A REPORT FROM THE FIELD

A fearless FrontBurnervian visits one of the largest Katrina pet rescue operations:

Just got back from Lamar Dixon Equine Center in Gonzales where they’ve got thousands of dogs, cats and horses from the hurricane. In some ways it was like the human rescue. Lots of people trying to help, but not much coordination and very little organized communication.

The facility is one of the largest equine centers I’ve seen. In the back are a half dozen covered shelters each containing hundreds and hundreds of outdoor stalls. In the majority of these stalls are 3-4 wired cages each containing a dog. All types. Purebreds, mutts, young, old, tailwaggers, biters, etc. Some never stop barking. That’s what first hits you. The barking. And yet, there are some that are so exhausted that they’re sleeping through it all.

It also hits you that there is very little “smell.” Despite the 94+ degree heat, you don’t smell the incredible amount of waste that is resulting from these animals. While the box fans set up at a lot of the cages help, it’s due to the volunteers. Somehow the hundreds of volunteers are managing to keep a handle on the situation. Each cage has info and pix of the animal in the cage. From the paperwork, each dog is walked two times a day. Some greet the opportunity; some dread the idea of leaving their caged home. The vast majority of pets who have known happier times and familiar faces and surroundings.

It’s hard to imagine how all these animals have been taken care of and categorized in such conditions. But there’s a reason for this chaotic success. It’s the volunteers and organizations that have assembled here. They are both local and from far away. They’re also a bit like the animals that they’re caring for. They’re all types. Professional animal people, loving animal people, old, young, men, women, children, volunteers, state officials, even prisoners. Despite the heat and the responsibilities, you don’t see anyone complaining.

There are also the unseen helpers who have sent supplies. Machines are moving palettes of folded wire crates, mountains of food, stacks of new boxed fans, new and old collars and leashes, armies of paper towels and other things that might help this instant animal-plex function. To help the animals face the boredom and frustration of their new situation, a call was put out for based chew items and toys. With that issued appeal, PetsMart and Petco must have felt like ToysRUs the week before Christmas. The problem is that a lot of this material sits unused because there just isn’t enough manpower to put it to use despite the army of workers.

The most insidious problem is the information spreading among the humans. There are both bona fide news and rumors and it’s very hard to know which to believe.

The local paper has reported that the night before the sheriff refused to let the facility receive anymore animals and turned 73 critically ill animals away. The LSU vet school immediately stepped up and took on the 73.

There is a rumor among the volunteers that the hoped for airlifting of 150-500 animals to other facilities in other states was cancelled due to state officials demanding that all animals stay in the state of Louisiana. As one volunteer said, “All the facilities in this state are full. We have to seek help outside of Louisiana.”

here was another rumor that animal rescuers with boats have been told that no more animal rescues would be allowed via boat. There was an uneasy feeling that perhaps officials had decided to end the searches and were just going to destroy the remaining animals due to fear of disease or danger from the now starving animals.

As we made the 7½ hour drive home yesterday, we heard a radio commentator complain about the Katrina catastrophe, “How could this happen in America?” I suspect he was talking about the mismanagement and lack of preparation from various public officials. That discussion is for politicians and blame game players.

I’d rather apply “How could this happen in America?” to the sight of multitudes of volunteers supported by generous unseen strangers pitching in without a second thought to help others. Not just for the animals. Everywhere you looked . . . on the roads, in the restaurants, at the gas stations, everywhere people coming to help in any capacity. How could this happen in America? Because despite the losses, the fears and the tragedy, Americans have soft hearts and strong backs to help others.

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