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Responding to the Destruction of Katrina: Emails from the front

FOR RELEASE: September 17, 2005 - E-Mail from Dr. Ursula Krotscheck, D.A.C.V.S.

examining a cat in the triage area Hi from warm and muggy Louisiana!

So things are moving along here. It seems that much of what we do here is always changing: the hurricane ward at LSU is discharging animals to owners that have been located, as well as back to the coliseum, so our students (who have been taking care of them during the day) are about to be usurped by our microchipping effort at Parker Coliseum.

On Thursday both Michele and I had a day off from the animal vaccination/microchipping effort at Parker due to them updating their animal 'inventory'. So we got up at 4:30 am and made our way to the Lamar-Dixon animal shelter in Gonzales and from there proceeded into New Orleans. It was a day filled with awe and emotion for myself. The amount of animals being housed at Lamar-Dixon is beyond belief. I'm not sure of the number, but I've heard estimates of over 2400 several times. The organization at that shelter is almost military-like. Briefings at 6 am, more meetings scheduled through the day, multiple teams with specific purposes. The animal rescue effort within New Orleans is proceeding in the following manner: there are 3 main teams - a feed/water team, a search and rescue team, and a triage team, with multiple smaller divisions within each. The feed teams leave food and water at houses in which healthy animals are present and in areas animals are known to congregate. The plan is to remove these animals as the inflow of critical animals into the shelter decreases. The search and rescue teams go house to house - removing anything sick, dehydrated, or even remotely ill-looking. These animals are transported to the triage teams which are located around the city. This is where we were involved. We set up a new triage center and received, triaged, and sent to the shelter, about 30 animals in one day. Most of them were just dehydrated, some had been exposed to the now extremely toxic water and were showing effects such as damage to their footpads and skin. Others still are found with severe trauma, starvation, and nearly fatal dehydration. There are reports that many have died. Various branches of the military will break orders to bring animals food and water or to transport them to us. One dog showed up 'in handcuffs' - because handcuffs with chains were the only thing his rescuer had on him that would double as a leash to attach to its collar. We were amazed at what these servicemen and women would do to save the animals in the areas they were patrolling.

The devastation within New Orleans is tremendous. You can see water lines on buildings, cars, businesses and trees. Some of the ancient trees are hanging from power lines. Dirt and debris is everywhere. The parts of the city we were in smell of garbage and decay. In contrast, there were areas in which restaurants were open, traffic lights were working, and clean-up was well underway. I have never seen so many electric/power company trucks in my life. They seem to have come from all over the country judging by the license plates. Everywhere you look, powerlines are being strung up, extracted from trees, and new poles are being put in place. I have a huge respect for the workers in these crews - the amount of work before them is daunting.

From a safety point of view, we are blessed. The military is everywhere, both in New Orleans and in Baton Rouge. Their presence is obvious but unobtrusive, and reassuring. During our day in the triage center in New Orleans, we had two incredibly nice Air Force guys stationed in the parking lot just to protect us and the equipment trucks parked in the lot. I feel just as safe as at home.

Since our trip to New Orleans, we have now spent 2 days microchipping and vaccinating cats. We have about 60-80 to go, so hopefully that will be done by tomorrow. Our average is about 28 per hour (and that includes getting the cats out of their cages, carrying them to our station, microchipping and vaccinating them, and carrying them back)! The majority of cats don't mind at all and love the attention, but occasionally we do come across a feisty one.

That's all for now!

- Ursula