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Responding to the Destruction of Katrina: Emails from the front

FOR RELEASE: Sept. 13, 2005 from Catherine Reiss

examining a cat in the triage area Hi everyone!!! So I have e-mail access tonight, but I'm not sure for how long--they are kicking us out of the comfy rec. center and we are not sure where we will be staying (it sounds a little desperate, but its not:). So let me get right to telling you about our first day. We started at the Parker Coliseum where they are housing most of the animals. As it was explained to us, most of the animals there have owners who are in shelters themselves and so cannot take the animals with them. A few have come from other shelters and rescue organizations, but LSU was set up to deal mainly with the owned animals. We have to enter past rather heavily armed guards and their Hummers (real ones) because the previous night they had some of the fighting pitbulls stolen. There are three sections where the animals are being housed; smaller dogs are in the arena in crates and there is a constant flow of volunteers walking and cleaning them.

For a mental picture, imagine a space the size of a ice-hockey rink with a sand floor and rows and rows of crates, airline kennels, metal kennels and small pens. Then add the sound of hundreds of dogs barking. From here we moved into the next section that is housing the larger dogs. There are horse/cattle stalls in several rows behind the arena. Some dogs are free in the stalls and others are penned because they have had some escape attempts. These dogs are walked once or twice a day (depending on if they are crated or not) and for all the animals there is a time in the morning and evening when the owners can come to take care of their animals. I think the total number of dogs between the two areas is around 400.

Next is the cat area. This consists of the same mismatch of large crates, kennels, and metal cages that line the walkway half way around the area. This area contains 600 cats. 600!! It is unreal to walk past that many cats. Most are adults and really only have enough room to stretch out between their litter pan and food bowl (but don't feel sorry for them, they are the lucky ones, they got to the shelter and most will be reunited with their owners). To complete the tour we saw the makeshift triage room and 'command central,' where we found out so more information on the situation in general. One of the vets there filled us in on how the animal relief efforts were being run. As I said, LSU was designated as a shelter for animals with owners. There is another shelter set up about 20 miles south of here that has been taking in the animals that the various rescue organizations have been bringing in. Or at least they were until Saturday night when they were shut down for human health reasons because they were so over-crowded. Many of those animals are the ones people have called in to have rescued from their homes, but others have been found on the streets, many of which are strays. The reason so many animals were left in houses (something I did not understand) was that in previous hurricanes, people evacuated to shelters (where animals were not allowed) and left food and water for their pets and were able to return in one or two days to their homes. This time, obviously, that has not been the case. The chilling thought that comes to mind is thus how many animals are dying of dehydration or starvation in crates or rooms in their houses.

Sorry; moving on in our day. Next we went to the vet school to see how things were running up there. I should say first that it seemed like everyone we met had a different job for us. At Parker they wanted us all to stay there, and the same was true at the vet school. We met the Dean of the college when we arrived who was very nice and expressed his gratitude to us for coming to help. He told us how many times in the past days he had tears in his eyes for the horrible stories people where relating to him, but also for the in-pouring of support for everywhere. From Prince Edward's Island to CA, offers of help and monetary support have been coming in from veterinarians.

Next we met a few of the doctors and got a quick tour. Their ICU is full and Ward I, which would be like our 'wards', is where they are housing most of the hurricane animals (except for the few critical ones who are in ICU). This ward consists of one wall with 25 cages with a treatment table and supplies across the aisle, and it is totally full. About five other cages with less critical animals are around the corner from ward 1. Kate, Dr. Gieger, her resident mate from LSU who flew down from the AMC to help, Dr. Brewer and I were assigned to help in Ward 1. Dr. Steffey and Dr. Krotscheck were sent back down to Parker to help there. We set about helping to catch up on morning PE's and treatments with the Ward 1 animals. These were animals that showed up at the Parker shelter and were sent to the hospital for anything and everything from dehydration to fractures.

Most of these animals do not have owners. I'll save some of the more individual stories for another time since this is already a ridiculously long e-mail. Suffice to say that we have everything from a bouncy kitten who came in with dehydration to a cat with what we think are chemical burns over a large part of her body. We all spent the day doing treatments, physical exams, and generally getting familiar with the cases and seeing what else needed to be done with the patients. Fleas were treated, but in general only the immediate issues are being dealt with.

So that was our first day. Reading back over this e-mail, I think I have made the whole thing sound far more organized than it actually is. The situation was described to us before we came down as loosely organized chaos. However, I think I would have to say that Parker it is more like chaos with various attempts at organization. The hospital is much more organized but the help in Ward 1 has been sporadic.

Well, if you have actually had the time to get this far, then I will try to write again if I find another computer. There is so much more to say, but I've got 8 am treatments ;)

-Catherine Reiss