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!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Pia and Megan, September 15

Hi everyone- We were able to get on the internet today so wanted to say hello, update you on what we are finding down here and thank you for both the emotional and monetary support. Our first night here we assisted with the 1600 animals being held in Gonzalez- many are visibly traumatized, some needing medical care and all needing love- we helped with walking, feeding, cleaning and medical care. There has been little order so far so volunteers just jump in a start caring for the sad little guys. There are 400 horses too. There are many pit bulls because fighting is tolerated down here- so there have been some incidences of people posing as volunteers and stealing these dogs- awful- and the fate of these guys looks grim- even though so many of them are sweet as can be. Yesterday we comprised one of the feeding teams and loaded up our van with food and water to make drops in New Orleans, areas like French quarter and surrounding- it is deserted and a mess with all the evidence of the floods that you would expect. We saw a few dead dogs and one notation on a house of a dead human. We were sent to drop food and water for the animals still out there and could only bring in ones that were in truly dire shape and dying. This was because the shelter is full and can’t take more until they move some out- they have the space and the supplies to take tons more but the health dept or LASPCA placed this limit- not sure why- but at least the food/water in the field will keep them going until space opens or their parents return. So we fed many scared thin babies- cats dogs chickens and a goldfish! One puppy wouldn’t stop jumping up on Megan. We brought in one truly emaciated pit, who was cautious when she saw us and then crawled in Pia's lap ands started licking her face- needless to say that started the human waterworks. And we also rescued a kitten that was very thin- who incidently placed Pia at ER last night due to jaws of steel! Pia got a bad bite from her and needed IV antibiotics for infection- it is unclear if more ER care will be needed as the infection is pretty bad. We are not exactly running back to the ER, given that they’re first question of us was if she had a living will or do not resucitate orders. . We had thought we’d relay this tale as one in which a mountain lion attacked her (given that getting your butt kicked by a kitten is not very impressive)- but there you have it the true tale. We had 4 U.S. Marshalls with us when it happened and they seemed impressed by Pia’s command of obscene language. But they were super helpful- kicking in doors for us and dressing Pia’s wound. Incidentally, the national guard, U.S. Marshals and other officials have been amazing- they are concerned for the animals stopping us to lead us to addresses where animals need care- they have been feeding them as they can- they even reported bringing a baby pit who had been attacked and a turtle in to a shelter. And they took us to a dog that had been chained this whole time and was a skeleton- they had cut the chain earlier that day. One guy had dog biscuits in an empty gun holster at his waist! . Megan has had them all in stitches with her comedic commentary. We’ll forward photos if we can- Today we will be going to get a dog at an address forwarded by Abbie, the Executive Director of, got a call from a woman who spoke with a marshal that had found the dog alive in the house and fed him- we will go to the house today and try to retrieve him so she can get him when she arrives from Texas tonight. Hopefully it will pan out well. That’s all for now- they really need assistance down here- of all kinds- the animals coming in will be needing care for quite some time as owners are given an opportunity to reclaim them- Gonzales seems to be the biggest volunteer center and there are some others too. If you or anyone you know can come help-- please come-it is needed! David Meyer from has arranged to come with board member Steve Abbey and so has our friend Dave K- hooray! We’ll keep you posted as we can- sending you all our best-Love, Pia and Megan