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Account by Doll Stanley, September 1st, 2005
(Excerpted from Doll Stanleyís Project Hope Diary on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005)
Where do you begin? At Project Hope we constantly face abrupt challenges, immediate disruptions in agenda, and mission. Iíve so often noticed my sense of feeling that I stand at the ocean shore and feel as though a tidal wave is headed my way and I have to stand my ground, or be cowardly swept away. While that feeling seems real, it pales before the reality of the devastation that has just swept over our region.
Where do you begin when you first hear that a more powerful storm than has ever touched American soil in recorded history is headed for not only the coast of the region you work, but will very likely roar right on through the entire region, and beyond?
In the last few weeks, I participated in Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) training, as well as an exercise in setting up an emergency response animal shelter, both sponsored in keen foresight by the Mississippi Animal Board of Health. While much of the information was old hat and common sense, the exercise, and the heightened awareness of the need for preparedness couldnít possibly have come at a more eerily appropriate time.
Despite the absence of a mechanism to activate a response from team members, and because of the fact that it was a Sunday and I was unable to reach anyone, I was pretty sure that the Jackson, MS fairgrounds would be a main site for sheltering animals displaced, because of the storm.
As reports that Katrinaís winds would reach the Jackson area at hurricane strength, Gay and I determined that we had to get to Raymond and Flora, MS to move IDAís Debbie Young and volunteer Cindy Bailey and their animals to safer sites. Both of their homes are mobile.
The evacuation of Cindyís dogs wasnít without kinks. Kate Colson, neighbor to Debbie, a person responsible for several happy endings to horse cases weíve worked, offered Cindyís dogs refuge in an area of her barn. Gay and I had set up our crates for the dogs and were set to move them when we heard news that Katrinaís winds might now bring gusts of as much as 100 miles an hour to Kateís area. Cindy scrambled to find another haven.
Time was running out. I was glued to Mississippi Public Radioís minute-by-minute updates on Katrina. Her move on shore had picked up, and the earlier-than-expected rain was now joined by high winds. The trees around us were blowing violently and a snap decision had to be made. We left Cindy and her dogs in safe hands. Debbie raced home to see the storm out with her animals, and we prayed that the hundreds of trees surrounding her property would break the wind, and spare her, her rescued dogs, and home. There was no time to move them.
We agreed to take Laurie with us. We were headed for the relief shelter that I knew would be set up in one of the exposition areas next to the Coliseum. People fleeing Katrina would be pouring in from Louisiana and from half of our state. They would need our help and shelters operated by the Red Cross donít allow animals.
Our friends at the Mississippi Animal Rescue League (MARL), so named because at their founding they were likely the only shelter in the state, were joined by Caroline (her last name eludes me), from the Louisiana SPCA (LSPCA) who was aiding with the relief effort. The LASPCA had just evacuated their animals to Citizens for Animal Protection - a host shelter in Houston, Texas. I met Caroline the last time we assisted MARL when a storm threatened our coast. MARL took smaller, and at risk animals to their shelter each time, as well as taking in animals from other shelters. The LASPCA also aided us with 20 of the pit bulls we seized in February.
So now, already a good number of dogs and cats were in, and another group had evacuated their animals to the building adjoining ours. We jumped in and got working.
By early evening, Katrinaís force was on us. Power was out, and her ripping winds were driving rain into three sides of our haven. The structure was a sound ďlivestockĒ exposition center constructed of cinderblock and steel. The downfall was that there were large rear, side, and front entries, and the east and north sides were open-air save for the 4-foot cinderblock wall. The ceiling was composed of many skylights, and the heavy plastic wind drop designed to protect the north side ripped with each violent gust of wind. Just as all but about 10 feet of the northwest end ripped free, bringing the metal pole that weighted it down crashing onto the rows of metal exposition stalls, four volunteers and Coliseum workers wrestled it down. They cut the pole sections free and managed to wad and tie the remaining plastic to the corner beam.
A group of us put the two wheel barrows, shovels, and two plastic tubs to use by moving shavings from the horse expo to break the flow of water into the stalls. Many stalls were now filling from the skylight leaks, others from the wind driven rain. There was a constant reassessment of which areas were best protected for the animals. The cat center was set up on the east side of the bleachers just in from the rear wall.
The stalls lining the inner wall had been covered with a heavy wire. These stalls were set aside for dogs that posed a risk to people or animals. A stall was left open between the dogs who didnít need neighbors, and the stalls were chained and locked to prevent volunteers from walking dogs that only guardians should handle, and if we had a concern that they might be targeted for nabbing. Though we greeted everyone and maintained an atmosphere of hospitality and availability, there were a few visitors that were advised that the area was restricted to volunteers and visiting families. Smitty, one of Cindyís rescues who she found abandoned on the road after being fought, was one of the dogs eyed by the unwelcome, late night visitors.
As we greeted families and assisted with the care of their animals, we soon realized that many of these families would have nothing to return to. Though many Louisiana refugees had headed for Houston, TX, others realized the resources there might be exhausted and headed for Jackson, Memphis, and Arkansas - some finding haven in churches and community centers along the way. The heartbreaking thing is that too many people didnít know where to access information and were staying behind, or roughing it in their autos because they didnít know where to go, or didnít want to leave their animals.
Sometime in the night we felt safe enough to bed down. We were tired enough that wet clothes and the large dog food bags we chose over the concrete floor didnít entirely stunt our rest. By the second night, hearing barking dogs and sleeping on dog food bags felt comfortable. How could we complain even if we didnít sleep at all? Thousands of lives were lost and in peril. People and animals would be displaced for who knows how long.
