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Responding to the Destruction of Katrina: Emails from the front

FOR RELEASE: September 26, 2005 - E-Mail from Dawn Greenberg class '06

Looking back at Louisiana . . . what an incredible experience, to say the least. It was so heartwarming to see how many people were down in Baton Rouge and Gonzales, helping to take care of the animals. There was such an outpouring of donations, ranging from animal feed to pet care products to veterinary supplies to food and water for volunteers. Every animal had shelter, food, and water. It is not a stretch to say that there was a surplus of supplies but a shortage of volunteers, especially in Gonzales.

This is not to say that there are few people, because there are countless individuals. However, it is the sheer number of animals that need to be taken care of, that leaves the need for more volunteers. I would like to provide an overview of my experiences in the Parker Coliseum and at Lamar-Dixon, as the two locations are quite different. The Coliseum had a strong presence of the United States Public Health Service. There seemed to be a major lack of organization however; the chaos and improper record keeping resulted in much wasted time. It was frustrating because we were losing time due to people not working together. At Parker, many of the animals had owners or had been claimed in some way. While on our vaccinating/microchipping journey we frequently met owners who were incredibly grateful for all we were doing. Many of the dogs were frightened (with reason) and were difficult to handle. The owners helped us when they could, making the process much easier.

There was one instance, though, when someone was searching for her brother's dog. She was in tears; she could not believe that after all that had happened the dog was missing. She told us that her brother had left on a boat with his dog. Many people had brought their animals here when they had evacuated and had no place to keep them. They would then return for their animals once they had adequate shelter and could care for them. The thought that some people had lost their animals after rescuing them, on top of everything else, was just too much.

All in all, however, I felt like we accomplished a lot at the Coliseum. Every animal with a microchip will forever be able to be identified. It was like we gave them fingerprints. I realized the importance of microchips when we found a handful of dogs with Avid chips, meaning that they had been microchipped by their owners and were in the national database. These dogs were truly lucky, as they would soon be reunited with their owners. All of the other animals had their pictures and descriptions uploaded onto petfinder.com, but you can imagine how difficult it would to find your pet in a sea of thousands - like finding a needle in a haystack. I only hope that those dogs and cats will soon be adopted into loving homes.

On to Lamar-Dixon, in Gonzales: this giant make-shift shelter was run by the Humane Society of the United States, with a strong presence of VMAT (Veterinary Medical Assistance Team), and well as various other groups, such as the Connecticut Humane Society (cared for around 100 aggressive dogs). Here, most of the animals are not owned, which was really hard to believe. I really hope they can find homes for them, but it doesn't seem realistic. All in all, I had an amazing trip in Louisiana. I saw things that I hope I will never have to see again, but I did discover something amazing down there. Our country is full of wonderful people, who give so incredibly much of themselves for others; I never could have imagined such an outpouring of support. So many pulled together to help the animals in New Orleans. Even people who were in shelters themselves came to help out in the coliseum on a daily basis; they seemed to have nothing to give, but they did in fact give the most important things - a helping hand and love for the displaced animals.

I was inspired by so many people I met down there, especially a resident from UC Davis who helped us out for some time. When she got the opportunity to go down to New Orleans, she jumped at the chance. She went on search and rescue trips during the day, and spent nights working at Lamar-Dixon. When I ran into her she told me how tired she was, and what horrible things she saw in New Orleans. She was physically and emotionally worn out, but she kept going, not for any reason other than that she cared. I have not witnessed such devotion for a true cause in a very long time. It was a somber but an unforgettable experience. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, I am so grateful.

-- Dawn Greenberg