Dedicated To All The Forlorn Animals Still Being Left Behind, And To All The Rescuers, Who Still Attempt To Assist Them

“Cause you'll be in my heart,
Yes, you'll be in my heart,
From this day on,
Now, and forever more.”

Phil Collins,You’ll Be In My Heart

Katrina_cats_and_dogsIt’s hard to believe that it’s been five years now since so many lives were so drastically changed forever, on America’s Gulf Coast.  And, it’s extremely hard to believe that its present day residents are once again being forced to endure horrendous new pain and suffering from America’s latest devastating tragedy – today’s massive, never ending, life-altering, Gulf Oil Spill.

On August 28, 2005, one of the worst storms in American history - Hurricane Katrina - pounded the southern coast of the United States, with devastating effect.  More than 1,800 people lost their lives in that savage storm; more than $81 billion in damages occurred; and thousands and thousands of Gulf Coast pets were tragically ‘Left Behind’ in its wake, to fend for themselves.

In the early morning hours of August 29, 2005, Katrina’s horrendous storm surge breached the levees of New Orleans, rapidly leaving 80 percent of the city submerged, thousands of storm victims desperately clinging to rooftops, and hundreds of thousands of its former residents soon scattered to temporary living quarters all around the country.

This devastating storm also left thousands and thousands of dogs, cats, and other pets now homeless and helpless - with no human companionship, no food and water, and now, desperately fighting for their lives.

And soon, horrific images being shown on television of these left behind animals stranded on rooftops, wading through toxic, oil-tainted waters, and locked inside storm-ravaged houses with absolutely no nourishment, prompted hundreds and hundreds of animal lovers and rescuers to travel down there, from all over our nation - to do whatever they could, to assist them.

I was one of the people haunted by those horrific images; and I, like so many others, soon found myself on America’s devastated Gulf.  I made four trips there in the following weeks and months after the storm; and on each trip, I met many marvellous animals, and many extremely compassionate and dedicated rescuers.

I worked with numerous animal rescue groups and animal welfare organizations; I met numerous unpaid volunteers from all walks of life, and from all parts of our nation; and on each and every trip, I met so many magnificent animals in need – animals that that been so very tragically left behind, through absolutely no fault of their own.

Red – a storm-ravaged, back-paralyzed pit bull, with absolutely nothing but love in his heart, and a very staunch will to survive in his soul.

Mangy Dog – an extremely loyal, emaciated, mange-covered mutt – who many weeks after the storm had passed still refused to leave the broken-down steps of his destroyed home – still believing with every ounce of strength left in him that he must continue to diligently guard that house for his human family.

One-Eyed Jack – a massive, gentle, giant of a Chow, who had lost an eye in the storm, yet who somehow comforted me each night on our walks around camp, instead of the other way around.

Chico – a tiny white poodle, now completely black from head to toe – drenched in oil, who had been ripped right out of his owner’s arms, and so very cruelly tossed off an evacuation bus, to fend for himself.

Knight – a big, brave, Shepherd/Collie mix, with an even bigger heart.  He was found still valiantly protecting his best friend – a tiny, frail and blind, calico cat – weeks after the storm had passed.

There were many of these left behind victims that myself and many others down on the Gulf quickly fell in love with – each of these storm orphans had their own unique story and their own unique personality – yet, each of them also had a burning desire in their furry hearts and souls – to be re-united with their human families.

We ended up rescuing about 10,000 of these forlorn, starving, emaciated, left behind pets in the days and weeks and months that followed Hurricane Katrina; and very sadly, only a small portion of them were ever re-united with the humans they had loved.  Many of their human guardians had either perished in the storm or had now moved far away from their decimated homes, never to return.

When this horrid reality finally sunk in, we soon started pleading with animal shelters all across the nation to help out – to take  in ‘just one or two,’ to assist us in finding them loving new homes.  And, the response was enormous and gratifying – soon, we were shipping storm ravaged, left behind pets to shelters and animal welfare organizations all across America.

Thankfully, most of these pets eventually did find loving new homes.  But very sadly, some of these animal shelters and animal sanctuaries are still housing and caring for some of these Katrina survivors today – five years later.

I, like so many other rescue volunteers, felt like taking each and every one of them home; and most of us did take at least a few of these extremely needy orphans back to our own homes  – those that we ourselves could just not bear to leave behind.

