2 Day Old Baby Will Only Sleep In My Arms Hurricane Katrina: Animal Rescuer’s First Trip to the Gulf

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Hurricane Katrina: Animal Rescuer’s First Trip to the Gulf

Part 1

Like most of America, I watched the devastation of Katrina unfold on television. I work from home and keep a TV in my office. The disturbing images of Katrina’s anger, reminded me. It wasn’t long,

before I saw animals in the television shots of the destruction. They were everywhere, rooftops, watching from windows, swimming for their lives and

being carried through the flood waters in the arms of his owner. I kept thinking… someone has to do something for these animals. I can remember a feeling of helplessness and panic. “Why isn’t someone doing something?”

One morning, about a week after the storm, sitting at my desk watching animals struggling for survival on TV… I heard a voice… a loud voice… “You have to go!” It almost sounded like it was coming over my shoulder, though

I was alone in the house. I never once questioned what I heard, it was so powerful! Immediately, I started emailing all the large animal groups that were headed for the

region, offering to help. Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA and many more. I kept getting automated email replies of: “we’ll get back to you”, and I started getting

very impatient I felt that my 20 years of experience with exotic birds could be put to good use…somewhere in the area. I waited impatiently to hear from someone for two days. Finally I said “to hell with this!!” and literally packed my car and got out, not knowing exactly where I was going, nor what I would do. I heard about a holding area, Lamar Dixon Equestrian Center in Gonzales Louisiana, where they took all kinds of animals that were rescued. I thought I’d start there.

What made me think that I have something to offer to the situation, I have no idea?

I am not a particularly brave person and my only real qualification was, an intense love of animals. All of them, not just parrots.

With my little Volkswagen, a Cabrio, packed to the gills, with a tent I borrowed, a sleeping bag, boxes of granola bars, canned nuts, crackers, 6 cases of bottled water, 15 gallons of gas in gas tanks, Gatorade, a few weeks worth of jeans and shirts, boots, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and baby wipes. I jumped on I-10 west and headed for Louisiana. Little did I know that the person who walked out that day…would not be the person who came back.

Armed with Map Quest directions, I spent the next 16 hours on a trip that Map Quest said would take 8-9 hours. I-10 was filled with all kinds of relief workers, power company trucks, church groups, heavy equipment trucks and semis. Their license plates were from all over the east coast. I would see groups of about 20 power company trucks, riding close together, with their matching Power Company Logos on the sides of their trucks. There were endless trailers from different phone companies, police departments and fire departments and trucks, filled with chainsaws, bottled water and workers, all heading west. Everyone rushed to help that day. The feeling of being on that highway, that day, was scary and electrifying at the same time.

The traffic progressed steadily until I reached the Mississippi border. The traffic became a parking lot of slow crawling vehicles. This is where I first started

seeing the signs of Katrina’s anger. The first thing I noticed was the huge billboards along the highway were damaged. The heavy +3ft metal bars that held them up were twisted like pretzels. With every mile, the damage got worse, and

in the end there were no signs. No freeway signs, no exits … no signs PERIOD. I saw mattresses strewn along the freeway and clothes hanging in the trees that bordered the expressway. The houses I could see had roof damage and many had new blue tarps to replace the shingles that were once there.

By the time I reached the I-10 Pascagoula Bridge, all traffic had to be diverted to the west side. A barge took out a huge span from the east bound side of the double bridge during the storm. I remember thinking, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Little did I know then how profound that statement would be. So far I have only glimpsed what lay before me.

At one point the traffic just trotted along, a few feet at a time. This went on for hours. There was a guy on a Harley right in front of me whose bike was packed with bags. I finally pulled my car next to him so we could talk… I was crazy about these snails. He was headed to Biloxi, from Tampa Florida. He was a trauma nurse and volunteered for a week to help in a hospital. I wish I could have talked to more of those people on I-10 that day. They all had a story, where they came from…where they were going and what they were going to do. Seeing this outpouring of love touched my heart deeply.

The further I drove, the destruction continued to worsen. It’s a strange feeling to be walking down a highway and not know where you are. The lack of signs turned out to be very worrying for me and in the end I had to pull off the highway, find someone just to ask “Where am I?”, to get some kind of lagment. I approached a half-destroyed insurance office where I saw 2 men trying to recover some items from their damaged business. They asked where I was going, and I told them I was going to Gonzales, Louisiana. They wanted to know why I was going there and I told them I wanted to help the animals. The one man’s face lit up, and he began to tell me all about his Jack Russell. He even pulled out his wallet and showed me his little picture of “Jack”. It was obvious how just the thought of his animal put a smile on his face. As I was leaving, this man said, “Thank you for coming to help us” It was extremely awkward to hear this, and I shouted out “You’re welcome”. I found out I was somewhere outside of Gulfport, Mississippi and I continued on.

What was scary in the daylight became even scarier at night. However, the darkness spared me the sight of destruction along the interstate. I knew it was there…

and my imagination began to go into double time. I would find out later that my imagination didn’t even come close to the terrifying reality.

I was so ready to get somewhere where I could get out of my car. There were no rest stops along the highway, they were all closed, as most of them no longer existed and their entrances were all barricaded. Needless to say, toilets were reduced to a paper cup I found in my car. My directions on Map Quest were rendered useless as the suggested highways were no longer open. Everyone had to go through Baton Rouge and backtrack.

Finally I arrived in Gonzales, Louisiana at 11:00 PM, and found the Lamar Dixon Equestrian Center. There was a checkpoint gate that was manned by the National Guard. After all this travel, they didn’t want to let me in. JAK!! Fortunately for me, I have a knack for talking my way into or out of situations. My mouth started running and sounded like I knew what I was doing. After a lot of my BS, they finally let me in! I sometimes wonder what I would have done if they hadn’t made that decision to let me go that night. Who knows, but I’m sure I’d come up with something.

The first thing I saw were tents everywhere and I could hear dogs barking in the distance.

I headed for the dogs. Lamar Dixon is a huge expo center. The 6 “barns” contain approximately 960 horse stalls. I eventually found myself at Barn 6 wandering around; trying to find someone who knew what was going on. Dogs were EVERYWHERE…hundreds of them. There were just a few people, cleaning wire crates and walking some dogs. I learned that the “responsible” had gone to bed. Someone saw me standing there and asked me to walk a dog. I was given a leash that had a very skinny white Pit Bull attached to it. He looked at me with little scared poor eyes and we started. The first things that struck me where how loud it was with all the dogs barking, the heat and how huge this place was. When I returned the dog to the barn, a girl asked me where I was sleeping. I shrugged and she suggested I pitch my tent near hers. I followed her to a back corner on the compound. It was dark and I had never pitched a tent before. So she and another guy who was in a tent in the area helped me.

As tired as I was from the journey, I could hardly sleep. It was so very hot and humid and there was not a single air movement anywhere. I finally had to take off all my clothes and lie down with just a sheet covering as little as possible. It’s hard to sleep when you have sweat pouring out of every pore on your body. Eventually exhaustion got the better of me, and I dozed off. Morning came quickly…

to be continued…

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