Wednesday, November 23, 2005

If you want current information about the situation in New Orleans...

Posted by Abbie Moore

If you're looking for up-to-the minute information about the animal situation in New Orleans, including information about volunteering, go to and

Eric Rice, founder of Eric's Dog Blog, is an incredible guy who spent many weeks in New Orleans, and countless lives were saved as a result. He also writes one heck of a blog. Make sure you check it out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

David returns from New Orleans (If you only read one blog entry, read this one!)

1:06 am Tuesday morning- I have just returned from New Orleans for the third time. I have a lot to say here.

I went there just several days ago, although, as usual, it feels like a lifetime ago. My goal was to see if we could find any more live pets trapped in homes, or if it was time to concentrate on all the pets running around in dangerous conditions on the streets.

I arrived Friday afternoon, and immediately went to our new staging area near the Southern Animal Foundation on Magazine St. Holly and Rob have been working around the clock to manage the effort and keep things going on the ground. If we were once a military force, we are now just a guerilla force with nearly no supplies, operating out of a parking lot. We are doing all we can to get some funds and supplies and in the last two days things seem to have improved a bit.

I loaded up my rental van with supplies, and it was already after dark when I began checking houses on our list of owners who reported their pets were left in homes before the hurricane, and needed rescue. The curfew in most parts of the city is now midnight. I began navigating the city streets in the dark, which is very difficult because in most areas, street lights are still out and the street signs were long ago either blown away entirely, or worse, spun around by the wind, making street navigation extraordinarily frustrating without GPS (which I did not have).

In the dark, one by one I began entering destroyed homes, alone and with no light but my flashlight. If going into musty, moldy, destroyed homes looking for starving pets is creepy in the day time, which it is, I can tell you it is much worse at night. In a deserted city, moving through room after room of muck-soaked debris, finding dead and decomposing animals, with the wind blowing and not a soul but me with a flashlight—it’s a weird experience, to say the least. Not for the weak of spirit. As I was driving in a particularly eerie part of the city, my brother got through to me on the cell and really hammered in the real danger--people thinking I am some kind of looter and shooting me. He finally got through to me, in a way. Instead of stopping, I crossed over the Mississippi to east New Orleans and talked my way past a National Guard check point and into an area where residents have not yet been allowed back. I continued to do my midnight searching there. I had Jane on the line in the middle of the night as I went through one house where several dogs had been reported left. Clearly the owner had been back and taken the dogs and much of the remaining belongings in the house, but he had left a fish tank with one dead guppy, but one live one. How hard would it have been to take his fish? So, with Jane on the line, I rummaged through the battered kitchen, found a glass jar with a lid, and managed to rescue the guppy-hey, all things great and small-a life is a life.

But most of the night was far more somber. I entered a pitch dark dog boarding kennel with dogs dead in the washbasin and the putrid smell of rotting carcasses. By the light of my flashlight, I saw carcasses of cats that had died, trapped, after being locked in bathrooms. House after house contained nothing but morbid signs of a catastrophe gone by, or no sign of pets at all because they had either been rescued by us or by their owners. Finally, I was stopped by the police, who found it really weird I was out in the middle of the night looking for pets in houses, so I decided it was time to call it a night and start over the next morning. I spent the next several hours, until almost 4am, preparing a special list of addresses for the most likely areas Jane and I could think of where pets might still be alone. Dorothy of had refined that list further by looking for the words "locked” or “trapped” or “attic" in the description owners had given. Our thinking was that animals left in yards, for example, would already have been found, but a pet that was locked in or in an attic might not yet have been rescued and might still be alive.

The next morning I jumped in to give Rob a break and led the early-morning meeting. Then I headed out again, alone, to cover as many houses as possible. I literally ran from my car into houses, searching carefully every room, looking in every closet, climbing into attics, some collapsing into the rooms below. In all I must have visited and thoroughly searched upwards of 40 homes in one day--three times what a team would normally do, and I found nothing. Nothing. Every home had already been opened by us or an owner, some clearly a long time ago. I finished the day very discouraged to have not yet found a single pet still needing my help, and feeling that time was running out.

I staggered back to the apartment where some of us were staying, courtesy of a displaced renter. After a few hours of sleep I began again on Sunday. I headed out to Saint Bernard Parish, having no trouble (which is not always the case) getting past the rather eastern-bloc military barricade of stacked crushed cars. I saw homes where the flood had gone beyond the ceiling. House after house, no pets to be seen. I tried to keep my spirits up as I headed to a house where the owner had said a cat named Tiger had been left in a second-story apartment unit above the garage with some food and water. In a devastated area not covered as thoroughly by us as others, and safe above the flood, this cat might still be alive! I sped there through rubble-and-mud-filled and deserted streets, arriving at the house. There, spray painted on the house by one of our rescuers, was the words "cat with owner".

My heart sank. I had been denied my chance to save a life... and then what must seem obvious to anyone else hit me. I had lost my focus. My ego, which is such a strong motivator for me to act bravely and quickly, had led me astray. I walked up the muddy stairs to the room above the garage, verified that no cat was present and smiled to myself and said, as my Australian friends do, "Good on you, Tiger, you survived." What better thing? Tiger survived and was with his/her owner. This should make me ecstatic, not sad. At that moment I realized that each house I visited that had already been visited by an owner or us was in fact a victory. It became clear to me I was not going to meet my goal of saving one pet starved in a home, because, I now honestly believe, there are none left to save--or at least none remaining on the lists we have. The list is, after all, a list of only those pet guardians who ever heard of the 1-800 phone number HSUS set up, and only those who cared enough about their pets to call. Naturally, first chance they got, they came home. Some found their pets had been rescued by us, some found their pets alive, and some found them dead. But it is clear to me now, the cases reported on our list have been resolved already, whether we know it or not. There are, I think, still pets trapped in homes, but clean-up workers or landlords will have to find them and call us, and this is, in fact, still happening each day, and we of course respond instantly.

Seeing that our list is no longer of use was the kind of closure for me that Dorothy, Jane or Pia will never have, and I realize now why I had to go there to see for myself. None of us could ever look at a list that said, "Please, please rescue Tiger--He had some food and water and is trapped on the second floor" and believe that we should not go there even today and check it along with every remaining house on the list. We never had enough people to finish the list and we were late in getting it, but all it is now is a list of desperate pleas, no longer current, and I believe it does not tell the truth of what is out there. Continuing to go to houses on the list takes people off the real task of feeding and saving those pets who did survive and are now on the streets, under homes, and running in packs. The official search and rescue in homes in New Orleans is now over-not because any government agency or animal group said it is over, but because we have no way of finding more pets to save. The reality on the ground dictates our actions, not some edict from someone in an office. We are now concentrating on rescuing pets on the streets. It was so hard for me to say this, knowing I might be condemning that one remaining pet starving in a home on our list, but my heart and mind, and experience of covering perhaps 60 homes in 36 hours tells me that pets on our list are no longer waiting for us to save them. And the only way Dorothy, Jane and Pia would believe it was if it came from my mouth. I was sad to have worked so hard without saving one more, but now I feel that this is good. None remain starving or trapped that I can go help. They are rescued or at peace with God. It's out of my hands. It is time to finally, really, physically and mentally go home.

Something terrible happened in New Orleans. Something so terrible that if you were not there and did not see it or smell it, you cannot imagine it. If you were there, you understand what I am saying. We who went there and saw this horrible site, this place of dead and starving pets, of lives and homes and businesses in ruins, who smelled the stink of rotting sewage, flesh and poisons, whose eyes burned - we have a sense a what occurred and we will never be the same.

I got back to the apartment where we were staying too late Sunday night to find a place to eat that was open in the now re-opening Garden district of the city. So I asked Holly if there was any food. There was a can of baked beans, but no can opener. There was a pop top can of refried beans, but trust me, cold out of a can it is no good- I tasted it. I told Holly that there was a supermarket just a mile away- fully stocked and open. I joked that weeks from now, the entire city will be functional, except for a group of animal rescue volunteers camped out in an apartment eating canned rations, not unlike Japanese soldiers in caves on islands who never heard that the war ended. Things in New Orleans are, in some areas, returning to life. In other areas they will have to tear down everything and start again, and this poses the new threat...

Even before the hurricane, New Orleans had a very bad stray animal problem. Now there are many more dogs and cats on the street, many former pets, and many fewer people in the city to care for them. To make matters worse, many buildings will soon be destroyed, and these pets are hiding there. We must now get those pets off the streets, and that is the challenge Jane has turned herself towards.

I continued to work Monday, responding to those calls of pets in distress, and I did get to save my animal--two, actually. Our rescuers had come across a frightened and potentially aggressive black chow, living on a porch. The poor dog had survived the flood waters which barely stayed below the raised porch level, and had been fed by a kind neighbor who had returned. The neighbor said her name was Ebony (photo in my photo album on The neighbor had seen the owners pull up in a car, load what belongings they could, and leave the dog behind saying they didn't want her. When I arrived with a catch pole (a pole with a soft noose to grab hold of an aggressive or frightened animal), Ebony was huddled under a small coffee table on the porch, behind a potted plant, growling. That dog had been on that porch for weeks, and would let no one touch her. She was so scared, and that porch was the only safe place in the world for her right then.

I approached slowly and indirectly, opening up a can of cat food upwind and letting her smell it. I slowly placed it on the porch and kneeled down on the front lawn, looking away from her. Slowly, I moved up the steps and bit by bit began clearing away chairs and other items so I would be able to have a clear space. She was barking up a storm, but I could tell, she was just scared. She was a black chow, just like my rescue pup at home, and I knew this girl was going to get rescued now. Slowly, I leaned the pole toward her and placed the noose around her neck as she bit at it. Once around her neck I pulled it snug, but not too tight, and I sat down. There I stayed for maybe an hour. Just me and her. She fell asleep only to notice my hand coming close and growl again. All I wanted was to pet her. I knew that forcing her into the crate at this point would just further traumatize her, and I decided she could take whatever time she needed. This porch was her only safe place.

