Excerpt from RESCUED: Saving
Animals from Disaster by Allen and Linda Anderson, New World Library,
Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.
12: The Volunteers Who Came to Help: What Were They Thinking?
What were they thinking?
The people who volunteered after Hurricane Katrina
were thinking that the animals needed them.
While millions evacuated, animal
lovers headed toward the ravaged, toxic Gulf Coast. Later they would remember
that it felt as if they were answering an inner call. Many would say, “It was
not a decision. I had to go. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.”
Some stayed for a week or two
weeks. Some returned repeatedly as if addicted to the drug of selfless service.
Some used up all of their vacation time. They lost or quit their jobs rather
than leave fellow rescuers to battle on without them. They gave each other
nicknames like Boston Bob or Possum Lady. They found like-minded people and
formed friendships that will last a lifetime.
When they least expected it, they
were aided by corporate giants like Winn-Dixie, Wal-Mart, UPS, PETCO, PetSmart,
Continental Airlines, and T. Boone Pickens. National Guard and Coast Guard
personnel, police officers, and firefighters carried puppies to them or showed
them where animals were trapped in flooded houses.
Animal lovers toughed out Hurricane
Rita and refused to abandon the thousands of animals who still needed them.
They grew angry, cantankerous, and vocal. Most learned to work together with
people who did not share their approaches and philosophies. Some became
frustrated with the slowness of bureaucracies and splintered off to form their
own organizations. Some broke laws and made up their own rules. Months later
they still did not know the work others had done in different parts of
Louisiana and Mississippi. They may never know the rewards and consequences of
their actions for themselves and for other people and animals.
In federal documents prior to
Hurricane Katrina, evacuation and rescue planning referred to animals as
“nuisances.” Animal evacuation plans, if there were any, fell under the
jurisdiction of the state departments of agriculture and the state
veterinarians’ offices, with little regard for pets as members of families and
for the deeply felt warmth that exists between people and animals who share
homes. No national regulations allowed for the significance of the human-animal
bond. Those who went to help after Hurricane Katrina did not realize that
senators, congressional representatives, and CDC, FEMA, and Homeland Security
officials were trying to make disaster relief better and more humane for farm
animals, wildlife, and pets.
After Hurricane Katrina hundreds of
state, city, and national organizations cooperated in unprecedented ways. Media
coverage made stars out of animal control officers and independent rescuers.
Television crews followed them around; filmmakers and photojournalists
documented sanitized versions of their “adventures” in animal rescue.
The staff of local and state animal
shelters and veterinarian clinics set aside worries about their own families
and their own destroyed homes to transport animals in their care and to set up
makeshift triage centers. With cell phones and land lines gone, they had little
communication from the outside world or with their loved ones. They hoped that
others, elsewhere, were mobilizing help for them.
Volunteers and animal organizations
from the United States and Canada as well as visitors from other countries
sweated together in 100-degree temperatures and 100 percent humidity. They
waded through poisonous waters, leaped over barbed-wire fences to face the
snarls of frightened dogs and the claws of terrified cats. They wore face
masks, wader boots, and plastic gloves. They fended off mold, rot, sunburn,
mosquitoes, snakes, and alligators. They endured the unforgettable stench of
death and decay while crawling under houses, climbing onto rooftops, or
stepping over deceased human and animal remains.
They drove miles and miles trying
to find addresses on streets with no signs. They spray-painted messages onto
houses for other rescuers and pet owners to find. They rooted through mail
looking for cell phone numbers to call. Most of them followed with military
precision, the Incident Command System, the national structure that is part of
NIMS (National Incident Management System) and provides an approved set of
disaster response protocols.
One Else Would
Volunteers scooped tons of poop and
kitty litter. They hoisted twenty-five-pound bags of food and lugged thousands
of gallons of bottled water, constantly reminding each other to stay hydrated.
They vowed never to eat another granola bar or military ration meal again. The
vegetarians and vegans among them used the meat from prepackaged meals to lure
hungry dogs into crates.
Animal lovers tried to call home
when an occasional phone worked. They got busy and forgot to take prescription
medications, yet everyday aches and pains disappeared. They felt adrenaline
rushes and helpers’ highs. Sitting around late-night campfires, they wondered
how they could return to mind-numbing day jobs and cluttered cubicles. Some
resolved to find more meaningful work that would allow them to keep on saving
In the few hours they slept, many
lay on cots in FEMA tents, on the concrete pavement of parking lots, or in the
backseats of their cars and minivans. Many endured nightmares of images that
had been seared indelibly into their minds. Some showed symptoms of
post-traumatic stress disorder. Some stayed longer than they were effective and
had to be told by others to go home.
Some volunteers took one look at
the devastation and burst into tears. They immediately left, feeling horrified,
saddened, and defeated and waited in deserted airports for the next flights out
of stricken areas.
What were they thinking?
They were thinking that the animals
and people needed to be together again.
Excerpt from RESCUED: Saving Animals
from Disaster by Allen and Linda Anderson, New World Library, Copyright
2006. All rights reserved.
18: Today’s Sanctuaries and Animal Shelters
Today’s Animal Shelters
Today’s animal shelters and
sanctuaries are not the dog pounds of the past. They are no longer dingy, sad
courts of last resort for throwaway animals. Today’s animal shelters are
vibrant organizations offering educational and recreational programs,
people-friendly environments, and expertise that makes them vital members of
their communities. In many areas they are private, nonprofit charities with
hundreds of volunteers dedicated to the welfare of humans and animals.
While the quality of care given by
animal shelters across the country continues to increase, some trouble spots
remain. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explains on its
website that shelters in America vary widely in their practices. “Some animal
shelters are wonderful places; others are hideous dumps.” Some are funded by
local groups, others by government agencies, some with tax dollars. “Sometimes
tax money comes with a stipulation that some animals must be turned over to
experimenters. Every effort should be made to eliminate this policy, which is
known as “pound seizure,” the group explains.3
Animal shelters located in less
affluent areas face their own unique set of obstacles. Niki Dawson is the
shelter manager for the Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City in an inner-city
area. Her proudest achievement is helping indigent and needy people with the
kind of proper food and care for their pets that they would not be able to
afford with their own resources. Her shelter’s “Pet it, don’t sweat it” program
does free neutering for dogs and low-cost spay-neuter for cats. The shelter
works with human food banks and social service agencies to get pet supplies to
people who need them and to counsel those who have problems with their pets.
Niki says, “We don’t only help animals. We help people with animals.”