at 5PM. LONG layover in Salt Lake City, shorter one in Atlanta, then short jaunt back to New Orleans. Yep, crossed 3 time zones and then went back one. No one was really able to sleep on the plane, but caught a couple hours in the early morning in Atlanta. Arrived tired, but pumped. The 13 members of our group are Tara Lee, Kari Ann, Jessica, Gord, Brendan, Danielle, Chelsea, Jackie, Chris, Jen, Michelle, Sarah, and myself, Kirsten. Team 3 is also here, a team of 14, including 4 vets. The photo here is of the bridge that crosses Lake Pontchartrain, driving from New Orleans to Gonzales.

We picked up our rental vehicles and drove the hour to the Shelter at Lamar-Dixon Expo Grounds. We got settled in the volunteer tent, and Donna took us on a tour of all the barns that house the animals, and showed us where the important setups were (food, showers, washrooms). We had some lunch of hamburgers, and then we were ready to get to work, but unfortunately at that time, there was nothing we could help with. They have been clearing out this shelter, sending well animals out to shelters and foster homes around the country. They asked us to come back at 4pm to help out with a big move at that time (they were consolidating the 'residents' of 2 different barns to be able to turn the grounds back over to the Expo grounds). Most of went and caught a bit of sleep, and then returned at 4PM. The move had already been accomplished, but they were looking for teams to feed and water the dogs. They ended up having many too many people there for the numbers of animals, so a few of us went up to the hospital tent to see what we could do there. They didn't need help there either, so we are left feeling a little useless today. Hard to come in in the middle of the day, when all the teams have already been given their assignments. So we will take it easy tonight, and be ready to go very early tomorrow morning.

Pics of a few of the pets in the shelter today. The dogs often lie on their backs like this, trying to stay cool. Very warm and humid here, and although each stall has at least one, and usually 3, fans going, it is tough for these guys to cool off. The cats also are stretched right out, never curled up in the tidy way that cats do. Many of them are also 'open mouth' breathing...a sure sign of stress or respiratory distress at home, but them just trying to cool off here. As you can see, they are stacked on top of one another in a lot of instances. They don't seem to mind much, however. The dogs are no longer as crowded. 'Families' or bonded pairs are kept together as much as possible, if not in the same kennel, then at least within sight of each other.

Tomorrow we expect to have a meeting at 5:30AM to find out our assignments for the day. I hope to post about it tomorrow night.


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