I called the original rescuer, Michelle, who had seen her. She said she wanted to take this pup home to Oregon. I told her to come back and sit with the dog for as long as it takes to get to pet her. She came over and sat down and I left to answer another call for a cat found healthy in an upper floor of an apartment complex.

So I drove out, back to East New Orleans where I had been in the dark two nights before, and after considerable trouble finding the apartment number in this huge complex, I went in an open door and up two flights of stairs and heard the cat. This orange tabby came right up to me like we were best friends. He looked great, I petted him and placed an open can of cat food in the carrier and he waltzed right in. I closed the carrier, but apparently did not clip it properly when I assembled it because walking outside back to the van, the door popped open and he jumped out! I was on the phone with Jane, getting my next address for an abandoned dog, and suddenly all time stood still. I held my breath and calmly crouched down and spoke to the cat, inviting him to come over to be petted. He thought about it and looked around... and then he came. He came back to me and let me pet him and pick him up and put him back in the carrier. That was a pivotal moment in that cat's life, and he made the right choice. I needed to check on one more dog, get the cat back to our staging area, and catch a plane.

And so, with only an hour left before I had to leave to catch my plane home, I had helped save one last dog and one last cat and I put their photos in my photo album our site. It still felt good because for two days and nights, I had seen nothing alive--nothing but rotting corpses and falling-in roofs. I just wanted to save a life one more time, and Jane knew that. She gave me one more call--A sweet pit bull who had survived the flood in the same area I was in, on the second floor of a house, only to have the owner come home and decide they didn't want the dog. This poor dog was apparently under the porch and I sped off, cat securely in the carrier in the car. The address was hard to find, and the house I did find did not have a porch. But I searched the house and could clearly see a pet had been in there for a long time, and there were tracks in the mud on the first floor. Clearly the address was right. I searched the area, using the smell of cat food on my fingers as a lure, but could find no dog. So I put up a feeding station, allowing the outside faucet to drip into a pan to keep it full of water and placed food beside it. Another rescuer will look again tomorrow. Damn, my last attempt and I didn't succeed. I just wasn't going to get to leave New Orleans on an up note.

It was good that I went back to New Orleans again. It gave me some closure I think. I also got the chance to visit a few of the places where I had left pets in homes with food and water many weeks ago. You see, early on, there was not room in the Gonzales facility for all the pets our teams were rescuing so we were being told to keep pets in homes. There was a also a belief that owners would soon come back, so if we could keep pets in their homes, basically turning the whole city into a shelter of sorts, the pets would soon be reunited with their families. What we didn't know was that hurricane Rita was coming to deliver more flooding, and that many people would never come back--many can't. It was a big mistake for us to leave those pets in homes. One of many. And as many of us do, I sit with the guilt wondering whether the pets we left in homes were ever subsequently rescued by our teams or if owners did, in fact, come back. It is haunting. But I am so happy to say that of the four homes I was able to return to where I had left cats and dogs, there were no dead animals there and all indications were that either an owner or one of our volunteers had since been there and rescued a live animal. I cannot tell you how cathartic this is for me, and I hope it gives hope to others who carry the same guilt and fear I do.

There will be no up-note to end this saga, no clean ending, no neat package with which we can tie up this story. That is what I told Jane and Dorothy, as we have to live with the knowledge that we never succeeded in checking every home of people who called in. There will always be question marks. There was the dog I fed and watered and left in a home on my first day--the place was toxic, but the dog was beside herself with fear, standing on a broken kitchen table in a corner, barking furiously. I left food and water and a broken open window, and spray-painted on the wall, as we all did, that a dog was present and inside. I do not know where that home was because it was my fist day ever in New Orleans and Pia and Dave Kaplowitz were doing the driving and navigation. I don't know if anyone ever went back there or if that poor dog survived. I pray she did. I will never know. We will never know the fate of the pets we sent to Gonzales and if they will ever find their owners -- if they will end up in good homes. With so many out there, I'm sure some will not, in fact I just heard of this terrible situation with Katrina pit bulls sent to someplace in Arkansas where they may have been starved. It’s all just awful. There will be no neat ending to this story.

This is an experience filled with vagueness and mistakes. I have spoken to HSUS, and all of us volunteers want a chance to contribute to a thorough review of all that has happened and many many things that could have been done much better in order to save more pets in the future. All of us who were there will carry with us haunting memories. I got a bit of closure, and of course I have Orlea, the black cat I took home to foster after my first "tour of duty". Here she lies curled on the couch, not far from Roger and Righteous, my other cats who seem to have decided in my absence that she is not so bad. And beneath them on the floor, also curled in a ball, fast asleep, is my black chow Peach. And in New Orleans tonight is a really scared black chow named Ebony who is going to have a great life in Oregon.

So if there is no neat ending, only open questions, let me try to neatly end in this way.

Something terrible happened in New Orleans--to people and to animals. Those words will always be how I begin when I describe this experience and how I end it. But what I do know is that a bunch of people, a bunch of heroes, showed up and saved thousands of animals. In a society whose government works to recover every dead human body but made no official effort that I know of to save one live animal, thousands of people just showed up. They were young and old, men and women. They just got on a plane or got in a car, paid their own way and just showed up, like me. They went on boats, broke through windows, climbed though rancid sludge, saw nightmarish sites, carried emaciated animals in their arms, drove for hours, provided emergency vet care, fed and walked and cared for animals, and shipped animals around the country. As I drove the streets of New Orleans one more time on the way to the airport, there was not a block without our tell-tale spray paint saying "pet rescued".

I believe more died than were ever rescued, but I don't know. What I do know is that while something terrible happened in New Orleans, something amazing happened there too. We showed up, and thanks to Jane and everyone, including many people I never met and so many hundreds who I have not mentioned and whose names I never even knew, we formed an army of life--nothing short of an army of life.

Many of us walk away with guilt and nightmares. If you are a rescuer and you are reading this, we understand each other. We left and felt terribly guilty. Most of us came back. We felt more at home in the horror, taking action, than at home with our friends or in our jobs. We had a purpose--a meaning--an urgency to life that just makes everything else seem so boring and unimportant. We carry guilt and memories that we feel no one can understand except someone who was there. We look at our own pets, happy and healthy, and feel somehow guilty. We hear a dog bark and think to find and rescue them. We know how fast things can go from fine to disaster. We look at healthy pets and can see emaciated pets inside them. I don't know how I'd make it without Pia to talk to. But we need to move on--to take these experiences and do better next time--to push forward.

My brother Bill has tried to console me. Bill is like a wise sage to me. He was reminding me of the Buddhist principal that all life involves suffering and all life ends in death--that I cannot second-guess life and can only do my best, find my path. I remember a Zen story, where a student and his master are walking down a forest path and the student sees a snail in the middle of the road. Compassionately, the student places the snail on the side of the road to avoid being stepped on, at which time the master slaps the student with his walking stick. The student asks the master why he did that, and the master replied that the student has no knowledge of ultimate consequences; perhaps he has just placed the snail closer to some other animal that will eat the snail. If I understand that story correctly, I believe it is not meant to teach people not to be compassionate, but rather to make the point that when we take actions in the world, even ones we think are good, we don't know the ultimate consequences and should therefore let things be and not try to play God.

But I have a different take on the story. I think the student did the right thing, even if he might have moved the snail closer to and not farther from danger. Who can know? But to me it’s not about the snail, it’s about the student. You are either a person who takes action to try to do good or not. We cannot know whether we succeed ultimately, but we can try. So, I guess if life is about suffering and we are all on our paths, I hope my actions helped there be a little less suffering, and helped prolong life for those animals. And as for me, and what I learned, honestly, I'm just going to need to sit with this for a long, long time. It didn't make sense--it was awful--the world was turned upside down. But there is one thing I can say now that I did learn.

Sometimes you just gotta show up. You can't always do everything, but now and again, you just gotta show up. I have a friend, a big supporter of animal causes, named Craig Neilson. Craig works with a small group that does spay/neuter of street dogs in Mexico, called the Give Some Life Foundation ( They take vets and other volunteers and do big round-ups of stray pets and spay or neuter them, provide other medical care for them, and, where possible, get them into good homes. I called Craig when I first knew I was going to Louisiana and asked if he would come. He is a pilot and an ex-military man and I knew he had skills that would really help. Craig is one of the finest human beings I know and one of the finest animal people. He said that every day is a Katrina down in Mexico, and I understood him completely. He has invited me many times to go down and help, but I have always been busy, even busy doing other great things for animals with But when Pia called me from New Orleans, she got me to show up. She was a drop in the ocean, but she created a ripple that led to me and everyone I led to and all we did. She got me to show up. Jane showed up. Dorothy never even left her home, but believe me, night and day for the last seven weeks, she showed up.

So the next time you hear of a need or a crisis, before you think “how sad” and move on with your life, just take a second and consider maybe taking a chance and just showing up. You never know where it might lead. Make a call, send some money, or maybe, just that once, get in your car and go. Just decide now that you are going to reserve a few days of your life this year, and when the right thing crosses your path that moves you, just throw logic aside and just show up. That is how we can change the world.

There is still a great need in New Orleans--a need for people to help round up loose and frightened dogs and cats, a need for money and supplies. And the need for animals, even just dogs and cats goes far beyond that, of course. I helped start to save animals. Before Katrina happened, we were saving pets--thousands--and we still are; over 1,400 shelters and rescue groups depend on us every day, and they adopt tens of thousands of pets with our help because of the visibility we give those poor caged dogs and cats on the internet. We have only one employee, Abbie Moore. She "shows up" every day, and I mean every day--seven days a week and late into the night. We are in a constant struggle for donations, or for companies that want to sponsor us. We also need to spread the word about our free service and get publicity. If you can help, please do.

