Friday, September 16, 2005

How One Small Group is Saving Animals by the Thousands

How One Small Group is Saving Animals by the Thousands

--- If this is your first time here, please read earlier entries on how to help the Mississippi Humane Society shelter get back online. I know there’s a lot but this is one of the most amazing stories I have been involved in. ---

Read below on how I found myself in New Orleans.

After spending the day in Gulfport, I finished up all I can do there until I get the much needed $10k for supplies to get them up and running. Please keep donations coming – we are getting there.

We decided to try for downtown New Orleans, even though everyone told us we didn’t have a shot in hell on getting in. But fior days I have been networking online with different rescue groups and individuals on the ground there and one guy Lee has been begging me to come see how he is saving not dozens but thousands of animals with just a handful of dedicated people. He promised that if I followed his exact directions with the exact guard entry points that I would be able to get right in. Taking the Causeway over Lake Ponchartrain; its very eery being one of the only cars on the entire bridge. Once we got farther into town, it was like scenes from the movie ‘28 Days Later’, where the guy wakes up in the hospital and walks into a completely deserted city. I’ll describe more later but it was one of the weirdest things I have ever experienced, a city completely deserted. Military, FEMA, and police are everywhere, racing around in cars. There are no other vehicles except for lots of animal rescue groups, which have been exceptionally skillful into getting in.

I followed Lee’s directions and gave his name at the checkpoints and got right in. When we got into the city, it was almost completely dark. Electricity lines are all over the ground. There’s barely room to get through the trees cut down by the storm and later chain saws. As I finally pulled up to Lee’s site, I was completely amazed at what he and 4 others have accomplished. What started with Lee and just a few acquaintances, has now grown into half a city block of piles of pet supplies stacked high - from other rescuers and individuals dropping them off. They have turned this into their own animal evacuation area. They aren’t even supposed to be there but the guard, police, others want these animals rescued as badly as they do. There is a constant line of police and national guard vehicles dropping animals off. None of the officers are ordering them to rescue but they aren’t stopping them either. Animal lover national guard and police are all helping out as they can.

One thing you notice is that the 10-18 people here and growing daily, are all self-motivated can-do people. At the Gonzales shelter many individuals come in to work and walk the animals for a couple of hours and then go home. But there are tons of people like Lee who simply hopped on planes from the other side of the country ( he’s from San Diego and has ditched his job) came, saw the need, and are putting themselves through pure hell to save every last animal they can. It might be why I ended up with Lee because I was committed to New Orleans for all costs. Many of these can do people spend much of their morning trying to get into the city. They go from check point to check point until they someone who waves them thru.

Lee and his team have started something radical and the HSUS have also got got onboard a couple of days ago. Instead of evacuating the animals, which causes huge organizational traffic jams, they have corded off a 20 block radius around their makeshift center, and have checked every house by going to the door, knocking, blowing dog whistles to see if there are any animals inside. Once its determined that a pet is inside, they break some glass, cut a hole in the door, something, anything to get access inside. They leave enough food for 2-3 day and leave a spray paint indicator of the animal and the feeding date. Amazingly after 14 days, they are still finding animals in out of 1 of 4 houses – all loved pets. They are feeding 800-1000 animals this way, in the owners’ homes. When they do go into the house, 98% of the dogs (many are rottweilers and pitbulls) come running towards them, licking their faces - they know these people are here to save them.

Now for the tough part. What is going on here is absolutely horrific! Lee cried his way thru his first three days. Everybody, after days and days of stresses, has gotten physically ill. I couldn’t properly describe it all if I had to. There’s no vet care (some animals are on their last leg, near death but many are being saved). And many of these animals have been 15 days with little or no water. Many are injured from debris and fallen trees; and sadly large dogs are eating smaller ones. One area that is particularly dangerous are the schools – where piles of food have been left. The animals in these schools have become aggressive, fighting over the food. The rescue groups must avoid these areas. So sad that these rescuers are having to leave dozens of animals dying that they cannot save to pass on to ones that they can rescue.

