With thousands of animals at risk in New Orleans, trying to save as many as possible was an endless labor of love.
Pieces of metal, wood and glass, from houses that once lined Banks Street danced in the wind blowing over the muddy roads of New Orleans. Unfamiliar noises would become commonplace after just a few hours of navigating through the desolate streets. As I kneeled down to leave food and water for surviving animals in the area, I heard a screeching, piercing noise through the uninhabited commotion. Was it the cry of a cat? There was just no way to tell amidst all of the other eerie sounds, so I scanned the area, hoping to uncover the source of the noise.
After not seeing anything, I completed my food and water drop and began to walk away—until I heard the noise once again. This time, it was a bit louder. I paused, turned back and scanned the area for a second time.
At the base of a dark alley, two tiny celadon eyes suddenly lit up in the darkness. Among piles of trash and debris, there stood a scrawny black cat. Banks, as I would later call him, was just the first of several animals I helped rescue in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the flood of New Orleans and Hurricane Rita.
Each day in New Orleans presented unique challenges. Mine began at 5:30 a.m., when I met with the other search and rescue volunteers for our daily assignments. Every morning, we received the addresses of approximately 200 residences where animals had been left behind by their owners. Yet as diligent as we were in our efforts to visit as many as possible, we could never get to them all. Breaking into a property and searching through all of the rubble for animals was an arduous undertaking. Moving quickly through our assignments was further complicated when we spotted an animal while en route to a specific address. We constantly faced the moral dilemma of whether to spend time attempting a rescue or to continue on to the next address on our list.
Darkness signaled the conclusion of search and rescue efforts each day, but it was not the end of the day for me. I just couldn't stop. I couldn't sleep knowing that there was work to be done. My home base, the shelter at the Lamar- Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, La., was operational and housing hundreds of rescued animals. One more animal to walk, one more animal to pet, one more animal to play with, one more animal to give a toy or a treat, one more animal to clean up after… It was an endless labor of love, and when I finally dragged myself to my van to go to sleep, it was only because I didn't want to risk burning out either physically or mentally.
There were many highs and lows during the time I spent in New Orleans, but the one thing that will stick with me forever is the loving and grateful eyes of the animals we saved. Thankfully, I will be able to see a pair of them every day for years to come because I took Banks home with me. He will always serve as a reminder that we really did make a difference. —by Tracy Silverman
"We went along looking for dogs, listening for barking.
If there were dogs in the house, we'd break down the doors."
With funding from the Animal Welfare Institute, Julia White (following in the footsteps of her father, Ben) participated in the first round of animal rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina. In late September, just as many volunteers were getting ready to go home, AWI's Tracy Silverman and Jen Rinick arrived to provide additional support. Jen spent an entire month administering food drops and using box traps to round up animals who had become skittish and afraid of people. "It was a lot of work, but it was gratifying work," she said. "People just didn't realize how many animals were still out there." Jen saw dogs with their teeth completely worn down from gnawing to free themselves from the homes in which they were left, a Doberman who had clung to life for weeks only to be left out with the trash to die (see caption above), and even an Australian monitor lizard who had survived in a flooded home. We donated much needed box traps, catchpoles and gloves to Louisiana and Mississippi rescue groups. Currently, the Society for Animal Protective Legislation is pressing Congress for legislation to address the needs of animals during and following disasters.