This past Sunday, during some rare 'down time' I watched a program on PBS 'Nature' series about the rescue volunteers who assisted with saving the pets of evacuees in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. To say I was moved would be an understatement; I would be happy to report that I must be much less hormonal these days as I did not weep. Which is not to say that this program wasn't heart wrenching. We've all heard about the work being done independently by veterinarians and humane societies in NOLA. But to actually understand why the animal tragedy occurred and then to see how some very dedicated and passionately moved people responded was enough for a relief weary human to dig deep into the wallet and send cash to help.
Since our recent move to another state, my spouse and I have found that we are without the network which we had built over 15 years in our last state of residency. When it came time for the long awaited (and desperately needed) November vacation,
we found ourselves canceling due to the lack of a parrot sitter. Since we love our parrot, even in his extreme bad moods, we could not with clear conscious subject him to some of the paranoia currently sweeping the USA about Avian Flu. And if that were not enough, there are numerous other disease and transportation issues surrounding companion birds that we found too risky to chance.
Given this circumstance, to learn that the people of New Orleans who were under evacuation orders were told they could not take their pets with them has again made me feel lucky that I live with choices about how to deal with lack of boarding opportunities.
My father and his wife, who live in Punta Gorda Florida lived through hurricane Charley in August 2004. The towns of Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda were close to being wiped off the map from the fury of Charley. But even under evacuation orders, many residents chose to stay in their homes rather than to trust that their pets would be OK. Some of those same people lost their lives while trying to save their pets.
Animals are funny creatures. We know that animals have ways of knowing when 'bad weather' is approaching. Yet, I will admit, I am not sure I would want to be locked up in a shelter with numerous frightened and smelly animals. But then, I would resent that anyone would doubt that my parrot is as much a member of this family as say, Grandma or grandpa is to yours.
When our governments, local and national, reject the need of humans for their companion animals, they also make a statement about what is important to a good life. Even though I wouldn't want to share shelter space with pitbulls, I now understand that the value of companion animals can not be measured in fur, fins or feathers.
The 'Nature' Program also talked about the effects of Katrina on the New Orleans Zoo, which luckily was spared the brunt of Katrina's damage. But the animals in their wisdom began to have behavior issues shortly after the storm. The zookeepers invited some of the National Guard members who were on post to do zoo walk throughs and immediately the animals began to show signs of returning to normal. The daily give and take of animals at the zoo and the people who visit them was restored and when that happened the animals normalcy was also restored.
During two of my visits to NOLA, I have visited the Aquarium of the Americas. The Aquarium is quite a special place. The number of animals and the exhibits there were not to be found any place else in the USA. The jellyfish exhibits were possibly the best in the world. During and after Katrina, the staff at the aquarium were also evacuated because the National Guard could not guarantee their safety. When the staff were allowed to return, they found utter devastation of life. The power could not be maintained so the animals in salt water tanks died due to extreme heat, lack of food and water filtration/aeration. The few creatures that did survive, the penguins, parrots and otters were emergency airlifted to other zoos in the USA. Were it not for the dedication, passion and empathy of a few individuals, it is certain that none of the animals would have survived. In particular a NOLA cop who was assigned to duty at the aquarium managed to be most instrumental in saving the penguins. The cop's name is John and if John should ever read this, I would want him to know that his actions will remain with me for the rest of my life.
After months of watching the sadness and feeling the loss of what was NOLA, I have pretty much been tapped out for donations. But if anyone who reads this and cares about animals can still do so, please pick an organization that is instrumental in helping either the Zoo, the Aquarium or the Humane Society to send money to. These are the unsung hero's of the animals of NOLA. And too, these same people are often the ones who lost their homes, have had their families scattered and will probably not be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the same cozy warmth as the rest of us will.