Saving the pets, one by one
Posted: Wednesday, September 7 at 05:14 pm CT by Mike Brunker
SLIDELL, La. – We’ve written and photographed some surprisingly positive people during our travels among Katrina’s outcasts, but the inhabitants of the animal rescue center here take upbeat to a new level. The tail-wagging alone seems sufficient to cool the warehouse that is home to more than 400 pets and other animals left behind when their owners raced to safety.
The shelter is run by staff and volunteers from Noah’s Wish, a Northern California-based non-profit that aims to apply the Red Cross disaster model to animals. Based on what we’ve seen here today, it works amazing well.
Zona Marchand hugs her dogs Game (left) and Kira before leaving them at the Noah's Wish emergency animal shelter in Slidell, La. Wednesday. The Marchand family's home was completely destroyed and they have moved into a motel in Baton Rouge, where 10 people share their room. "It's like having to leave my children," she says. Marchand was unsure when they would be reunited and the shelter will care for the pets until then. (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)
Slidell’s abandoned dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, birds and reptiles benefited from a relationship established several years ago between Noah’s Wish and the city’s animal control agency. That enabled the two paid members of Noah’s Wish – director Terri Crisp and training manager Sheri Thompson – to mobilize volunteers even before the storm made landfall and to have the center open one week ago today, just two days after the storm hit.
“We knew this was coming one day … and (the preparation) is what allowed us to set up so quickly … and allowed the animals to survive,” says Crisp.
Touring the metal warehouse housing most of the animals, we are stunned by the sophistication of the operation, particularly since the Noah’s Wish response team travels light and then quickly assembles a rescue center and shelter in the disaster zone, relying on local humane societies, pet stores and individual contributions for such supplies as food, water and cages.
A massive fan pumps fresh air into the building, which has a triage center for animals that require medical care manned by two veterinarians and four veterinary technicians.
Throughout the rest of the building, volunteers rush to and fro along narrow walkways between stacked cages of cats and smaller animals and bigger ones for dogs, maintaining complex schedules for exercise and bathroom breaks that would make an air traffic control officer dizzy. The volunteers, who undergo a three-day training session and annual refresher course, pay their own way to work the disasters.
In one corner, a brilliantly colored green-wing macaw stands tall in its cage, taking in the scene and occasionally crying out the only word it seems to know: “Mama!”
“Mama’s coming,” volunteers assure the bird
Outside, another “mama” is in tears, saying goodbye to her two dogs. Zona Marchand says it feels like she’s giving away her children, but all 10 members of her family are living in a hotel in Baton Rouge and they can’t care for the animals until they repair their badly damaged house.
Fortunately for Marchand and others in Slidell whose pets have been left to fend for themselves after the storm, Noah’s Wish will arrange for foster care for as long as it’s needed and promises to find permanent homes for the animals that go unclaimed. No animals will be euthanized unless it’s medically necessary, they vow.
“They’ve lost so much,” Thompson says of the owners. “We don’t want to have to tell them they’ve lost something else.”
During our visit to the rescue center, we told of our encounter at a Red Cross shelter with Bill Harris, the Slidell man who says he escaped death thanks to his “miracle” cat, Miss Kitty. After hearing his story, an obviously moved Crisp arranges for us to accompany an animal control officer and a Noah’s Wish volunteer to go check Harris’ condominium and see if we can find any sign of the missing feline. Check back later and we’ll tell you what we found there.
Fans blow cool air into the kennels at the Noah's Wish shelter in Slidell, Miss., Wednesday. Temperatures in Slidell reach the mid-90s Wednesday and shelter workers were constantly watering the animals to keep them cool. (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)
'Miss Kitty? Are you there?'