Helping The Animals Of Hurricane After Natural Disasters

By Cheryl Morrison

The images of dogs on rooftops of flooded homes in Louisiana will be ingrained in my memory for years to come. Day after day my friend and I watched CNN crying and sharing the sad stories of the day and wishing we could do more than give money to the disaster rescue group, Noah’s Wish. We wanted to do something more to make a difference. Earlier in the week, I had spotted a truck at the armory in Pawcatuck loaded with goods for people. It said, “Hurricane Relief Drive”. I shared the idea with my younger friend who has plenty of stamina, Susan Lonardelli. We thought, what if we got a truck, filled it with animal supplies and drove it right to the shelters needing it most? And to make it even more worth while, bring some animals back for vet care and adoption. It only took minutes for us to say, “let’s try it”.

Within a couple of days we had a ventilated, Penske Truck, suitable to carry animals reserved for us with a 60% discount. Next, we recruited friends, relatives and other animal lovers to help spread the word. The plan was Susan would drive with her mother, Marianne Lonardelli and I would stay back and man the phone and organize donations. Next, we asked Petco if we could use the parking lot. Then we set the dates and times, contacted the media, made up flyers and Copy Cats of New London donated 35 signs.

For two days, we parked the bright yellow truck with signs posted on it reading “Pawz and Clawz Rescue, Connecticut coming together for the animals of Katrina”. We waited patiently in front of Petco to see if the plan would work and boy, did it work. Kind animal lovers came from the towns of Waterford, New London, Groton, Stonington, Ledyard, Montville, 3 truck loads came from Wilton and Norwalk and even more donations came from East Hartford, all an hour and a half away! Sometimes the line had 3-4 trucks waiting their turn to unload. We got all of the items we wished for and more. Veterinarians like Cheryl Montiero of Four Paws in Mystic, Gales Ferry Animal Hospital, Hebron Veterinary Hospital and Groton-Ledyard Animal Hospital were big donors giving as much as 3 truckloads of much needed vaccines, gauze, fluid, special diet food and other important items. By 2:00 the first day there were piles upon piles of cat and dog food, each row 20 bags high. Boxes upon boxes of bedding, bowls, leashes, cages, carriers and large and small animal supplies.

Volunteers Charles Patenode, Jessie Jacques, Marge Kuhl and Liz and Jaime Patten showed up to help sort and box items and load the truck. When we were done loading the truck we all stood back and said, “uh, oh,” we still had piles in the parking lot left to go. So we loaded two pick-up trucks, a van and an SUV and put it in storage. We knew another trip was in order at a later date.

Rescue groups were contacted in the tri-state area to house the pets that would be brought back. Any group taking in an animal would have to agree to take it regardless of the health condition and would be responsible for any needed treatments. Groups like Lab Rescue CT and Out of the Pits, Pit Bull Terrier Rescue from New York warned us that the animals coming back might have Heartworm, mange, kennel cough, or pregnant, and many have become traumatized by the whole ordeal. But they added the animals are vet checked at the large shelters before they can leave.

With the truck fully loaded Susan and Marianne began their trip to Gonzales, Louisiana. When they arrived Susan called to describe the destruction. “Wow, power lines are down, dead birds are strewn along the side of the road, trees are torn from their roots and tossed blocks away, while other trees now resemble match sticks with all of the branches and leaves ripped from the trunk.” “Look!” Susan squealed, “did you see that?” she asked Marianne. I was listening at the other end, “See what? See what?” I kept asking. “A hub cap sticking in a tree trunk!” She said.

When the truck arrived at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Susan was surprised to find they no longer needed many of the supplies on board. So, she drove to the shelter at the University of Louisiana Veterinarian College, again, she was turned away. A bit disappointed, but not giving up we knew someone needed these supplies, somewhere.

The next day, a frantic call came into me in Stonington. It was a woman in New York from Pointer Rescue, she said, ” I know a woman in Louisiana who has taken in all of the neighbor’s cats and dogs when they evacuated before Hurricane Rita. She stayed behind to be with her own dogs and took in everyone else’s too.” She continued, “There is a total of 20 cats and dogs and she is running out of food and other supplies and one dog is ill from the heat, there is no power.” I got on the phone and called Susan immediately, but her cell phone kept cutting in and out or it would say, “due to the hurricane there is no service in the area”. I kept calling until I heard Susan’s voice. I repeated, “Can you hear me? It’s urgent!” Finally she could hear and I directed her to the woman in need. Susan said, “she is two hours away, but I will go there now.” She was able to give her supplies, check the sick dog and stay for a visit.

Next, she came across a shelter that was forced to open at a 4-H building just 4 days before, because most of the shelters in the area had stopped taking in animals. There were farmers with horses and cows desperately needing food and supplies. She called me while she was giving out feed, pitchforks and a much-needed wheelbarrow. All I could hear over the phone was a woman thanking her a thousand times over, I knew she had tears in her eyes. I did.

Since most of the shelters had stopped taking in animals, many animals were left behind to fend for themselves. Susan came across a man and a woman trying to find a shelter for a couple of friendly, stray dogs found together wandering. Then minutes later their fate had changed, when they were chosen to come on board for the ride back to Connecticut. But the truck still had room for more.

Susan returned to the Lamar-Dixon Expo to get the truck approved by PETA, the A.S.P.C.A. and the Department of Agriculture for the safe transportation of animals. She waited in line for hours, paperwork in hand with hundreds of other animal rescuers from across the United States to choose lucky animals to make journeys to new places and new lives. Some of the animals she ended up bringing had owners that had passed away in the flood while others were surrendered to animal control prior to the storm and still others were found as strays and are posted on Pet Finder to possibly reunite the owner with the pet. At the end of the trip Susan returned with 10 cats, 4 dogs, 2 ferrets and a hamster (who has been adopted).

Back at home, I was busy making calls for the much-needed large animal supplies that Susan had phoned in. During the phone calling, I was able to talk with Lab Rescue of Connecticut who had just returned with 20 dogs, and Pit Bull Terrier Rescue of New York who brought back 35 dogs – some Pit Bulls who most groups pass by and many mix breeds. I was told one even had puppies on the trip back to New York!

After hours of calling, I was able to make a connection with the very busy group Noah’s Wish, who was already busy helping in Louisiana. When I told them the farmers in Abbeville were in desperate need for hay and feed, they told me they were going to get right on it. Then the next day, I found a woman on Long Island to truck more large animal supplies down.

The animals that returned with Susan are safe in no-kill shelters or veterinarian hospitals being fostered, health checked, treated for any ailments and spayed and neutered. For a list of adoption centers or to donate to a rescue group with a Hurricane Katrina animal contact myself, Cheryl Morrison at 860-535-1390. For dogs, Merri Mahoney 860-345-2456, Animals in Distress for cats at 203-762-2006, Four Paws Vet Services for ferrets at 860-235-6244 or for a dog, Animal Rescue League of southern Rhode Island 401-783-7606 (Megan) or In the Pits for dogs at 518-766-4766 for dogs.

On October 17th Susan made another trip to Louisiana this time she was joined by Jessie Jacques, a vet tech and Marge Kuhl who runs Purr-fect Companion, a no-kill shelter for cats. Marge donated the vehicle and trailer. They will deliver much-needed large animal and vet supplies and volunteer with animals still being rescued from homes that are in critical condition. To the animals of Hurricane Katrina again, we send these goods with love from Connecticut.

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