Tetanus Shots and a Regimen of Augmentin - It's Good For You!
Another bizarre and surreal day on top of so many bizarre and surreal days.
At 8:00am this morning our 'team' of pet rescuers headed out to the boat launch at the intersection of Veterans Highway and Fleur De Lis... that's on the overpass that crosses the 17th St. Canal where you drive from fair normality to extreme devastation and uninhabitability.
We were the first ones there, and from the outset you can immediately see the decrease in the water levels. Flatboats, Boston Whalers and Mako's line the side of the road, beached in lines rising up the overpass to where on last Tuesday say, they were floating. The good news is that the water in Lakeview is definately dropping more rapidly than anyone was expecting or was saying... probably close to four feet now, out of a total of 16 feet in some places.
Our team is made up of one veternarian, one Iberia Humane Society member, one St. Mary Humane Society member, a New Orleans lawyer who's home in Lakeview had four feet of water in it, and myself... one of the amazing things you'll understand after you keep reading is that our 'team' definately grew larger... regular old New Orleanians who simply wanted to do something were coming up and volunteering on the spot. Even if it was just to sit there and talk to the cats, they all wanted to do something to help.
Armed with two flatboats, around 30 cages of varying sizes and three pairs of chest high waders - we set out to work launching the boats, which is fairly difficult because this ain't a boat launch... it's a road and the slope is not that sharp. The trucks were at the point of stalling and taking on water as we backed down the street.
We struck out on our first missions for a few specific cats and birds. We were definately NOT well organized; we learned a lot of lessons today.
Navigating the streets is odd and definately dangerous. At any minute your boat could beach on the roof of a car or hit a land rise were the curb is only a foot below the dark, stinky, milky, poisonous, sewage infused water... if you can even call it water. Streets are blocked by downed trees, power poles, low slung electric lines and the what were high branches of giant oak trees. Lakeview has also been settling for years, some streets are higher than others and you learn how to read the water, sort of. Debris is everywhere.
Our first stop was on Canal Blvd., so we took West End to Harrison and eventually found our first house. We litterally drove the boat straight up to the front door and then did what we had to do and were given permission to do - we broke in. In most of the faxes we received, we asked and were given very specific instructions on how to get into the homes... this went out the door on our first rescue. It's impossible to get into backyards, the water levels are over the protection of our waders and everyone has fences. This first house we went in through the front window, trying to be as least damaging as possible.
Inside the house... crazy. On all first floors the water either reached the ceiling or close to it. everything that could float, did and then as the water dropped, they deposited themselves wherever the hell they wanted to go. Everything has been touched by this evil water. You fear for yourself as you stumble, trying not to get your hands on anything - even while wearing gloves. Homes with carpeting suck. The carpets have all pulled up and they feel like mud. You can't even see little coffee tables or lamps or tv's... anything under that water.
This home we were in held two cats. The owner was on a busines trip when Katrina struck. Her animals, surprisingly alive... how anything could survive is mindboggling. They had no food. They had to have been drinking the flood water on the first floor. They lived together for probably years, but had been fighting... one was severly lacerated around the face... they had fought each other for whatever scraps of food they could find... cockroaches? who knows?
I learned immediately that these pets... all of them do NOT want to be rescued. They are all freaked out. They are all starving and dehydrated or sick. They are all scared beyond belief. I had forgotten to wear my gloves retrieving this one cat - it scratched me and bit me drawing a fair amount of blood on my hand... I've never done this before... I learned rapidly... must wear gloves.
I also learned, that you actually have to be almost violent with a lot of these cats in order to save their lives and save yourself from getting injured or falling in the water when a cat tries to claw its way up your face. You don't injure them, but they don't know you. They don't want to get in a cage, and they certainly don't want to be brought near water. We all also learned immediately to bring the cages inside with us.
Nevertheless, on our first stop we saved two cats.
I feel that before I continue I need to explain something about why most of these pets are in this predicament. No one, at least that we know of yet, knew that there was going to be a levee breach. Many people stayed and rode the storm out, and ended up being rescued. They were not allowed to take pets out with them on helicopters or boats. Many people evacuated figuring that their pets would be ok. Some were out of town. Whatever.
On our first run, we rescued five cats. This took almost three hours. As we pulled back up to the 'boat launch' a Coast Guard patrol was right next to us having saved an old man in his seventies. He was covered in rashes... He had been living in his house filled with that water for 13 days. They got someone's dad, or grandfather, or brother. We got five cats.
It was at this point a guy named Mike joined our crew. Early thirties, an auto mechanic, his house and his mother-in-laws house are both under water. He had been coming out there for the last three days hoping to get someone to take him to rescue his mother-in-laws pug. It turns out that she is Ronnie Virgets girlfriend. Virgets is a New Orleans character, writer and all around true New Orleanian, who had been missing for several days and was feared dead. Anyway, he was rescued... but the pug was left behind.
Mike joined Kelsey and I as we made another run. He was a trooper. He scaled houses to get to the 2nd floors, became an expert navigator driving the boat and a teller of very bad driving jokes... you know crap about making illegal lefts and going up the wrong way on streets. He ended up working with us all day.
We tried to make a run to get the pug, but quickly discovered a major obstacle. The railroad and her low bridges. A lot of Lakeview roads go under the trestle, and with the water as high as it is, it's impassable. We actually considered hauling the boat up and over the railroad at one point.
We had to move on though, there were other pets. He never complained, but I know that Kelsey and I both understood that no matter what, we were going to get into that house to get the pug - dead or alive. If there was anything we were going to do that day... we were going to get Puck.