And my last word on New Orleans, as of course it must be, is the animals. All the dogs and cats and horses and hamsters and birds. All the "pets" and even all the wild animals whose homes were flooded and destroyed, not only in Louisiana, but in Mississippi, Texas and now Florida. This story is about them. I saw something traumatic--but they lived it. Please tonight, say a prayer for all those that died--that drowned, trapped by the rising waters, or that starved because we did not get to them in time. Please say a prayer for the ones we rescued that are still in cages, awaiting a home somewhere. There is no clear ending to this story. A terrible thing happened in New Orleans...Let's not forget, and let's do better next time.

Friday, October 21, 2005

David heading back to New Orleans one last time - Oct. 21

It’s the middle of the night--again--2am. I have been home for several days, but have not been able to get my life back. Still on the phone and e-mailing constantly with Jane, Pia and now Brenda of and Kate and Karla. All of these great people helping us get logistical support, deal with volunteers, get supplies--so many things going on. And then there is the whole mess of all the pets we rescued not being able to be properly tracked by their owners. I really hope it gets straightened out because it’s heartbreaking, but that is a topic for another day.

The real news for me is that our volunteers have dropped to such low numbers that we are not at all sure we will ever get to every house on our list of where pets were left. Many, though, were rescued anyway before we even had a list. The people still on the ground are working so hard-- Rob, Holly, Alvin--all of them. They must be so tired. I cannot get what I feel is an accurate read on whether the list is now a moot point and we should just rescue the pets on the streets.

So, once again I’m off to New Orleans. I'm heading out before dawn and will be there until Monday, getting an accurate read on the validity of the list, doing whatever it takes to get into more houses than humanly possible, and seeing what folks I can round up who will move at the pace I am requesting. Jane and Dorothy really wanted me to go, but they understood if I didn’t. Pia said it’s ok, too. But after a day of deliberation, I’m packing my bags. If there are ACOs or firefighters or whoever who can work on their own (not in teams), and they can be a strike force, I'll direct them. I need a catch pole and a crowbar down there, which I'll try to scrounge up. Jane will send me to wherever the highest chance is of me finding someone alive. Maybe apartments? Maybe where the flood was not too bad and we're just dealing with starvation?

So do not look for me to do any coordination- Jane has got it covered and Pia is available as well- honestly, I'm exhausted. My goals in going out there now, unless Jane tells me differently, are:

  1. Ascertain the validity of continuing to pursue the list.
  2. Report on anything I see that will help focus our efforts to save the neediest pets soonest-evaluate the pets on the street and feeding stations-- Jane, I'm tired, so I need some direction here.
  3. Do our bidding as needed, but know I start this trip very burned out already and need to get back to my life and my martial arts business.

My personal goal is to save just one that wouldn't have been saved had I not come. Just one. I can't stay longer than a few days because I have to head to Canada as soon as I get back for my work. I am so exhausted and I just want my normal life back--I'm a martial arts instructor and I have not exercised in a month-I am so lost.

This is going to sound funny, but someone ought to look into a donation of night vision goggles. They can be expensive, but we don't need the latest technology, and they see heat and would allow us to look for pets at night, especially the ones on the streets. It could be valuable, I think.

Let’s go hard and save every last one we can. Then I'll come home, maybe more sure that we did our best. Everyone who comes back wants to go back. Everyone feels guilty for the dogs and cats and other animals we did not save. Everyone feels lonely, like no one can relate. I'm tired. But I'll go back one more time and try to find the very last one alive in a home. I'm coming.

P.S. If Cindy (my pet sitter) is reading this, thank you for caring for my guys while I'm gone. I couldn't go five feet away if I didn't know you were here to keep them safe. You are their God-mom. And thanks for looking after Orlea. (I don't think I mentioned that I brought home a cat on my first time back--will try to reunite her with her human, if possible. Black cat Pia and I rescued from under a car. I named her Orlea for New Orleans. Not that brilliant, I know-- But in Hebrew, "Or-Li" means a light unto me, and she it that-- She knows where I've been and knows where I going back to. I so didn't want to go back, but when I look at her.... let her light guide me to just one more. Off to the plane now...)

Friday, October 14, 2005

WE DID IT! The last remaining pets have been moved out of Gonzales!

Posted by David Meyer

WE DID IT! The last remaining pets have been moved out of Gonzales!

It all began with a concerned call from Pia, who said that the pets remaining in Gonzales, which were almost all pit bulls, might be hastily judged to be vicious and would then be euthanized in the mad rush to vacate the Lamar Dixon facility. This is a very delicate subject. Of course, HSUS itself would not condone euthanizing pets as a means to empty the Lamar Dixon facility, but there were many other agencies involved, including the public health service, the Army, etc., who might have other pressing concerns besides the welfare of these animals. People on the ground with whom I spoke definitely felt that no meaningful decision could be made about the temperament of these dogs under the stressful conditions at Lamar. It was a fact that euthanizations had begun on the pets that were not yet claimed by owners or spoken for by other rescue groups. Whatever was really going on and whoever knew it, it was clear to me and Pia that all the pets needed to be evacuated and held for true temperament testing under less stressful conditions, and it was also clear the Army was serious that all pets needed to be out of Lamar Dixon by Monday morning, nearly a week before the deadline of the 15th that we’d been given previously.

So, Pia tagged every dog and cat there as a pet, which meant that we were committing to taking them into our organization. We are just a website. No office. No shelter. No kennels. One employee (Abbie Moore) who runs everything. But Pia was concerned, Abbie and I agreed, and the decision was made. All of these pets who had survived Hurricane Katrina, the flood of New Orleans, Hurricane Rita, starvation, toxic chemicals and all the rest, would be given all the time they need to be evaluated properly, and given a chance at life, and hopefully, to be reunited with their owners.

HSUS was very supportive and happy to have our help moving them out. I told HSUS that I hoped they’d be able to get other shelters and humane societies to take some of these pets before the next day, but I guaranteed we would take however many were left. The only problem was that I had no idea what to do. It was time for a miracle.

So, on Saturday night of a holiday weekend, I started making calls to find trucks or a plane or anything that could move 150 animals. The other obvious question was where to move them to! All I can tell you is that the phone was not off my head for 48 hours straight, and all this was in addition to the work I was doing to continue running the search and rescue teams. Bobby of New Leash on Life, a great rescue organization in Los Angeles, really came through, saying he would have his organization waiting on the ground in Los Angeles if I could get the pets there. He put me in touch with Tia of Villalobos Rescue Center, a fantastic pit bull rescue just north of L.A., who said she could house the pit bulls, but it would be very expensive and would require building new facilities and hiring new staff, as these pit bulls, if not claimed by their families, would likely be with her for a very long time.

I put the word out to everyone I knew about getting an airplane. How would this be possible on such short notice, and how could we ever afford it? My great friend Dr. Paula Kislak said she would donate a great deal of money to help us, if need be. Paula herself had just been in New Orleans for about 10 days, going into houses and rescuing pets alongside me. She is amazing. And then I got a call.

A guy named Bill called me and said if I could get the pets to the airport on Monday morning, there would be a plane there to take them. I had never met Bill. He had never met me. It was, I think, late Saturday. It would cost over $50,000 and he would have to trust me that I would pay it. Everything was done by the seat of our pants, and by Sunday morning it all seemed to break down logistically, with everyone stressed out and no time to do things right. HSUS had thought it better to ship the animals by ground, so I concentrated on that option. I began arranging for a convoy of HSUS trucks to drive the animals across country to Los Angeles, which, although worse for the animals then a plane flight, would at least buy us more time to arrange where the heck the pets would go when they got to L.A.

Then, on Sunday, the folks at HSUS told me they thought the plane flight would be better for the health of the animals and HSUS would cover the huge cost of transportation. And then came the call from Bill. The plane was still available! He said not to worry about where the animals would go when they reached L.A., just get every single space on that plane filled with a pet in need and we'd sort it out. I agreed and I liked his can-do attitude. Bill is a tough cookie, but he's a guy I can work with.

So, with Pia tagging animals, HSUS processing them at Gonzales and covering the transport and some start-up housing costs for the pit bulls, Paula covering some more housing costs and getting rescue groups to agree to foster some pets, Bobby getting his volunteers ready to receive animals at LAX airport and house them, Tia frantically making space at her pit bull sanctuary which already houses 150 needy pit bulls, and HSUS 18-wheelers called into position, a 5AM in-the-dark procession of these forlorn pit bulls began marching, one by one (assisted by scores of volunteers, of course), into transport crates. Then the Army loaded them onto trucks, and off they went to the airport. I have never seen such an amazing site.

One big rig was loaded with 27 pit bulls that Francis at Best Friends in Mississippi had agreed to take. Another big rig went with crates and volunteers to pick up other dogs and cats from the Dixon Correctional Facility, where an overflow of pets from Gonzales had been being held. A third left Gonzales, with me and volunteers following close behind. The mantra we kept repeating that morning was "Leave no pet behind, leave no pet behind".

Ours was the first big rig to arrive at the airport. The plane was not there yet and we checked that the refrigeration in the truck was working properly and that all the animals were safe. It was amazing to see an entire big rig filled with rows of dogs in carrier crates.

Then, out of the sky, a DC9 landed. That guy Bill, whom I’d never met or heard of until 24 hours before, came through. A DC9 cargo plane, with no seats but those in the cockpit, pulled up, and we began using a forklift to load pets from the high tailgate of the big rig into the cargo hull of this huge jet.