Can you imagine what these people look like? Many came just days after the storm. Running on pure adrenalin, looking half dead, they are going 2-3 days at a time without sleeping. These are not animal fanatics. These are normal everyday people that are being torn apart by what is happening here in New Orleans. Their rental cars are destroyed, many are out of money. But still when they had no way to get out, they spent hours tracking down a refrigerator truck to rescue 100 trapped dogs in another part of the city. Taking many trips to complete the task. They cannot understand why they can’t get any help from the government. They have guardsmen and police on the street literally crying over the plight of the animals but they have no oders from their commanders to help with the animal evacuation. Animal groups are on their own. If they had simple support, and access, they could bring in truckloads of already donated food, they could expand this feeding effort through-out the city, saving a huge proportion of the remaining animals. But rescue teams without help are fighting a losing battle against the clock. Many animals simply cannot make it many more days. HSUS is all for a concerted city wide feeding program but is dealing with 8 different entities. With the city beginning to open up, owners are being urged to rush back to the city to gather their pets who have been safely fed in their own home. Lee and his team are terrified that the opposite will happen and that they will be pushed from the city and the 1000 animals will be left on their own. He asked me tell everyone to please please forward this who is willing to make a call or send an email to any elected official. Please forward this blog directly to them. It seems that so many people just don’t understand how bad it is down here. My description will probably do this horrifying scene no justice – its simply worse than I can describe. It’s a deserted city, no people left to save. With a flick of a switch, the government could save 30,000 to 60000 more animals in this city alone! Lee has personally spoken to the CEO of Petco that with the proper authority, he would personally donate enough pet food to cover the city in just a few days. He actually said he would drive in 20-30 semis to be dropped on corners for these groups to use in their feeding program.

Let’s have some good news! This morning I came out to Gonzales to meet Lee at the daily HSUS rescuers meeting. Some of these people are barely able to stand but yet there are 400-500 of them here at this meeting and many more are trying to catch a couple hours of sleep. These teams are still bringing in 100s of animals a day – many amazingly in good health. And yesterday, they doubled the number of owner animal re-unites form the previous day.

You have to see this place Gonzales to understand. Think Gulfwar staging area. Remember the pictures of huge amounts of equipment on the beach pre-invasion. This may be bigger. The actual area where the animals area housed is 1.4 miles long and 400 yards wide. And coming soon a complete description of Gonzalas in my 2 hours conversation with Martha Armstrong, the Senior VP of domestic animals of HSUSm in a chance meeting late last night, after things had quieted down. I sat with her and a few other people and drank a beer while they tried to relieve some stress. Understand these people are putting in 18-20 hours a day. Please consider coming down for a few days even, to walk dogs, clean cages, etc. They are desperately afraid that the current group o f people will have to leave soon and they will be left really short handed. Think about the fact that they are trying to walk 4000-5000 each day. It's incredible.

Stunning pictures coming soon once I can get to a computer.


At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you get me in to help Lee? I'll be coming from Ohio so it'll be a couple of days, but I want to help.I've got dogs, cats, bunnies, goats and a lizard. I can handle most anything. Oh, and I'm a counselor, so maybe I can help with debriefing, too.


At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time running out for pets abandoned in Hurricane Katrina: welfare group!;_ylt=Apq1M27RuQeZXuBSvNl.gdMFO7gF;_ylu=X3oDMTA5bGVna3NhBHNlYwNzc3JlbA--

At 3:59 AM, Anonymous c milam said...

What can we do to get those PetCo semi's in with the food???? Tell us and we will spread the word like wildfire.

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

I don't know what your recourses are etc. but I offered my help to just about anyone... I even talked to a local paper in LA and offered the use of my website to post pictures of found pets..knowing that time is of the essence! Petowners need to know right away where their loved ones are to than be able to follow their track. My idea was to post them on my website and start printing them in the local papers - but after a couple forth and back ... I was told that the SPCA and would take care of it...
I offered my help the day after Katrina hit - now 4 weeks later/still so many displaced pets! Anyway.. if you think my Bulletin board can be of any help.. just take a digi pic and download it as attachment. Since you can describe the pet a bit and at least the area he/she was found... petowners might be able to find their pet easier thru the search engine..

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was there at Gonzoles. I saw, I worked, I cared, I cried. I left with 3 dogs. I can now say that I have been to hell and back. I was only able to stay a week but I saw everything. People, we must get anyone and everyone to really pay attention to this. It is critical, it is devestating. These animals need our help. We are their only help. I will NEVER forget my experience there. To say conditions are bad does not say enough. To say it has never been done before, mistakes have been made and lessons learned goes without saying. However, time marches on and these animals need humans to help them. Go, see, work, cry, give these animals the love they deserve. Help them!

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