The Phoenix Files: Helping Abandoned Animals from Hurricane Katrina Disaster

The Phoenix Files
Helping Abandoned Animals from Hurricane Katrina Disaster

While Hagerstown, Maryland is 970 (as the crow flies) miles from New Orleans, we here in Washington County remain vigilant in our efforts to help those animals abandoned or stranded as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Working with the ASPCA and the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of Washington County has been designated as a donation center and has a 48 foot trailer set up in the parking lot to accept items needed to assist with the relief effort. Literally hundreds upon hundreds of animals have been displaced by the storm.
And, despite the distance, there is one Cajun canine in our midst at the shelter. His owner fled the Gulf Coast and ended up here where his only known family member resides. To protect his identify, and that of his human companion, I'll call him Beaujeste. That's a very popular name in the Big Easy.
Easy is what it "ain't" however. Here's what he's told me about his experiences down south.
First, as of 9/12, at least 5,000 cats and dogs and 500 other animals were rescued but thousands more perished has floodwaters raged through the streets. There are scores of volunteers in the area, helping to rescue animals still in houses or perilously perched on rooftops. Most of the people shelters, like the coliseum, don't accept animals so they are left behind or sheltered at other facilities, like at Louisiana State University. There, they are put in cages and if they were rescued, the address where they were picked up is noted on their intake form, in hope that it will somehow, someway be reunited with its owner. Some 400 dogs get there every day, but only about 20 people a day find their pets. The animals are scared, they're tired, they're hungry. It's a very stressful situation.
If being left to find for yourself on a rooftop isn't scary enough, he's told me about the alligators and snakes that have taken to the streets. Coming from these parts, I haven't encountered, many if any, reptiles of late, but Beaujeste tells me they too have been displaced. Dozens of alligators and thousands of snakes are now swimming up and down the streets of some of the nicest (or what used to be the nicest) neighborhoods. The water is contaminated and the stench is overwhelming. While there is no shortage of volunteers or transportation to take homeless animals to safety, officials worry about letting them cross the state lines, wishing to control the spread of disease, and understandably so.
Beaujeste knows that some of his best friends, always kept on a chain in the back yard didn't make it. They couldn't climb to safety. Dogs do deserve better if you ask me.
But he's one of the lucky ones and I'm glad. He's a heck of a nice fellow. I'd be really really sad if something like Katrina hit here. Or any sort of disaster. I remember just a few months ago there was a water main leak near Virginia Avenue. There was talk of an evacuation but luckily, that didn't happen. But what if it did? Do all the dogs and cats in that neighborhood have id tags on their collars so they could be reunited with their human companions once things settled down? Are they all current on their vaccinations to help ward off disease if they were left to the streets? Does every human have current pictures of their companion animals? Would they have enough food to fend for themselves for a day or two? I just don't know. I hope so. I know that at my house, we have an 'evac sac' for the cats. It consists of a carriers, a leash, litter, a first aid kit, some bowls and towels. As for me, I always wear my id tag and county license . . . even if the jingling of it next to my rabies tag sometimes drives me crazy. I really am one of the lucky ones.
Now about Beaujest. Maybe he'll stay here for a while. Maryland's a nice place to live, work and play. And we don't get many hurricanes.

The Humane Society of Washington County exists to improve the quality of life for abused, neglected, and unwanted animals. 13011 Maugansville Road, Hagerstown, MD. 301-733-2060.