Then the second big rig arrived, and for a moment it seemed that we wouldn’t have enough room. We would need smaller crates and had none. We continued to load the pets. It was all so noisy with the big rigs running, all the sounds of jet engines, all the dogs going nuts-we kept the cats separate to keep them from getting scared. We had exactly 80 dogs and 20 cats. We loaded them, stacked to the ceiling and by another miracle, they all fit into that plane. The last pets to leave Gonzales, the unwanted ones. But they were wanted. They were wanted by Pia. They were wanted by me, by Abbie, by Bobby and Tia and every volunteer who had broken down doors to rescue these pets from flooded homes.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when that plane closed its doors and fired up its engines. A DC9 filled to the top with 100 animals, the survivors, the homeless, the emaciated, the lost, the scared. I've heard engines fire up a million times-- to take travelers to do business, to take people on vacations, but the deafening noise of those jet engines, as we stood there so close on the tarmac, was a sound like none I had heard before. I called Abbie at the office on my cell, knowing she would never be able to hear my voice and just shouted at her that the plane was going to leave-I wanted her to hear what a jet loaded with 100 pets sounded like. It was the best sound I had ever heard. I and Pia and so many others had pulled those dogs and cats from the wreckage of homes, pulled them from under houses, pulled them from locked bathrooms, and now they were going to people who would care for them. And now, for once, the power of humans, the awesome power of a jet engine, was going to be used for something good. Tears were in all of our eyes, and one of the volunteers told me it was the high point of her life. There were television cameras there, but I had no time for an interview, I was already on the phone making sure each pet had a place to go and would be tracked so their owner could find them. Eye on the ball--save pets' lives.

The plane turned around, got on the runway and launched itself into the sky, bolting towards the horizon with its cargo of dogs and cats, one pilot, one co-pilot, and one little powerhouse of a woman who, just one day before, had made the call to me that got it all started…Pia Salk.

You know, millions of homeless pets die in shelters each year. Let it be known right here, right now, that anyone who calls those pets "unwanted" is mistaken. They may be homeless, but they are not unwanted. I want them all, and if we could, Pia would tag each cage and I would arrange for a thousand jets to fly them all to safety. If only it could happen that way, but for those 100, it did happen that way. Paula called me yesterday: every one, every single one is safe and accounted for. Everybody came through and the miracle happened. And by the way, Tia from Villalobos Rescue says that none of the pit bulls, not one of them, is aggressive…they’re all lovers. Not a single one will be euthanized. We left none behind.

Pictures have been posted in the photo album--click the link on the right side of the page

David's thoughts from Los Angeles - October 14

It is early morning Friday. I am in Los Angeles, having left Louisiana back for home in San Francisco, and then immediately headed down here for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, where I assist my uncle, a rabbi, in leading the services. It has been so long since I have exercised or done my passion/profession, which is teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu/self defense to martial arts instructors and law enforcement officers ( I have never gone so long without training or exercise. I am going to get my head handed to me by my training partners when I first step back on the mat!

So much is still happening. I have so much I want to write. I hear a few people actually read this, which is kind of amazing to me. Glad my thoughts and experiences are interesting to some. I know that people who have blogs write quite often. I have not had the chance to do that, and this blog basically contains the e-mails I have sent back to the office to my friend (and the executive director) Abbie Moore. Honestly, I have not had time to write during the few hours each day when I need to sleep. In the last two days since I left New Orleans, I have slept only a few hours and have been on the phone constantly trying to help keep things running back there. I will try to e-mail Abbie some more photos today, but I’m afraid I didn’t take enough pictures while I was there, probably because my mind was on other things.

I normally write in a regular journal/diary, but have not written a thing in all these weeks. Things were just happening too fast and I was just too tired. My good friends Karen and Mike Valentine, who run Practical Martial Arts, a great martial arts school in Marin County, CA held a fundraising event they called a “Kick-a-thon” to help out the pets in New Orleans, and they gave me these blog entries all bound into a book, so I guess those will be my journal pages for the last few weeks.

Seems like the moment I left the Prowler command center, all hell broke loose. Political factions developed, the procedures we worked hard to put in place were ignored by some, and things began to unravel--computers going missing, people having each other ejected from the Lamar Dixon facility--just a mess. Everyone there is very dedicated and their hearts are all in the right place, but they are too tired and stressed. It’s clear that there is a breakdown in communication and authority to some extent. As of this morning, the Prowler will be hauled away, apparently down to the area known as Algiers, where the LASPCA has set up their new temporary shelter. HSUS will donate the trailer to them, I believe.

We have had the necessary computer equipment taken to a home in the area and all the rescue and pet food supplies transferred to our new meeting point in the city of New Orleans itself. It is clear that Jane and I need to remove as much as the administrative work as possible from Louisiana so the folks there only need to receive maps and directions, get out there in the field to rescue animals, and then return the maps at the end of the day for updating. The sectioning of the maps and the updating will all be done by us remotely, as well as the call dispatch. This removes these important functions from the craziness on the ground there and should simplify things a lot and virtually eliminate the interpersonal problems going on there. There is an ex-ACO (animal control officer) there named Rob who is very clear-headed and willing to help, and Matt, a friend of Jane’s and someone with whom I have worked, has just arrived and he is fresh and very capable. The two of them should be able to provide the on-the-ground leadership needed, with help from Jane and me, so everyone else who has worked so hard can get back to the hands-on task of saving animals, which is what they came there to do.

Let me just say that if there is one thing that I think I have done well, it has been to keep my eye on the ball. Saving the animals has always been the only goal. As I will write later, there is much blame to go around about why things weren’t done better--there will be a lot of time to sort that all out and even have those battles, but my focus has never strayed from the "fight against time" to save the starving pets we are even today puling out of homes. Some dog or cat huddled in a corner of a darkened attic who has been there for SIX WEEKS without food or water or love or hope is not helped by people's little turf wars or logistical problems or egos. One job. One task. Get to the animal-let nothing stop you- don’t eat, don’t sleep, don’t get distracted. That one remaining animal we can get--find him now!

Yesterday we shipped out about 15 dogs and 10 cats to Best Friends Sanctuary in Tylertown. That is down from the hundreds we did each day several weeks ago to Gonzales, but that's still worth the effort. Some of those pets are off the street in critical need but others were what we call "first time contacts" in homes. We are still working off the list of people who called in and new names are added to that list each day as people hear about the 1-800-Humane1 phone number and call in for the first time. In most cases, their pet will already have died or maybe has already been rescued by us or other rescuers like Eric Rice or LASPCA itself, but those are still leads that tell us where to go. It is like finding needles in a hay stack at this point, and that requires a miracle, but for the last six weeks we’ve been in the business of making miracles and we're not done yet. Two days ago one of our teams rescued a puppy in a bathtub, living only off the drips from the faucet that began just a week ago when the New Orleans water system began functioning again. Now that is a miracle.

We have had call centers calling every phone number on the list to speed up our rescuers and help them save time by finding out if the owner still needs us to rescue the pet, or if they have gotten back into the city and rescued the pet themselves. In the last 24 hours, Dorothy at tells me that we had 600 updates, meaning we cleared 600 calls off our list, saving our people on the ground valuable time. In other words, we are looking for that needle, but we are making the haystack smaller.

We still need more people! We need people to come now and integrate into the new post-Gonzales structure we’ve created. We need more teams finding those last pets in homes and when that effort is done, there will be a great need for people helping the many pets now on the street. This will be more of a normal animal control issue, except there are so many animals on the street that are not feral but are former pets (many in dire need of help) and so few people living in New Orleans to help. Ultimately our teams will become, I believe, the core of a new New Orleans Humane Society, local people working with the LASPCA as in any other city. Jane and I have tried to begin that process with contacts at LASPCA, and we are seeking local people who are now coming home to take this over, since Jane and Pia and I don’t live there, and the volunteers from around the country will soon stop showing up.

When our focus shifts to getting the pets off the streets, we will have many more animals to deal with and that will create new logistical transport problems. Already it is difficult to group our pets together and transport them to Tylertown and Best Friends. We are looking for options closer to the city of New Orleans. Eventually the LASPCA itself in Algiers will be an option, but we would have to be convinced that the facility is absolutely for sure, without a doubt, not going to euthanize to make space. Ideally, the pets we rescue should, in fact, remain in town and not be moved across the country to fosters. Reuniting folks who manage to walk the terrible maze it takes to find their pets (another of the many horrible messes in this dreadful story) is itself a great problem. HSUS and ASPCA are saying they will help with the costs but this is going to be a long term effort with an unknown cost.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

David, back in Gonzales - October 8

Posted by David Meyer

Well, I'm back in Gonzales. Was up all night getting things here straightened out and back on track. Pia had it all on her shoulders and was dealing with so many crises that no human could have kept them all straight. With me back here, working as a team with Pia, the teams are now back on track, and within a day we'll be a well-oiled machine again.

Much less animal activity here since they shut down intake about a week ago and are trying to empty the facility by Monday. This was news to us because they had been saying they’d be open until next Saturday. The Prowler command center is still in full action with 50 dogs and cats being saved every day. My main concern now is to find places to temporarily house animals each day and arrange for transport to safe places around the country. I have been involved now in setting up several major shipments…and then came today's crisis.

The remaining dogs here in Gonzales are the ones that are least appealing to the rescues and humane societies that have helped foster pets. They are mostly pit bulls, not temperament tested, and some may be aggressive. There have been euthanizations here the last few nights, and Pia and I decided that we did not rescue animals who survived TWO hurricanes and a flood just to see them euthanized in a facility, possibly just because they appear aggressive because they’re scared. They need more time to be assessed, but this facility just does not have the time, which I understand. So we have worked with some amazing people and in a matter of hours, have arranged for a charter air shipment of no less than one hundred of these animals to LAX first thing Monday morning, and transport to a safe rescue facility that we are constructing this weekend! We create miracles.

This endeavor will take approximately $50,000 to set up and at least $8,000 a month to run, as pets are temperament tested, given vet care, and adopted out. These are the last of the pets at Gonzales-the last survivors-and we will NOT LEAVE THEM BEHIND.

It is very difficult for me to keeping typing because of all the people shouting at me, needing me to make decisions, and all the hustle and bustle here. I have set up new systems for communications with our teams in the field, now just thirty in number. Our volunteer strength has dropped at this critical time, and I hope I can help bring it all back up. This is the home stretch, with fewer and fewer animals being found alive, and the ones that are alive are walking skeletons-truly walking skeletons. I wish I ...

