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10/24-25/05

Our main veterinary distributor, J.A. Webster, has donated about a thousand dollars' worth of medical supplies, and several local animal hospitals have also donated IV fluids and drip sets. This time, we have two extra people with us: Shaun Willis (a Poker For Pets dealer and supporter) and Tess Kommedal, a veterinarian from the University of Florida. Shaun has procured a U-Haul trailer to take all the medical supplies.

We have a bright spot to start this trip: we're returning two dogs to New Orleans from Gainesville because their owners have been located and we're going to reunite them. So, all four people, two dogs, camping gear, and a trailer full of supplies head out.

We leave Gainesville at 9 pm after work and drive straight through to New Orleans, with Iaon driving the whole way. We make it in at 4 a.m., which is great time, in spite of the fact that every single cappuccino machine between Gainesville and New Orleans appears to be out of order. We have to settle for regular coffee. As if that's not bad enough, we get about half the fuel mileage now, since we're pulling the trailer. It costs about $3.00 for every twelve miles we travel.

We arrive in time to sleep about 2 hours in the Jeep before the 6:30 meeting. Our staging area this time is even further downtown, only about a mile from the French Quarter. The owners of a hair & nail salon/dry-cleaning store have agreed to let us use their parking lot with a partially fenced area to store crates, food, and medical supplies for triage.

We set up the U-Haul as our triage and treatment center.

The morning meeting takes place in the chilly, dark parking lot, surrounded by abandoned cars. Shaun, who is a pretty big guy, could not sleep in the Jeep with three other people, and decided to break into an abandoned Jeep (of which there are many) to sleep in the back, where his Viking-sized body could get comfortable.

We're told that we are no longer searching by a list of addresses from pet owners. That list has been completed, and all the requests previously called in have been honored. We will now be searching for loose animals, getting tips from people on the street, and receiving calls about animals that have been noticed by the brigades of contractors who are rebuilding this city.

The previous day, one of the SAVEAPET people answered a call from someone who was desperate for help. This person and his neighbor had both returned to their houses for the first time yesterday. While this man watched in horror, his neighbor carried the body of a Doberman from the house and put it on the heap of trash by the curb. The emaciated body was motionless at first, but then lifted his head and watched his owner go back toward the house. The man screamed at his neighbor "What are you doing? Your dog isn't dead!" to which the neighbor replied "Well, he will be by the time the garbage truck gets here."

The furious man scooped the pathetic, dying dog into his arms and carried him into his own house, where he immediately called the animal rescue hotline. A team was dispatched immediately, and took the dog to the nearest available animal hospital, which had just re-opened. The Doberman is now recovering in a "feline only" hospital and is slowly regaining his strength as well as making some cat friends. There is much talk of pressing charges against the owner for animal cruelty, but I doubt anything will come of it. One Doberman just isn't very high on the priority list of this city right now. I do know for certain that dog is never going back to his previous owner.

Iaon, Shaun, Tess and I don't have much luck with dogs or cats today. Although we see and attempt capture of several dogs, they have simply been feral too long, and too abused by too many people. They are now frightened of all humans and will not allow us near them. However, one finned creature gets lucky. We are flagged down by a clean-up crew that was working in a different area yesterday and know about an exotic fish that needs rescuing. They have an address and the owner's phone number, so we contact her. Her house has been destroyed and her Sergeant fish has been in a filthy aquarium with no oxygenation, heat or food for a long time. She has no way to help him, and he's all she has left of her life here. Her voice breaks and she starts to cry when I tell her we're on our way to pick him up. She's not at home, but gives us permission to go in.

We arrive to find a 125-gallon tank with a fish weighing well over a pound. There's no way we can take the whole tank, so we find a Rubbermaid tub to put him in. Shaun manages to fish him out of the tank with a glass salad bowl, while Iaon picks up a bag of fish food. When he opens the bag, it smells like the hold of fishing trawler has been emptied in the living room, and the smell sticks to Iaon's hands like, well, stink on poop. Iaon puts on a pair of rubber gloves to cover the stink as we drive off to find somewhere he can wash his hands. We manage to find a gas station before we all pass out.

We arrive back at the triage area with our fish-in-a-tub to find several teams have succeeded in finding dogs and cats. Tess and I examine and deworm everyone, as well as administering fluids to several dogs before all the animals (except Sarge) are loaded onto a truck headed for Best Friends Sanctuary. Sarge will probably accompany us back to Gainesville. One of the volunteers heads over to WalMart to find an aereator and some Cichlid food for us.

