In Denver, Qwest Communications set up a bank of at least 50 phones at a processing center so refugees could call their loved ones. Colorado state Rep. Debbie Stafford said she was trying to arrange long-term shelter for the storm's victims, and also reunite people with their cats and dogs.
I'm glad they are finally getting folks to shelters and remembering the pets too but I keep realizing thousands of people who have never been out of their counties much less their state are now relocating to places like Ca. Az. Co. ect, Talk about culture shock.
David Meeks, sports editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, poses for a photo with his dog, Carson, outside The Courier’s office Saturday. Meeks used a kayak to paddle up to his Lakeview home to rescue Carson from the second floor. Times-Picayune staffers have spent the week at The Courier producing their newspaper and Web editions after escaping their flooded building. (MATT STAMEY/THE COURIER)
HOUMA -- Harold McDonald was racing to escape drowning in the floodwaters Hurricane Katrina swept into New Orleans when something made him turn around.
He found out his son’s red-nosed pit bull, Lela, remained stranded at his home.
Lela now sits safely inside a kennel at the East Park Fire Station in Houma, along with more than 30 other evacuated dogs and cats. Across the street, McDonald sits safely in the East Park Recreation Center with dozens of other New Orleans refugees.
Houma has received hundreds of human evacuees, a number of whom refused to leave devastated New Orleans without their animal friends. Several local organizations and businesses have pitched in, supplying volunteers, pet supplies, food, water and foster homes. At least 50 animals are spread among the East Park Fire Station, the Evergreen Cajun Center in Gray and the Terrebonne Parish Animal Shelter, said shelter manager Valerie Robinson. Another roughly 25 pets rescued from a Gretna veterinarian’s office by the Terrebonne shelter have been dispersed among local veterinarian offices. The local vets are also treating wounded or sick refugee animals.
Evacuees are grateful, said Robinson, making signs of the cross and blessing volunteers for helping their pets.
"To some people, this is literally all they have," said Tracy Lapeyrouse, animal-control officer for the shelter.
Evacuees paddled rafts, bashed out windows and talked their way into saving their pets.
For some, the animals represent something comforting and familiar in the midst of chaos. For others, pets represent their only family.
For McDonald, Lela was simply his son’s dog until the struggle to survive forged a bond between them so strong that McDonald refused to leave the city without his pet.
McDonald’s wife and sons had all evacuated New Orleans by Tuesday morning, making him and Lela the home’s sole occupants. As the water kept rising, reaching McDonald’s neck, and radio announcers urged residents to flee the city, he finally decided to leave his home.
After he turned back for the dog, the two became partners, floating for hours on an air mattress, walking the streets, and finally reaching rescuers that would include Lela in their efforts. Lela’s intimidating size offered protection from looters and gangs, he said.
"I wasn’t leaving the dog after all that," he said. "If they wouldn’t have told me I could bring her, I would’ve stayed."
Along the way, McDonald said he passed opportunities for shelter in New Orleans, including a helicopter ride to the Superdome, because he wasn’t leaving his comrade.
"In a way, that dog is my salvation," he said, referring to avoiding the horrible conditions at the Superdome. "I wasn’t leaving her go."
McDonald said he never thought he would feel so strongly about a dog.
"I’m a living witness; people do crazy things for the animals they love," he said. "I could have been gotten out of New Orleans. I’m just not leaving this dog."
He admits tearing up several times thinking about Lela’s paws, rubbed raw from making their way to I-610, where he and Lela finally got on a bus and made it to Houma. As McDonald continues trying to track down his wife and two adult sons, whom he believes are in Houston, Lela has become his only family.
"The dog is all the family I got with me right now," he said. "Looks like it’ll be me and the dog for awhile."
David Meeks, Times-Picayune sports editor, kayaked more than two miles to his New Orleans home, smashed in a window with a paddle and swam through a house full of floating furniture to reach his dog Carson.
"I didn’t know if he was alive," said Meeks. "I had to try. I at least wanted to make a try."
The second time Meeks called Carson’s name, the golden retriever-Australian shepherd mix began barking excitedly. Meeks found Carson on the steps whimpering, but the editor couldn’t swim out of the house with the dog in tow.
Just then, three volunteer boaters from Assumption Parish reached Meeks’ home and helped Carson escape out a second-story window, Meeks said.
The friendly dog now stays outside The Courier office in a makeshift cage with a sign boasting his picture and proclaiming him a Katrina survivor.
Meeks, who has traveled into New Orleans each day since the storm, said he is not alone in going to extreme measures to keep a pet.
"I’ve talked to many people in their houses who will not leave because they can’t bring their pets to the shelters," said Meeks. "They’re still there."
Meeks said he plans to accompany an SPCA group on animal-rescue missions into the city and hopes to retrieve his two cats.
Evelyn Carlton of New Orleans, who’s staying at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Thibodaux, said she would not leave the city without her Rottweiler, Mcala. A neighbor took Carlton and her dog to the Thibodaux church three days after the storm hit. The pastor opened the church auditorium to evacuees and their pets. Father James Morrison, himself a dog owner, noticed the need for an animal shelter at Nicholls State University, where hundreds of evacuees are staying.
Between 60 and 120 pet owners have stayed at the shelter with their animals in the St. Thomas auditorium, said Joe Wallace, a Nicholls student helping with the shelter. The church is housing not only dogs and cats, but birds, rabbits and a small pig, most rescued from New Orleans.
Carlton said having Mcala with her brings comfort.
"It’s great. It makes me feel better," Carlton said.
Robinson said the Terrebonne shelter needs foster homes for evacuee pets. Volunteers are also needed to watch the animals at the shelter. She advises refugees not to leave pets in vehicles at shelters or abandon them for lack of supplies. Instead, call the Terrebonne animal shelter for supplies or a foster home for animals. The number is 873-6709.