---OK, I was just interrupted. One of our rescue teams has rescued unweaned puppies, but not the mother. I am trying to determine where the mother has gone and I have told them to return to the home and find the mother! The puppies are already at our safe transport spot, ready to go on a transport truck to the local Best Friends temporary sanctuary, which, for the last several days, has been taking our rescues.

I wish I had a digital camera--mine broke on my first tour of duty. So much to see, so many stories to tell. I will try to get some photos e-mailed. The pets are so, so skinny, so forlorn. We need to work faster, harder, to sprint. This is our final week, perhaps. We will have to relocate our command center in less than a week, will have to wind things down. When can we stop? How many have we not yet found? We can't give up on them, can’t leave a single one behind!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

David's heading back to New Orleans - October 6

Posted by David Meyer

Well, there is a strong call for me to go back to New Orleans. I have been trying to coordinate things remotely, setting up numerous shipments of animals to other safe shelters via trucks and planes. Poor Pia has had the world on her shoulders, trying to coordinate temporary housing for the pets we are still saving, and Jane got bitten by a feral cat, developed an infection and is in a hospital (or, in any case, had to drive home and is on intravenous antibiotics). So, thanks to the generosity of Ellen Little, I will be heading back to New Orleans to again help oversee rescue efforts, at least over the weekend. I really hope the big animal organizations step in to reimburse us for our expenses because between air travel, cars, supplies for all the teams and more, many of us are many thousands of dollars in the hole.

Things are very fluid and changing. We have tried to use several smaller makeshift shelters to temporarily house our rescues, but the number of pets we’ve brought in have been overwhelming them. Losing Gonzales was really bad for us. Fewer pets are being found alive in homes, but they are still there, so our mission is not yet complete. We are still saving over 50 a day. And there are many, many family pets still running loose on the streets or hiding under houses.

As some residents are being let in, it is making our job more complex. Some are happy to see us, and others are sad to see we broke into their houses, yet their pets were found dead. I can understand their frustration. Our main concern is that, although some people are being allowed back home, many will never come home, so we must assume that all pets still trapped in homes will starve if we don't get to them. We have the added problem that all the pets we fed and watered and let remain in their homes are now again facing starvation, as we have not had the staff and, to some extent, the organization to continue feeding them. It is all a heavy burden and I am having to make statistical decisions about what will save the most pets, and know we cannot save them all.

We are continuing to hone our database of homes we have not reached, but it seems endless. It is all so tiring and I just want my life back. The images of these emaciated and forlorn dogs and cats are burned into my mind. Just before Hurricane Rita, I rescued a puppy, but could not get the mom - I hope I did the right thing by separating them. All told, the rescue effort, I would guess, has saved maybe 10,000 pets. One at a time. We could have saved so many more had there been better organization earlier on. I regret that I did not take initiative and get involved sooner-thank God Pia did so or I might never have gotten involved at all. Pia is a real hero in all of this, a petite woman, weighing all of 100 lbs, but with the fire of a 100 megaton bomb. We have all given so much and really suffered emotionally and financially, as we are not being paid at all for these many weeks of work. It has been tough, but we view our task as holy. The people I have met are really unstoppable.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Stories from the field

Posted by David Meyer

I want to take a few minutes to relay some stories, some very sad, some happy, some funny. These are in no particular order. I’m doing this partly because I want you to know what it was like, but also to make sure I never forget this experience.

I remember the process I went through mentally when I decided to come. I had been hearing the news reports about Katrina and wondering what was happening with all the pets. I remember watching CNN while teaching martial arts in Mexico City. Then, when I got home, our spokesperson Pia said she was going to volunteer. I thought that was admirable and told her to report to me. When she called me crying, saying I could not imagine the suffering, starvation, and the lack of organized human response, I realized I had to go. Even then, I was not sure if I would really drop everything in my life to do this-- it all seemed crazy. It took a day or two of wrangling my schedule for it really to sink in that I was going to go to this place and help out on the ground. I had a martial arts seminar trip to Colorado planned for that weekend that I could not afford to cancel, but I decided to cut it short, and by the time I got to Colorado, I was feeling guilty that I wasn’t getting to New Orleans sooner. I had one of the instructors, Isaac Costley, speed me to the airport in Denver after cutting short a Saturday morning seminar, only to realize I had left my cell phone charging in the wall of the martial arts studio in Castle Rock. Fortunately, Isaac’s cousin had a very fast motorcycle he was not afraid to use, and he met me at the airport with my cell phone just minutes before I had to board the plane. I could not believe they let me on the plane with luggage filled with crow bars, cans of spray paint, mace, knives, radios and zillions of batteries that looked like bullets in the x-ray machine.

I was joined by board member Steve Abbey in the Houston airport, where I had a layover on the way to Lake Charles, Louisiana. When we arrived in Lake Charles, we rented the last mini-van available. Oh, what that poor mini-van was in for, beginning on the first morning, when we loaded it up to go into New Orleans. Suddenly, I heard hissing from the back of the car, and Steve yelled out an expletive. I turned and saw a cloud of red gas enveloping him and the back of the open car. I thought it was the mace that had busted open, but in fact, somehow a can of red spray paint got punctured-- Steve and the whole rear of the van was covered in paint. We rushed to get water and towels to clear the rental van before the paint dried (Steve was on his own to clean himself). Miraculously, and with a lot of elbow grease, we actually got the paint off the exterior and the interior of the van. I hoped this would not be an omen. Later that day, some water jugs burst in the back of the van and mixed with bag of dry dog food, creating this weird mush that we were too tired to clean out, and which eventually became a moldy awful mixture that rendered the van, shall we say, less than pleasant-smelling. That, plus a bunch of torn bags of dog and cat food, plus the toxic mud on our shoes made for a very interesting car rental return in Baton Rouge the other day. I jumped out of the van in the rental car parking lot, with a rescued cat in one hand and my luggage in the other, and yelled to the attendant that I didn't need a receipt as I ran to catch my plane. I can’t imagine what the rental car cleaning crew thought, but I have a feeling a very big charge will be appearing on my credit card!

Anyway, back to that first night. When we left the airport, It was 9:00 at night and the weather was so steamy that my glasses kept fogging up. We arrived late at the makeshift shelter and Pia gave us a tour. Thousands of animals and people and vehicles were moving fast everywhere; clearly things were in full swing. It was weird and awesome.

On one day in the field, Steve and I must have fed 50 dogs and cats. Toward the end of the day, we got a call that a resident had found two dogs in his second-floor apartment. The odd thing was that the house was locked and he did not have dogs. Apparently, the dogs had swam in through a window during the flood. It was weird. One of the dogs was a slightly aggressive pit bull we could not get without a catch pole, but the other was docile enough for us to catch, and we got him into one of our transport crates and headed back to the shelter at Lamar Dixon. The dog was skin and bones and ate quickly, only to become ill on the ride back. We decided to stop the van and let the dog out while Steve cleaned the cage. It took Steve about 20 minutes to drop us off, swing around the highway to a filling station, clean the cage and return. He left me roadside with this dog, and what I am about to say is 100% true: I knelt down and that little dog reared up on her hind legs, put her paws tightly around my neck, pressed her chest hard against mine and hugged me with her cheek pressed against my cheek. For 20 minutes, that dog stayed on her hind legs, hugging me tightly just like that. I just kept telling her 'You're welcome, you're welcome" and "you're safe now".

Another day, I teamed up with a volunteer named Courtney, but she forgot her credentials and couldn’t get past the National Guard checkpoint to enter the city. I did not have time to take her back to Lamar Dixon, so I let her out of the car and notified our dispatch to have someone else pick her up. I continued in a caravan with Jane Garrison and her partner and we found one little dog on a balcony of an apartment building. This dog had not been fed in weeks and was trembling with fear. I extended my closed fist toward her and she bit at me repeatedly in fear, thanks to my thick leather gloves, the bites had no effect on me. I put the leash around her and got her in the car. I worked all that day without a partner, which was dangerous because there would have been no one to call for help if I got injured or trapped somewhere. The rest of that day was just horror.

I went into one house that was just absolutely destroyed, as so many were. The hurricane had thrown things all over the city and downed poles and trees, as hurricanes do. But the flood had filled the residences with a toxic sludge of seawater, untreated sewage, oil and gas from underground tanks, and any other substance present in a house or garage that had was now floating in this awful still water. There were, of course, the bodies of dead animals and people in this water as well. The water filled houses and floated the contents, turning refrigerators on their heads, twisting book shelves, literally opening and emptying closets and dressers, twisting floors and doorways. When the water subsided, it left behind this slippery slimy residue. By the time I arrived in New Orleans, the houses had been baking in the hot Louisiana sun for weeks. In preparation for the hurricane, the residents had closed and locked all the doors and windows and drawn the drapes to protect against broken glass. This meant that when I would enter, it would be the first time that the house was opened in weeks and I would be hit by this wall of hot, musty, rancid, toxic air--honestly, you needed to have a mask on or you'd risk becoming ill.

Entering a house is treacherous, because you are going from bright sunshine into utter darkness. The floors are covered with twisted and toppled furniture at all angles, and it’s slippery to boot. It’s hard to breathe in the mask and you’re wearing bulky gloves and carrying a crowbar and big flashlight. My first task in entering a house (which may have begun with breaking a window, removing security bars or even kicking in a door) was to tear down curtains and blinds to let more light in. Then, I would search each house, room by room, looking for cowering and ill dogs and cats who were hanging on to life by a thread.

Well, on that particular day, I entered that destroyed house and during my search I entered a back room, which was a total shambles. On a bed, I saw a cute little Benji-like dog on its side, dead, with its eyes open, looking not unlike the many stuffed animals strewn around the room. It was so surreal and tragic. May rooms I entered were kids’ bedrooms with all the trappings of a happy child's life: toys and games and stuffed animals, now all caked in ooze and fungus and thrown about like a life destroyed. I saw tricycles suspended in trees, teddy bears hanging upside down--lives just ruined--and then I would come upon a dead dog or cat--just horrific.

