Kalamity K

The Daily Chaos of Kalamity K
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2005-09-09 17:49:02 (UTC)

Owners refuse to abandon their pets

`It's like leaving your kids behind'
Owners refuse to abandon their pets

Private bus hired to evacuate animals

DAVID BRUSER
STAFF REPORTER

NEW ORLEANS—There are two good reasons why Peter Block
found himself still stuck in the city yesterday, with $116
to his name, slumped on the sidewalk and crying.

Venus and Serena.

They explain why, before Hurricane Katrina hit, he refused
a ride out of town in a car full of friends but with no
room for his most precious belongings.

They also explain why he risked a four-kilometre walk and
swim in a city under siege by looters to escape the rising
water in his neighbourhood near the 17th St. Canal.

The two stoic, black, 45-kilogram Great Danes, who would
not fit in the getaway car, who swam and walked through the
toxic streets with Block and did not eat anything but
cockroaches for six straight days, stood by their owner
yesterday as he finally let the fatigue and despair catch
up with him.

"My dogs are my life and I can't leave them behind," said
the 39-year-old contractor. "They don't know how to fend
for themselves. It's like leaving your kids behind."

Block was one of about 15 pet owners who heard by word-of-
mouth that a local woman, Robin Schaffer, arranged through
a friend to charter a bus from Baton Rouge to rescue pets
and their owners.

Katrina stranded pets by the thousand throughout New
Orleans as evacuees either did not have space in people-
packed vehicles, were forbidden by officials to flee with
their animals, or simply put out a supply of food thinking
a return to the city was only a few days off.

Inside the empty but still filthy convention centre, which
earlier in the week served as one of the largest refuges
for the stranded, two small, panic-stricken dogs standing
on chairs barked and barked. They were alone, and probably
had been for days.

In flooded neighbourhoods, starving dogs howled and felines
caterwauled through broken windows on dry upper floors. One
dog fought for balance on two boards free-floating in over
a metre of stagnant floodwater. Near the heavily damaged
Ninth Ward, groups of two and three dogs roamed the streets
scavenging for food and drinking dirty water that had
collected curbside.

On North Rampart on the edge of the French Quarter, the pet
lovers gathered yesterday, waiting for the bus that was
supposed to arrive at 10 a.m. but was held up at
checkpoints in the heavily guarded city.

Both the New Orleans Police Department and the 82nd
Airborne out of Fort Bragg, N.C., stopped to offer the
assembly a ride to a local shelter, but they could offer no
guarantees that pets and owners would remain together upon
evacuation.


------------------------------------------------------------

`My dogs are my life and I can't leave them behind. They
don't know how to fend for themselves.'

Peter Block, New Orleans animal lover

------------------------------------------------------------

So they stayed, peevishly trying to keep their dogs from
wandering out of the shade onto the shards of glass that
littered the sidewalk.

Antiques dealer Andrew Hopkins stood beside his lone
suitcase and two mutts, Belle and Lebau.

"This is my bag," he said. "These are my babies."

Eighteen hours after the storm hit, Robert Elmwood realized
that amid the chaos and quickly rising water, he lost track
of Ebony, a small mutt left behind by his neighbours.

Then he heard scratching and whimpering beneath the
elevated porch.

He chopped a hole in the front steps, saw Ebony tangled in
wires, chopped another hole, and his wife used wire cutters
to spring the dog free.

"I promised those people next door I'd take care of their
dog. When I heard that squeal in the front, it was a sigh
of relief. I'd chop the house down if I had to," said
Elmwood, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the
Korean and Vietnam wars. He added he had turned down a
helicopter evacuation because rescuers would not allow the
dog on board.

"I have a lot invested in that dog. She was drowning. It
was the most joyful event of this storm episode."

While the pet owners waited, a pickup full of New Orleans
police stopped and asked if anyone knew where to get food
and water to take to a dozen horses stranded across town.
No one knew.

How the French Quarter pet rescue happened was Schaffer,
who lives on a street where some landlines can dial out,
got word to her father's friend, Carlos Pavial in Baton
Rouge.

When the bus finally arrived with a Baton Rouge police
escort aboard, Pavial walked out and immediately started
stringing a sign to the side of the bus that read, "Pet
Loving People."

Pavial said he does not know or care how much the bus
company will charge for the rental. "I'm an engineer. I
learned to find a need and fill it," he said.

Before leaving, Block, Elmwood and others had to put their
dogs and cats into makeshift cardboard kennels and cover
the bus seats and floor with plastic sheets. Once in Baton
Rouge, the rescued will have to fend for themselves.

"Carlos, I love you," Schaffer said. "The impossible just
takes a little longer."

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