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Rescuers struggle to save pets after Katrina

September 15, 2005

By Maggie Fox

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Rescuers trying frantically to save
animals left behind when people fled Hurricane Katrina have
given up on collecting pets and begun simply leaving food and
water for them.

Teams from as far afield as Los Angeles and San Diego are
traveling around the New Orleans area, wading into flooded
areas and checking abandoned neighborhoods to find animals that
could not accompany their rescued owners.

“It’s very dire,” said Kim Noetzel, marketing director of
the Arizona Humane Society, which is trying to help coordinate
efforts.

There are now more than 4,000 pets in a temporary shelter
in nearby Gonzales, and there is nowhere left to take rescued
animals. “It is packed to the gills,” Noetzel said in a
telephone interview.

“We are not bringing any animals in. We are just going in
there and making sure they have food and water,” said Tony
Valenzuela of the Arizona Human Society.

Valenzuela has taken over command of a temporary pet rescue
headquarters at a Salvation Army store on the New Orleans city
border.

There, a thin dog lies listlessly in the shade, her spine
poking through her scabby brown hide. The Arizona group is
taking her with them, along with a few other scrawny dogs.

“This is what we are finding now,” said Valenzuela. “These
are animals that were neglected and abused before. If this was
a normal situation, we’d have a lot of animal abuse
prosecutions.”

The teams were able to get into badly flooded St. Bernard
parish this week for the first time and found many animals had
drowned.

LEAVING HEARTS BEHIND

At home after home, dogs had been left tied up, only to
drown slowly as the waters rose and their ropes or chains
stretched to the limit.

“It’s horrific. They told us before we left to leave our
hearts behind,” Valenzuela said.

Many people heeded mandatory evacuation order for the New
Orleans area before Katrina hit but left pets with food and
water, expecting to come back after a day or two. They have
been gone since the end of August and pets have been locked
into houses with no power, no air conditioning, with
temperatures above 90 degrees F (32 C) daily.

Pet owners were trying desperately to get to their animals
or organize a rescue. Some evacuees found neighbors to return
and check on their animals, while others posted pleas on Web
sites such as http://www.petfinder.org/disaster/.

Others urged volunteers to come to the Gulf region on their
own, warning they may be forced to sleep in their cars because
of a lack of housing.

Even at the designated shelters, there is a lack of steady
coordination. “It’s mass confusion. One day one person is in
charge, another day someone else is there,” Valenzuela said.
“We are doing the best we can.”

Some people managed to bring their pets along when they
fled. Some hospitals, for instance, set up ad hoc kennels.

“It helps the staff concentrate on the patients when they
know their pets are safe,” said Valerie Englade, a spokeswoman
for East Jefferson General Hospital.

But even the animals who are being helped by friends or
neighbors are spooked.

Disaster medical experts at West Jefferson Medical Center
treated a four-year-old boy attacked by a dog in the southern
suburb of Gretna.

“We’ve been taking care of the dogs in our neighborhood for
10 to 12 days now,” explained the boy’s father. One stray
tagged along. “He was waving a stick and he swung the stick at
the dog.”

The boy has a large cut on his chest and another on his
thumb.

“It wasn’t a mean dog,” said the father, who could not be
identified for medical privacy reasons.

“The animals down here are totally traumatized,” said Dr.
John Twomey, chief medical officer at the disaster clinic.
“Even their own dogs and cats are turning on people.”




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