Later that day, I entered a two-story house. Only the first story was destroyed, so I knew a pet may have survived on the top floor. As I approached the top floor, I saw a chair had been used to prop a board up to create a makeshift blockage to a bathroom. When I got closer, I looked over the board, only to see a cute family dog who had died of starvation in the bathroom. This type of sight was normal.

On another day, I and my partner for that day, Shana, were at another destroyed house. I helped Shana, who was small, in through the window. I was very impatient and wanted to move fast to cover as many homes as possible. I urged her to check every room quickly and wanted her to hurry out. As she came back across the living room towards me, she spotted one other door. When she opened it, as if in some thriller movie, the body of a dog came stumbling through the door, causing her to scream. The dog was alive but emaciated, and so disoriented it could not make a sound, and my haste almost caused us to miss him. We lifted this dog that should have weighed 50 lbs through the window; now it only weighed maybe 15lbs. She then checked the room only to find another dog, presumably this dog’s friend, dead on the floor.

Early on, I was very bothered that our only way to find pets from inside closed residences was to listen for dogs barking. We did not have nearly the number of people or the legal authority needed to go into every home. I knew we were missing all the cats, because they could not call out to us like dogs did. As we cruised the deserted and destroyed streets, whistling for dogs, I kept saying that we must be passing several homes with starving cats inside. It was for this reason, as well as others, that I was ecstatic when I discovered that there was a database being kept of owners who had called to report their pets left behind, but this list had never been given to us, the rescuers!!! I spent all night working with Sara at HSUS and Dorothy at to get that list in a format we could use. That list has now become the Mapquest mapping system guiding all our rescue efforts in the city.

I had spent so long working on the list, and I just wanted to know it was worth it. I printed off a list of homes where residents reported they had left cats, figuring that more cats remained to be rescued than dogs. I was desperate to save even one cat before I left. Late one day, I had the opportunity. That was the day I was operating alone, and I approached a two-story house, always a signal to me that a pet may have survived. I saw a white cat out front, emaciated and scared, and I fed it, but he/she ran away. Then I heard it: a faint meowing from behind the front door! My heart raced, as I knew this cat would be near death, but I was so excited that he was within my grasp to save. I couldn’t noisily bust through a door or window because I was afraid I’d scare the poor thing, already weak and frightened, into hiding or going silent so I could not find him. The house had windows to the left and right of the front door, so I called the kitty to the right-hand window and he poked his head through the curtains. I remember being on the headset cell phone with Abbie from at the time, and I was describing everything I was seeing. She couldn’t believe it. Then, I ran to the other window and with a quick snap used my crowbar to crack through two panes of glass, one on each side of the window, where the latches were. The cat was not scared and he came back to that window and let me lift him out to safety. I put him in the crate and entered the house looking for any other pets. I found none, so I left the window open and set up some food and water for the white cat I’d found in front of the house but had run away.

Our list included contact information for the people who had reported their pets were left behind, so I called the owner’s number that night. I spoke to the owner's son-in-law, who told me that the cat I saw out front was the other of two cats that lived at the house. The next day, I had another team dispatched and they were able to get the cat. Later that day I got a call from John, the owner of the house, who was now a refugee staying with his son in Las Vegas. This powerful man, who described himself as 6'2" and 250 lbs, and who had a tough-guy New Jersey accent, sobbed as he thanked me for saving his cats. He described the cat I found inside the house, Trevor, as his child whom he’d rescued and raised from a kitten. He told me of his immense guilt having to leave his cats behind when he evacuated, thinking he would be home in two days, and how he had been assuming the cats had died. He said I had no idea what it was like to wake up one day and have lost your house, lost ALL your possessions except the clothes on your back, lost your car, lost your wife's car, lost your job, lost your wife's job, lost your business, lost your parents' home and their cars. He told me he had lost all this but by my finding his cats, I had given him back the only thing he lost that really mattered. That was a highlight for me.

I could go on with more stories and maybe later I will...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

David's Update - October 2

Posted by David Meyer

I have been working through the night and day since I got back to San Francisco. It’s like I’m still in New Orleans, just without as much craziness as we had in the command center we set up.

I have been trying to remotely solve internet problems at the command center, handling the logistics of housing and moving pets, and printing the lists of homes not yet checked for our rescuers in the field to use. Pia Salk is still on the ground with Jane Garrison, and together we are scrambling to find a place to put all the pets our volunteers rescue each day, now that the main facility at Gonzales is closed to new arrivals.

We dropped off our pets yesterday to one group with a makeshift shelter in the parking lot of a grocery store. We will also be dropping off pets with another rescue group operating a shelter in a farmer's field about an hour outside of New Orleans. With so little holding space for the 100 or more pets we rescue each day, I have now turned my full attention to alerting the nation's no-kill shelters and rescue groups that we need their help. We need no-kill groups to provide foster care for pets until December 31, hopefully giving owners enough time to claim them. Any pets not claimed by that date will then be made available for adoption. I may have already organized an air transport for 200 pets this Tuesday, but I am leaving no stone unturned. There are a lot of details to work out with regard to transport; the animals must be kept safe and cool, a solid tracking system must be implemented to make sure owners can find their lost pets, and we need to make sure these pets end up in good hands.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

David arrives home but continues work - October 1

Posted by David Meyer

I arrived home to San Francisco late last night. It was a long day of travel, capped off by having to have my brother drive me back to the airport in Oakland, where I originally left from and where my car was still parked. It was very hard to get away and everyone is concerned about what will happen to the structures I helped set up, but Jane Garrison and I are in close contact. Even after being home for just a few hours, it is becoming apparent to me that I’ll actually be better able to coordinate things from here right now, without all the craziness and pandemonium on the ground there. I can really focus and stay on task.

I brought with me a black cat I rescued who is in fairly good health. I will foster her and, hopefully, she’ll get reunited with her owner. Unfortunately, the whole system of processing pets is honestly a nightmare, and doesn’t always work in the best interests of owners who want to find their pets. The system of entering pets into the database on is a good idea, but apparently it is not working the way everybody hoped it would, as many owners go to Gonzales and are told that their pets have been shipped to a humane society somewhere, but there is no further tracking information given. It is such a sad situation. I have personally received two phone calls from frantic owners about just that in the last few hours. I really hope the system works to unite my little black kitty with her owner.

Lamar Dixon is shutting down in an inexcusably fast manner. I am avoiding placing blame and recrimination in these updates because I know everyone, from HSUS to Petfinder to me and everybody I met is doing their best and means well. But we are scrambling to find new locations to take the pets we are continuing to rescue. The facility said they would take only critical cases for one more week, but now they have said they won’t even do that. I have tried to express that a while their definition of “critical” is pet in critical health and near death, in reality, a pet left in a destroyed city who has not eaten or been seen by a vet for a month, with no knowledge of when or if their owner will ever return, is in just as critical a situation. You might be in good health, but if you are on a train track in front of a speeding train, you are in a critical situation. So all pets must be evacuated and placed somewhere safe and tracked so their owners can find them.

I have attached (above right, click to see the full image) an example of the database and mapping system Dorothy from, the folks at Mapquest, and I set up so you can see how we direct our people in the field to the places where people left their pets behind. These addresses were given by people who called into the HSUS hotline to request immediate rescue of pets they had to leave when they evacuated the city. Organizing this database into a workable format should have been done day ONE of the crisis, and so many people are so angry it wasn't. Miraculously, we are still finding some pets still trapped, but alive. Many others have drowned or have simply starved to death due to the time it took for rescuers to find them. It is horrible, just horrible and no words can describe what I and our team of people there have witnessed and experience. No words.

Friday, September 30, 2005

David prepares to leave Gonzales

Posted by David Meyer

I have now been coordinating the search and rescue effort out of Gonzales for nearly 2 weeks, along with Jane Garrison. We have made a trailer into a true command center and, using a list of people who had asked that their pets be rescued, we developed a database with mapping features that allows us to go directly to their homes. Unfortunately we are often too late now. There are more dead animals then live ones, but we are doing all we can to move as quickly as possible. We now command a group of 60 teams going into the field.

The care facility at the Lamar Dixon Center in Gonzales has just announced it will shut down and today is our last day to bring pets here. This is terrible news for us and we are scrambling to find other places to house animals, or even to use as a staging ground from which to move them to safety at other humane societies around the country.

I must go home to attend to my own life and my own animals. I will be leaving today, and taking with me nearly a dozen rescued pets, bound for the Marin Humane Society. I have set in motion procedures that I hope will allow rescue operations to continue uninterrupted after I leave, and I will be able to manage some things remotely to support Jane from my home.

Pia Salk is now back in New Orleans, and she’ll be remaining here to help coordinate the transport of pets.

That’s all for now--

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tragedy for some, relief for others - September 27

Posted by David Meyer

It is the middle of the night on my second night without sleep. I have succeeded in getting the list of evacuees who called the HSUS hotline to report their pets had been left behind into a format (using a great program created by Mapquest) that our rescuers can use. Dorothy of is amazing and together we have now set a system in place. Yesterday, we sent out 42 teams to specific addresses on that list; for many of the pets we are too late, but we are still finding some alive.

Yesterday I found a cat locked in a house. I was able to get the phone number of the owner, a man named John, and today I had a teary conversation with him. He’s a big tough guy from New Jersey who told me how much he loved his cats and he said the most amazing thing to me. He said something like, “I never imagined that I would wake up one day and lose everything, and I did. I lost my home, my job, my wife lost her job, we lost all of our belongings, and everything. But you have given the most important thing back to me.” He said he could never truly thank me enough-he thought his cat was dead and I saved her. This is the fuel that keeps me going, but time is running out. I have many lists to send people to tomorrow and I am considering asking some of the tougher volunteers to go out alone, rather than in teams, to cover more ground.

