Friday, October 14, 2005

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.


Blogger Erik Mann said...

another great blog from you guys. i'd point you to mine but it isn't yet the way I'd like it. i do have a website that I think is cool, kind of almost about brazilian martial art

9:24 PM  

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