By the time of the end of our third run, we were exhausted, covered in that water, hot (waders are dark green and are like seven saunas going to work on your legs - you actually wanted to be in that muck to cool them down) and were considering calling it a day. We were totally beat.
But what started happening, is that random people would start come up to us and plead for us to rescue their pets. How can you say no to that? By this time, one of the things we had learned is how to read a house for survivability. One story equals death. Raised one stories, a chance. Not much of one, but it was possible. As it turned out, we only rescued animals that either had a second story or the owners had left the attics open. I apologize if this is disheartening to some, but it's the way things are. We have a lot of loss down here.
Sometimes, even after being explained this, people would still plead and we would end up taking some of them out, even when we already knew what the answer was going to be.
A great exception to that was this one family - I don't even know their names - but the parents had stayed and were rescued themselves on Tuesday after Katrina, and were forced to leave behind their Boxer and a cat. We took the daughter with us... dogs are a serious issue. You can control cats somewhat... but dogs guard.
We motored up to their house and the daughter started calling the dogs name and low and behold he stuck his head out an open window. Almost all the pets we got, were incredibly malnourished and on the verge of total dehydration - they had mucus coming out of their noses, a sure sign. Bailey was like this. Mike and I helped the girl up through the second story window as he didn't want to have anything to do with either of us climbing up. This smallish girl took the cage that we handed to her, got the dog in, and then lifted it up to the windowsill for the two of us to grab hold of. Remember, a standing and shifting 75 lbs dog that your're holding in a large cage over your head while you're standing in a non-secured, drifting boat is not an easy task. But we got him down and the cat.
While returning, a Coast Guard boat hailed us over - this cheered us up, we thought Pet Rescue might have a chance to tow the Coastie's in or something. But no, they had spotted a cat in a window. This cat was outside the window in between burglar bars and the screen, two inches from the water, and desparately holding onto the screen with all four paws. How many days had she been like that?
We had to hammer our way through the burglar bars to make a space - infinately freaking out the cat, but we were able to grab her with no injuries. Pretty amazing all around. We called her the spare since she wasn't on our lists.
Back at our HQ at the launch, the area was crawling with 82nd Airborne, LAPD Cops, paramedics from Chicago, Doctors from Minnesota, Cajuns wearing white shrimp boots and talking French, reporters, SWAT... everyone you can imagaine.
We literally would have these 82nd Airborne guys and Search & Rescue guys coming over to us thanking US. These guys told us over and over again that it was killing them to see and hear these stranded pets, but being unable to do anything about it. They were saving humans. They told us they'd drive by and throw MRE's to dogs and cats. These guys were coming up to us and asking "Are you sure that cat over there has water?" It was incredible.
Later we made another pug run. We motored over the interstate, down side roads, alleys trying everything to find a route past the railroad tracks. (We later learned from some rescuers that there is no route.) Eventually, we ended back over at the trestle on Canal Blvd. Mike and I walked back up to the top and started hiking around looking for some way to get the four blocks to that damn dog. We eventually spied another boat bobbing around on the correct side and went and checked it out. I walked on a bit more and turned around and asked Mike if he was interested in a canoe. He said, "Yeah, that'd be great." Not realizing that there were two canoes I had spied pulled up on the trestle around a bend. So yet again,for now two days in a row, I went canoeing in my city.
When we got there, we actually paddled straight into the house, and since I had the waders on, I went upstairs searching. Remember that this dog had been there for about ten days... but Puck was there. Not well, totally dehydrated and wheezing, but there. She stumbled a little ways over to me and then collapsed onto her back in complete submission. I seriously almost broke down. But we got her out and that little dog drank almost a liter of water back at the launch, and then started walking around with a leash - messing with the still freaked out cats.
From 8:00am to 6:15pm we rescued a total of 9 cats, 3 dogs, and a rabbit.
Unfortunately, a lot of times these pets hide, and they do this in a house that we've never, of course, been in and you simply after your best efforts can't find them. So, we leave them food and water and hope for the best.
Also, unfortunately, we'll never be able to get to all of them.
But the real victories are when you cage up those cats or dogs and then watch Kelsey call the owners. She stands there telling these displaced New Orleanians, who are all over the country, that their pets are alive. They start balling crying. Kelsey starts crying. Amazing.
A few observations...
• Like I said earlier, the water is going down a little bit faster than anyone could have hoped, but this causes new problems. It's going to become much more treacherous on boats. Within a few days time the only vehicles going in are going to be big military trucks. We have only a small window to work this pet problem.
• Although many homes are trashed and I'm not an engineer, I think we may be able to salvage some of these houses.
• I worry that all the pictures in Tony Angelo's bar are lost.
• We thought we actually saw a line of crab traps set up on Fleur de Lis... We know those crabbers set up lines in the area where we start sailboat races on the lake purposefully, but come on guys.
• Drago's has set up a food tent and has been feeding relief workers... somewhere.
And yes, I stepped on a nail in that water which went straight through the wader and into my foot. I have to get a tetanus shot and because of this and the cat bites, I have to get a prescription for antibiotics filled... now that's going to be an adventure unto itself tomorrow.
Rest assured though, the faxes are rolling in, and our group will be out there tomorrow - reinforced by some animal radicals from California that showed up this afternoon with their own boat.
That's Mike and Kelsey below. Cheers.
If you'd care to make a donation to the Iberia Humane Society - They'd surely appreciate it to help cover some of their expenses.
We will no longer be taking family members out on the rescues with us - It's to dangerous... unless you want to volunteer, and you have a boat.