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Pet Rescue Mission

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When Annette French, owner of Dragonfly (1117 E. Brady St.), and her niece Jessica St. John heard stories of abandoned and starving animals in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, they were determined to do something to help. They are both animal lovers, and Annette had animal rescue work experience from her work at the Humane Society. “The HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) was on TV asking for volunteers. They were in need of people with training that I had, so I pretty much had to go,” Annette reasoned. So Annette and Jessica made arrangements to free up their schedule for a few days. They researched where to go and how the operation was set up. They borrowed a van from Jessica’s father and drove down themselves. After a day and a half drive, they arrived. “The people who greeted us were so happy to see us. The real story is how desperately they need people down there,” Annette declared. The first day they worked at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzalez, LA. They were walking dogs and cleaning cages. But they wanted to do more. They inquired about being part of a rescue team and were given an assignment. The next morning they loaded up with bags of food, gallons of water, bowls, leashes, and a couple of cages and headed into the city. “For the most part, you wouldn’t see anyone for miles. It was like being on the moon … everything was crushed or moved and all covered in dried cracked mud. The sound of the tires was surreal. It seemed so desolate.” They drove around street by street looking for “dog inside” or “dog in yard” markings on homes that the military or utility workers had left. Even though it was against regulations, some members of the National Guard had set up their own makeshift animal shelters. As Annette and Jessica approached a tagged house in their van, they called out, barked or whistled, hoping the dogs would hear them and start barking. “We’d cut open a big bag of food and leave it along with a big bowl of water. If there were any animals that were in critical shape, we could take them to a satellite station where they could be cared for. The dogs still responded to humans, even though they would stand back as we put the food down for them.” When they approached one house, they saw a dog on the porch that had already died, and began to drive on. They did not see the Lhasa Apso that looked like a brown mop also lying on the porch. But the dog moved, they saw him and they stopped. He was covered in mud and had been without food for days. Annette gave him food and water and he slowly walked over in his weakened condition to eat. They couldn’t bear to leave him, so they picked him up to bring him back to safety. He had no collar or identification, so they named him Gumbo. Annette and Jessica agree that this was an experience they will never forget. “Every minute of this trip was surreal,” Annette recalled. “The water that remained in the city was bubbling, like it was fermenting. It had a metallic, tinny, chemical smell. It was mixed with rotting trash, decaying bodies of people and animals, chemicals, dirt and metal. That smell I will never forget. It was all so draining, both physically and emotionally. We would take turns crying. First she’d break down, then I would, and we fought a lot too.” There were no provisions put into the emergency planning for pets, so animals were left behind. This caused problems for rescuers. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that many of the people who chose to stay in New Orleans did so because they did not want to be separated from their pets,” Annette explained. “It’s unconscionable that there would be an evacuation plan that would require people to leave their animals behind. They were even taking seeing-eye dogs away from the blind!” Animals rescued from the New Orleans area have been shipped to shelters all over the country. The Milwaukee Humane Society is keeping many of them at State Fair Park, which is set up to house animals for periods of time. Human survivors of the hurricane are staying at dorms at State Fair Park, and many of them visit the animals. Of course, shelters are already bursting at the seams with local animals that need adoption, and now they are really overwhelmed. Many of the Humane Society’s regular staff is in New Orleans, and local shelters need volunteers. Annette has a clear opinion on what needs to be done. “Unless you’re down there and you see the scale of what has happened, it’s easy to lay blame. I’d like to see people take the next step and say, ‘Okay, our government screwed up and continues to screw up, but somebody’s gotta do something.’ You’ve got to figure out what you can do. If you can’t go down there yourself, find someone who can and help them out, or help out here. Everybody’s got to try to do something. At least you’re not just sitting in front of the TV set crying.” Donate money or supplies to the Wisconsin Humane Society at www.wihumanesociety.org or www.americanhumanesociety.org to help animals in the Gulf. Or volunteer to help out the Humane Society here while regular workers are helping in Louisiana. Call 414-ANIMALS for more information.
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