For me, they were an extremely sad cat who had very quickly touched my soul, and two extremely lovable dogs.  As I look at all three of them today, and they so lovingly gaze back at me, my mind quickly wanders back to those horrific days nearly five years ago now, when I first met each of them:

Flower – an extremely lonely, withdrawn, tortoise shell feline found near death in a gutter in New Orleans, and now housed in a very hastily constructed ‘cat house,’ along with dozens and dozens of other left behind cats and kittens of all shapes, sizes, colours, and dispositions.

Every time that I wandered ‘cat row,’ sadly viewing the dozens and dozens of makeshift cages, now stacked from floor to ceiling with forlorn felines, a tiny black and cream colored paw would slowly reach out from one particular cage, and it would now cling very tightly to my arm.  I would now stop and gaze into her extremely sad and lonely eyes; and I immediately knew that I could never leave this very deserving orphan behind.

Junior – a de-hydrated, barely alive, large black dog – part Lab, part Hound, and part Who Knows What.  When I pulled him out of his small rescue crate, his eyes were swollen shut; his mouth was completely covered in dry, caked on spittle; and his breathing was extremely laboured.  I never expected him to survive – so many had not.

For some reason, I sat in the pen with him all night, stroking his dirty matted fur, and talking to him.  At morning’s first light, I left him there alone for a much needed cup of coffee.  And, as I stood outside his pen speaking to a fellow volunteer, someone yelled, “Look!  He’s moving; he’s getting to his feet; he’s still listening to your voice!”  How could I possibly leave this very determined survivor behind now?

Tater – a call had come into our pet rescue camp from a demolition crew down in Gulfport, Mississippi -  they had found a lone survivor at a devastated trailer park right on the ocean – an adorable Black Lab they had quickly named ‘Tater’ since they were tossing him French Fries, which he gratefully devoured.  “Who wants to retrieve this Tater Dog?” 

For some reason, I volunteered immediately; and I now drove the one hundred long hot miles to fetch him.  I also immediately fell in love with him when we met, and he immediately bonded with me.  When we finally got back to base camp, Tater simply refused to get out of my truck; he now felt much safer in it.  And, I guess I couldn’t blame him.

Tater and I now spent the next week in my old truck, rescuing many other animals in need, and he loved ‘riding shotgun’ with me.  I slept in my truck that entire week, and Tater slept right on top of me in the back seat.  He still thinks he’s a lap dog today; and he still very lovingly follows after me, everywhere.

When my pet rescue trips to the Gulf finally ended, and I began thinking about all of the remarkable animals and all of the compassionate animal rescuers I had met, I began penning a small book of remembrance dedicated to each and every one of them – Through Katrina’s Eyes, Poems From an Animal Rescuer’s Soul.’

I was extremely gratified when this book of remembrance received the 2006 Merial Corporation Human-Animal Bond Award.

But today, nearly five years later, I am once again extremely saddened by the horrendous new plight of America’s Gulf Coast residents and their pets, as are many other people who still care about them.

Today, these pets are once again being tragically ‘left behind’ by the hundreds, because of today’s devastating new Gulf Coast Disaster – The Oil Spill.  So many Gulf residents, who have now lost their entire livelihoods to this horrendous oil spill, can now no longer afford to feed and care for both their families and their pets.

So today, five years after Hurricane Katrina had devastated their lives, Gulf Coast pets are now once again losing both their homes and the humans that they love; and once again, they are being deposited by the hundreds at Gulf Coast animal shelters, and even worse, being left by the side of the road - to once again, fend for themselves.

And very tragically, unlike the days and weeks and months that had followed Katrina, animal shelters in other parts of our nation are no longer able to take in and care for these new homeless Gulf Coast cats and dogs – just about every animal shelter in America is now very sadly filled to the brim, and overflowing with relinquished and unwanted animals, because of our nation’s truly abysmal economy.

America’s numerous homeless pets today, have absolutely nowhere left to go, and very little hope left.

Please Find It In Your Heart To Help At Least One of Them – Please Adopt; Don’t Shop.

Please Continue To Support America’s Many Animal Welfare Organizations, and The Many Extremely Dedicated Animal Rescuers Throughout Our Nation, And Throughout The World, Who Still Care About Them, Including Many Who Are In Our Armed Forces.

And Please Watch This Heartfelt Video, Dedicated To Animal Rescuers, Everywhere:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITf57kOoVjg&feature=related

Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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