Katie and her grandmother, Judy Workman, of Ponchatoula, LA had sought shelter with us that afternoon. They didnít know if their family and home would be there for their return. They had fled with their 7 little dogs. They had been in a room that accepted dogs, but then the power failed and the heat was too much for the dogs. They got in their car to seek other provisions when they hydroplaned and wrecked and sought shelter here.
Katie and Laurie became instant friends and a powerful force in our team. They took instruction even better than the adults and pitched right in with walking dogs, cleaning stalls and cages, and feeding, watering the animals, and even keeping the area litter free. Laurie had worked by my side bringing in the shavings from the horse expo. The first night Katie slept with her grandmother. The second night she joined Laurie and me. I got out my camera and captured the sweet memory they will share; a moment of tranquility and bliss in the midst of tumult, devastation, and grief. Laurie has helped us so many adoption days at PetSmart, but I have an even deeper respect and devotion to her now.
Tuesday morning broke with mixed news of devastation and spared homes. Communications were a mess, but new refugees brought news as they found haven for their animals. With the passing of the storm, we could now focus on the care of the animals, and spend a moment with families, trying to put them at ease. Most were accustomed to sharing their beds with their animals, and in a stressful time such as this, they were as much in need of that comfort as their animals were.
I was now using our crates for shy and frightened animals to stay in front of the bleachers close to us. Tuesday night I surrounded our bag-beds with animals that were whimpering and mewing. Close to us, and with my fingers in their crates, they settled down and rested.
We were thankful that we had no worry with Sonya and Heather caring for the sanctuary while we shared our resources.
Time constraints and stress sucked my memory of most of the names of the guardians I met. I didnít have time to match names with animals, but I will remember many of the animals and most of their loving guardians. Every stereotype was shattered as both burly and seemingly reserved men of every hue showered affection on their dogs and cats. One beautiful white pit bull ate like a king. People werenít finding meals like that dog. While his guardian and I discussed that his rich diet might not be the very best for him, it was clear that it wasnít hurting him. Later I would introduce this 100% A-okay guardian to the HSUS team that Dr. Watson asked in to oversee the operation.
An entire family, mostly composed of boys, faithfully cared for their two Rotties. A Cajun couple was grieving that they would have to leave their little dog. I welcomed them to stay in the camp and spend as much time as they needed. We had a man staying with his 4 big dogs. They were trained for cadaver recovery, and therapy. He learned that 2 of his buddies that hadnít left the area had been lost. He was waiting for clearance to bring his dogs in to aid in the search.
In the midst of caring and sharing we were truly grateful for Dr. Watson, and Dr. Bridgid. Though our DART preparedness is in its infancy, their planning and commitment made all the difference in the world. They drew in help from Mississippi State University (MSU). Tuesday night Floridaís Oskaloosa County Disaster Response team pulled in, followed by HSUS on Wednesday morning. They would aid with organizing intake, caring for animals, and both waited for passage into the areas most affected by the storm. Search & Rescue were what they would be about.
I was off to PetSmart when HSUS arrived. Lee Ritter, the store manager, and Don Arelt, from Slidell, LA were in the office readying our Jackson store for opening. Lee is always upbeat and positive. They greeted me in my 3-day rotting state as if it were any adoption Sunday. I asked Lee if he thought they might be able to help us in some way. He was on the phone to headquarters, and within minutes we slapped a high-5 and were loading $3,000 of badly needed food, crates, leashes, spray bottles, poop scoops, and other supplies. Debbie met me to aid with the transport. I could have kissed them. Home Depot donated a roll of wire, and I picked up the veggie sandwiches I ordered from a shop in the now-open complex. Not knowing we were joined by a new crew I was thankful that many had eaten, as I had only sprung for 10 sandwiches.
Thank God our van is a diesel. We passed stranded motorists, and witnessed vehicles choking to a halt. When we got to Winona I decided to refuel in case Diesel became scarce. We tried to aid a stranded couple by checking an out of the way station in hopes that we might find them gas. Nope! Their nozzles were draped in plastic just like all the others we had passed. It doesnít feel good leaving people stranded. I thought to invite them to stay in our staff room overnight, but they said they wanted to stick it out at the station and be ready to roll when fuel arrived. We may all be in real crisis before we see a steady flow of any fuel.
When I got Gay home Larry had the news on. UH!!! Though we were fully aware of the horrors wrought by Katrina, we had been sequestered in an environment of compassionate sharing. We were now exposed to the brutalities of humans preying on humans, and humans desperate for rescue. The toll in animals will never be known. Aileen had told us that a gulf coast shelter abandoned their animals to drown even though MARL had extended an invitation to bring them there.
It is our mission to keep our head above water, look to what we can do, who we can save, and stave off the erosion of our effectiveness by caving in to that tidal wave that seems to always be hitting the shore.
I just got word that some of the teams are assessing the needs of shelters in the regions that have opened to travel. Groups as far away as Kansas are offering shelter to animals. PetSmart will deliver more food to our center tomorrow morning. I will pick up some from one of their stores, and keep in touch with Dr. Brigid and others to coordinate and facilitate whatever role we are needed in.
Our friends at Cleveland, MS are poised to accept up to 70 horses, dogs and cats, and Sherri Norquest, the Bolivar Cleveland Animal Shelter Director, and my dear friend, will accept as many as a 100 cows on her property.
Got to pass info on to others. Will update you next week, or sooner if possible.