Its all so tragic-- must sleep now.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Abbie's Update - September 26

Yesterday, I had a long conversation with David Meyer via his cell phone. I had called him to check in and get a general update about the condition of the city, post-Hurricane Rita. Since David was in the middle of rescue operations in New Orleans, the phone call turned into a sort of ride-along by phone for me. It was incredible. When he first answered the phone, David had just had a terrible experience (one of many); he had entered a home and found a little dog who had starved to death in a bathroom. He was in the process of spray painting his findings on the front door of the house to notify other rescue workers that someone had been to the location: "One dog - dead".

As he left that house, David was approached by a police officer who asked him to check a friend's house for a dog he'd heard was left behind. David followed the officer in his car, but pulled over when he saw two dogs roaming the street. The officer pulled over as well, waiting patiently while David fed and tried to get the dogs into his car. One dog came willingly, but the other was hesitant. After about ten minutes of coaxing, David didn't want to leave the police officer waiting any longer, and he decided he'd come back to get the other dog after he visited the officer's friend's home. That house proved empty, thankfully, but unfortunately, David could not locate the second dog he'd fed. He spray-painted a message on a nearby building to alert other volunteers to the presence of the dog, and he continued on his way. By this time, it was already after 6:00 pm, curfew in New Orleans, but David had one more stop he wanted to make before calling it a day.

The last stop was to check out a house on his list where someone had reported leaving their cat behind. According to David, cats have been very difficult to locate. While walking through a neighborhood, rescuers can hear dogs barking, and they follow the sound to the source. Many dogs have been rescued this way. Cats, of course, can't amplify their voices the way dogs can, and rescuers can walk by hundreds of homes with cats trapped inside without ever knowing it. David was very hopeful he'd be able to find the cat on his list. As he approached the house, he saw one cat sitting in the front yard. The cat was very skittish and, although she ate the food David put down for her, she would not allow him to touch her. He was wondering aloud whether this was the cat on his list when he heard a beautiful sound...loud MEOWING coming from behind the door of the house. It was so loud I could hear it on the phone. David went to a window and was getting ready to break it when the cat jumped up on the windowsill--seeing her alive in there and anxious to see a human being spurred David into action. He jumped up and ran to another window, not hesitating at all before breaking the glass as quietly as possible. He climbed in through the broken window and, covering his nose and mouth to avoid breathing in the horrible smell of rot and mold and weeks of accumulated feces and urine, gathered the kitty into his arms and carried her to safety.

As David headed back to the Lamar Dixon Animal Shelter, his car was filled with four lucky dogs and a very grateful cat. Not bad for half a day's work. I was amazed at how much I'd been able to witness over the phone in just a couple of hours.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

David about to enter New Orleans after Hurricane Rita - September 25

It’s 5:15 am on Sunday, the first day we'll be back in New Orleans in force since Hurricane Rita. Unofficially, some groups were out rescuing pets yesterday, but HSUS wanted to let the weather pass so we did not send out teams yesterday. There is much conflict between the shelter staff here who want to limit the number of animals we bring in, and the rescue staff like myself who want to bring in as many pets as we can. I understand space limitations and other concerns, but I and Jane Garrison feel strongly about putting all our efforts into rescuing. If there are too many pets coming in, then the focus should be on stepping up output to other shelters around the country, not ceasing life-saving rescue operations. We are here to make a miracle happen and we can not accept a "no-can-do" attitude!

There are other unofficial makeshift shelter sites that can process animals more efficiently because they are flying under the radar, as it were, with local and state regulations. All I know is time is running out.

A fantastic woman named Dorothy who runs has worked with the Mapquest folks to create an application which will let us “geo-sort” a huge list of people who called other organizations to say they had left their pets behind. We have only recently begun to use this list, as I didn’t know it existed until this week, and we are now saving pets that have had no contact for weeks. I’ve got to go direct the troops-we are now finally working under one command with all the Louisiana SPCA Animal Control staff. We have issued the word to clear every house of every pet and cease our previous attempts to feed pets and keep them in their homes.

One more thing...this is getting very expensive, so please donate to Otherwise, I fear we won’t be able to maintain our operations out here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

David waits for Hurricane Rita - September 23

The coming of Hurricane Rita has made the last few days terribly hectic, with frantic rescue missions whenever possible. We knew that so many animals would not be rescued in time, so we began a massive street feeding program, whereby we leave food and water in protected spots all over the city for all the now-stray dogs and cats. This morning, many of us made a daring last-minute rush to the city, even though the storm had already begun, and my little team was able to save 4 more dogs that surely would have drowned today. All in all, the volunteers pulled in about 30 more dogs (tragically, we were not able to find any cats) in the final moments before this newest terrible storm began unleashing its fury. Now we have heard that the levees are again breeched and the city is flooding.

I pray that the animals still left in the city who survived Hurricane Katrina can miraculously survive this one too, although I know that is about as logical as thinking someone who survived a house fire once can survive a house fire again. In fact, the dogs knew it was coming and all of the volunteers today reported that dogs literally ran up to us and practically jumped into our cars. It's so terrible.

The aurthorities have insisited we scale down our staff here at our makeshift animal shelter in Gonzales. This is, I believe, by far the nation's largest shelter at the moment with 2,000 pets. We have been able to move many out to other Humane Societies, and there are only 750 animals here now. They exist in cages set together in horse stalls in this tremendous equestrian facility. To prepare for Hurricane Rita, we condensed the space they occupy by pulling all the cages close together and leaving the outside stalls bare. Then we cleared away all objects that could be thrown about in a hurricane and circled dozens and dozens of rigs and RV's to create a makeshift barrier to protect these animals from the wind. While I was racing against time in New Orleans this morning, tornados were touching down dangerously close to our shelter. There now remains only a skeleton crew of 30 to care for these animals.

We are making preparations to resume rescue opertations when the storm breaks- I expect I will see a very different New Orleans, freshly submerged again. Most of our nearly 1000 feeding stations will be washed away and we will be starting over from scratch. Also, those animals who survive at all will again be clinging to life in the most precarious of places. We must adapt to the environment and return to searching for pets from boats, which is a dangerous and slow process. The first moment that we can safely enter the city, I will do so as part of an advance team to survey damage and plan our continued rescue strategy. We need more people here Sunday morning, The animals were starving already, and now this new is a companion animal tragedy unprecedented in the history of our nation

Abbie's Update - September 23

I'm still safely in Los Angeles, wishing I could go help my comrades in New Orleans, but since I'm the only staff member of, I know I need to stay behind and give my support from here.

I spoke to David Meyer earlier today, and since he no longer has internet access, I thought I'd update you on his behalf. I'm sure I won't be nearly as eloquent as either David or Pia, but I just wanted to let you know how serious the situation in New Orleans is today.

When I spoke to him, David was in his car inside the city of New Orleans. Although the city was supposed to be closed off, and despite the fact that parts of the city were already flooded from the first signs of Hurricane Rita, David organized a team of volunteers to enter the city and try to save as many pets as possible before the storm really hits hard. In ten minutes, he was able to round up four dogs and wrangle them into his car. That is truly miraculous. He then got word over his radio that the Lamar Dixon Animal Shelter was under a tornado watch. Yep, a tornado watch. Most of the crew at the shelter had already evacuated, and the remaining 30 or so volunteers were huddled together in bathrooms, hoping the tornado would pass by. As I talked to him, David was facing a tough decision: head back across the causeway to the Lamar Dixon Animal Shelter and risk crossing the path of the tornado or stay in New Orleans, which was rapidly becoming more and more flooded, and possibly getting trapped. He decided to take a chance and head for Gonzales.

I've forgotten to mention that Pia was conferenced in on the call with us. Pia is temporarily back home, and she is having a very hard time being away from her rescue work in New Orleans. She is very anxious to get back there, and through her tears, offered to get in her car and drive across the country to help David hold down the fort at Lamar Dixon. Pia is amazing; I just can't say enough about how enormous her heart is.

Before David signed off, he said something that I will never forget. I will try and recount it verbatim. He said to us, "Now, you guys know I'm going to be okay, and I know I'm going to be okay. But, just for the record, if I'm not okay...(he paused here, getting very emotional) let me compose myself...if I'm not okay, I just want to say that there's no better way to go. I would be proud."

He went on to say, "If everybody has to evacuate Lamar Dixon, and there's just one person there to watch over the 2,000 pets there tonight, you can bet that person will be me."

We believe you, David. We certainly do.

Stay safe tonight.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pia and Megan Home for a Few Days - September 22

Hi Everyone- We arrived back from New Orleans at 4 this morning (9/22) and wanted to say hello, update you and thank you for your emotional and financial support.

In re-reading the e-mail we wrote on 9/15, it seems like years ago- Re: the dog we mentioned setting out to get that day, though the info relayed by Abbie at - we were able to get him! His name is Peatie and he was loyally guarding his abandoned water-logged home- he was in the front yard when we arrived with the US Marshall assisting us, as it was after dark and we were beyond the curfew- he immediately ran inside- we ultimately found him pressed up against a set of drawers in the bedroom corner. We got a loop around his neck and eventually he came with us walking low to the ground and with tail between his legs. His eyes were really bugged out which a handler later described as a phenomena called ‘whale eye’ that happens under extreme stress and heightened awareness- we saw this in so many of the dogs- they share many of the signs of trauma seen in humans- exaggerated startle response, etc. Peatie has since been re-united with his mother- hooray! ( He is the red-colored dog in the car with Megan and Pia.)

Following Peatie’s rescue we got a call from Peatie's neighbor who asked that we find his Jack Russell mix, Jack. He recounted the heartbreaking tale of how he had been forced to leave Jack behind on a bridge. He had placed Jack in a bag and was about to be rescued off of a bridge where many people and their pets were awaiting rescue. Jack was quietly hidden in a bag and an officer forced him to open the bag and place Jack on the bridge if he wished to be rescued himself. Glenn, Jack’s dad, pleaded but the officer wouldn’t hear it and Glenn relinquished Jack instructing him to go home and wait for him. Glenn recounted how so many people were forced to do the same with little animals that could easily have been carried to safety. He also told of the larger dogs who were behaving well and staying with owners or frantically trying to attach themselves to people to get saved but were not allowed to leave. Ironically, Glenn was permitted to take the very same bag with him that Jack had been hidden in- so the issue of not having the room for these animals was ridiculous. Animals are considered property under the law, like a TV or chair- we could understand if you could not take you TV b/c it took up too much room- but in this case the authorities essentially determined which property one could take -and they permitted a bag that took the same space, over a dog who would have been rescued in that space- this should be criminal. The law must be changed regarding this status!!!!! Glenn explained that to a female trooper near him and she pleaded with the authorities, explaining that this made no sense and asking why- but she too was shut down. So animals frantically ran up and down that bridge watching as their “owners” were forced to leave them- many making promises to return for them. Jack heeded his dad’s instruction a returned to his house blocks away and waited. We found him under the car- right where Glenn said he would be- he quietly ran behind the house but we were able to lure him out with potato chips, as Glenn said these were his favorite. He has since been reunited with is dad who drove in from Texas to retrieve him- hooray!!! Ironically, Jack had been adopted by Glenn following another flood that he was rescued from!

Among the other rescues were sickly or injured kittens and countless dogs with chemical burns from the water- David Meyer rescued some skinny caged birds earlier today-Unfortunately our days were also punctuated with sighting of dogs still on chains, having drowned trying to get free, injured cats, etc. It is very hard to tolerate and I sob as I recount this—too too much to wrap one's mind around. There are many kittens and puppies, too, with their faithful nursing mamas and papas staying to protect them and dragging the open cans of food we leave under houses to feed them. Unfortunately there have been some instances in which mother dogs are attacking their puppies over food, though. The US Marshals assisting us recounted a case like this but they were able to get the puppy and bring it to a vet triage set up. Another sad sight we saw all too often were live dogs sitting by decomposing dogs who were likely their friends and companions- who had clearly died from starvation.

We recount all of this not to shock you or turn your stomachs but to let you know how truly bad the situation is and how much help is needed. Many of these animals are so scared they are virtually impossible to get without a catchpole, which we ultimately used to get many. Others are quicker to come into your care and get in to crates. Most of these guys are like your average family dog or cat who would be trusting and run right up to you if not so traumatized. And many came around to trust very shortly after arriving at the facility. They are grateful for the rescue and they seem quick to forgive and trust given what they have endured. We learned a great deal from the animal handlers about the signs of trauma in these guys and the signs of how they will respond.

Rescue efforts are split between dropping food and water for those in the streets, going to specific addresses and maintaining animals that we know are living there and breaking in to houses to get out ones we either hear inside or have been directed to check on by their “owners.” Some days the facility in Gonzalez had more room to bring animals back, other days we were instructed to get only the most critical. Those decisions were hard to make each day as all the animals out there need more help as the days pass. Many of the animals are so stressed they are starting to fight and even eat each other. Megan rescued a small dog that had been attacked by pit bulls that day-she needed to be euthanized as she arrived at the shelter. Megan stayed with her as this was done and helped offer peace in her last moments. We saw other instances in which pit bulls were beginning an attack on a yellow lab but were able to distract the pitts enough for the lab to get away- we tried to retrieve her but she had run off- hopefully to safety. There are many pit bulls down there as dog fighting is tolerated (illegal but, tolerated)- many of them are as sweet as can be- like the one we mentioned that crawled right in to Pia’s lap (she is actually slated to go to the Marin humane society today).

In terms of Pia and Megan- well Pia definitely wins for personal injuries- the cat bite we reported earlier actually got worse and on the 2nd trip to the ER they wanted to admit her for intervals of IV antibiotics but Pia was able to cut a deal in which she would agree to take an additional antibiotics and check back in with them- phew! So that bite is healing well and responding to the meds. The US marshals we have befriended have made this the butt of many jokes and consistently instruct Pia to be careful of hamsters and other rodents- all in good fun though. Pia sustained a minor dog bite that has benefited from the antibiotics already in her system so that’s under control. The only remaining injuries to speak of were heat exhaustion, some cuts from breaking glass windows and being sideswiped by a car as she was running across a street- this was a very lucky situation indeed- and what happened basically amounted to being punched in the jaw and arm by a car. Pia was a bit dizzy, but since we had Dave Kaplowitz, who is a doctor, nearby in the field, he was able to check her out and simply said to monitor things. So she is fine-just a little stunned and very, very grateful.

That is all for now- we are going to be returning next week IF we can cover the costs - anyone interested in coming along or making a trip there sooner, please do so!!!!!!! Megan brother in law, Casey McDonald joined us for a few days and rescued many animals in that time!!! We can instruct you on the specifics if needed. Thank you again for everything!
And the animals thank you most!

Much love, Pia and Megan

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

David Arrives in Gonzales - September 20

by David Meyer, founder of

I had seen the news, as we all had, regarding the terrible distruction in New Orleans wrought by Hurricane Katrina. I had also heard that nearly the entire city's population of pets had not been evacuated for many reasons, and had already instituted a signup database for both shelters and indivuduals willing to help by fostering homeless Katrina pets. It was then that I got a call from our spokesperson, Pia Salk.

Pia told me that she had cleared the time to personally go to Louisiana and volunteer in the effort to rescue and evacuate pets. I thought this was a fantastic selfless act and I asked her to let me know first-hand how else we could help. To be honest, Pia is such an animal lover that I was concerned that she might not be able to cope with the terrible suffering she might encounter. But I also knew that her recent graduation as a doctor of psychology would help her cope, and help others as well. Her good friend and colleague, Megan McDonald joined her in this mission.

Last Tuesday, a week ago today, I got the call from Pia that made it all suddenly more real-- I guess you could say it got personal. Pia, barely able to speak, told me that what she was seeing was beyond comprehension. That an entire city's population of animals was trapped in homes and yards, starving to death, and there were not nearly enough people on the ground to do anything about it. She told me that, despite the best efforts of major national animal welfare organizations working in conjunction with the Lousiana SPCA, the situation was chaotic and disorganized. A makeshift animal shelter had been set up in nearby Gonzalez, Louisiana and was immediately overflowing with over 2000 animals, with more animals being turned away. With nowhere to go and no one to save them, tens of thousands of formerly loved dogs and cats that had miraculously survived this killer hurricane on their own, without the comfort of their human families whom they had grown to trust, were going to starve to death or die fighting on the streets for what scraps of food might be found. I knew at that moment that I needed to complete my offsite logistical support as soon as possible and get on the next plane to as close to New Orleans as i could get.

Over the next 4 days, I did my best to organize volunteers to come to Louisiana and help in this chaotic situation. I e-mailed everyone I knew, and tried to determine what supplies and logisitical items needed on the ground I could arrange to have shipped. By Saturday night, I had arrived in Lake Charles airport, two hours outside Gonzales, with my friend and board memeber, Stephen Abbey. Steve, like me, had cut short a business trip to meet me. We were laden with our heavy bags containing tents, sleeping bags, crowbars, and what protective clothing we could hastily put together.

When we arrived Saturday night to the makeshift animal shelter in Gonzalez, Pia hugged us with tears, feeling that somehow a cavalry had arrived. We saw the thousands of dogs and cats hudled together in horse stalls in what normally was an equestrian center called the Lamar Dixon Expo Center. The air was thick with near-deafening barks and meows. With overhead lighting, volunteers worked 24 hours a day to give food and water to these desperate animals, and there clearly were not enough people. There were large pallets of food, cages, and other items, but there were not enough people here to care for these animals, let alone save the tens of thousands more still stranded in the city. A makeshift triage center was staffed by volunteer vets and vet techs, who obviously had not slept in days.

Pis showed us a giant tent just constructed by FEMA I believe, where there lay rows and rows of empty cots. This temporary air-conditioned structure provided the only break from sweltering heat and a near 100 percent humidity. It was so hot, in fact, that in the middle of the night, my glasses were pepetually steamed up.

We slept for several hours, and then we assembled for the daily 6am briefing, held outside a makshift command center staffed by HSUS volunteers, including one person whom I now know to be a true hero in this effort, Jane Garrison from Los Angeles.

Jane had been urging me to come and had consistently said what was needed was MORE PEOPLE. She had come here and, on her own initiative, had organized 30 teams of two volunteers each to enter the city, passing military checkpoints with animal welfare credentials and providing basic food and water to pets in the city until the 6pm curfew forced them to leave each night. They would then bring only the most critical pets to the animal city in Gonzalez, where they would spend hours in a line of cars waiting for the few vets to process the new and starving arrivals.

It was Sunday when Pia and I and a filmmaker from Los Angeles loaded up my rental van with bags and bags of food, makeshift jugs of water, and headed off to New Orleans.

I had no idea the hell that awaited me.

The heat was incredible and the humidity made it nearly unbearable. As we passed military checkpoints, we referenced our poorly Xeroxed maps which showed the quadrants of the city to which we were assigned. I can only describe myself as shocked.

OK-- I have to cut this short--

A hurricane is headed this way and the edge of it may hit New Orleans. If this occurs the levees may break again and, if they do, the city will flood again. It is possible that we may have to evacuate our shelter here in Gonzales, an idea I can't even fathom.

What I saw on my first day was something right out of some post-apocalyptic sci fi movie-- abandoned streets, houses torn apart, boats on roofs, cars in trees, everything covered in a dull red/brown caked mud-- a terrible stench of musty/excrement in the air. We were first to head into a part of the city that had not been seen by rescuers. The animal suffering here is difficult to describe, but I will try when I have more time.

Gotta go - pandemonium here-- we need more people!