We find out we're staying at the FEMA tent in St. Bernard Parish tonight. We haven't spent much time in that part of town and are not familiar with it. The closer we get to the FEMA tent, the more apparent it becomes how badly St Bernard Parish fared during Katrina. It's the worst devastation we've seen since we've been here; many buildings have been completely pounded into rubble, and cars have been smashed flat. I'm pretty sure that most of the people who died during Katrina died here, and I can see why.

We're very glad to arrive at the monstrously large, gleaming white tent. It's safe, warm, and the food is excellent. Karen is coordinating efforts between FEMA and our animal rescue group to keep us as comfortable as possible. There is no internet here, so I won't be able to post tonight, but I know we'll at least get a good night's sleep.

10/26/05

I forgot to mention the joyful reunions from yesterday. A Border Collie named Jason, who had been rescued and taken to Haile Plantation Animal Clinic in Gainesville, was going home. As soon as we turned to corner onto his street, Jason, who had been perfectly quiet for the entire ride from Gainesville, began to bark and wag his tail so hard he nearly fell off the carseat. We had called ahead to let his owner know we were on the way, and Jason spotted the man from about 100 yards away. As we pulled to a stop, Jason was yelping, the man was shouting his name, and the two had a tearful reunion, after which Jason ran to the front door and pawed furiously until it opened. He disappeared inside and that was the last we saw of him.

The hound with the broken leg we had brought back to Gainesville with us had been wearing an old rabies tag, and we were finally able to locate his owner through Lakeside Animal Hospital in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. His name was Harley, and Dr. McKendree of Lakeside was very excited to let the owner know Harley was on his way back. The doc sent a staff member to pick up Harley from our staging area, and we said our good-byes right before leaving for our morning rounds.

The staff of Lakeside was amazing throughout the hurricane ordeal. Veterinarians and technicians stayed with their patients through the whole thing, camping in the hallways and caring for their patients by flashlight. Other vets rented, bought or borrowed trucks, vans, whatever they could find to evacuate their patients. Many of them are unsung heroes, having risked their own safety to be sure the animals were safe. Unfortunately, we have also heard stories and seen photos of animal hospitals where vets abandoned their patients, leaving them in cages to face the floodwaters and death while they themselves evacuated. If those stories are true, it is my opinion that those doctors should never be allowed to practice again.

The first thing I do today is to check my fish. Sarge is doing well, swimming in his Rubbermaid tub. Someone else has rescued several Koi, who are in another tub. It's amazing how many homeless fish seem to be wandering the streets of New Orleans.

Today our rounds take us to an area of urban New Orleans where only about 20% of the people have returned. Many will never come back, having left the remnants of their lives to the elements. There are a few terrified dogs running the streets, but they won't let us get close to them. We fill food & water stations for them until such time as Animal Control can capture them.

We see a black dog run across the street in front of us and dive underneath the chassis of a wrecked RV in an empty lot. Next to the RV is an abandoned truck, and both vehicles are surrounded by garbage and debris. We slow down and Tess spots a small, black form next to the RV. It's a tiny puppy whose front leg is trapped in a piece of netting. The black dog is licking the puppy and trying to comfort it. We stop and Tess frees the puppy, but the mama dog dives under the truck and growls at us. After much searching we find that the mama dog has made a nest under the RV. There is only one entry point, as the tires are mostly gone and the vehicle is sunken into the ground up to the frame. She has dug out a wheel-well and made a little cave. While mama looks on from under the adjacent truck, we remove piles of debris from between the truck and RV so we can see into the cave. Jackpot! Iaon spots eight more puppies, and is able to extract four of them. They all look pretty fat and healthy and are about three weeks old. Unfortunately, the rest move out of his reach. We'll have to come back with a few more people to try to get the mama and the rest of the pups.

As we pull into the triage area with the five pups, we find a film crew making a series of public service announcements about animal health and welfare. They're excited to hear about the mama dog and ask if they can accompany us on the rescue attempt.

But, first, another situation arises that necessitates some vehicular vandalism. Holly, our boss down here, has a dead Jeep, her alternator having become recently deceased. Iaon, Bill, and David leap to the task. The abandoned black Jeep in which Shaun spent the night has become a parts donor, and the guys team up to replace Holly's alternator. It's a challenging task, since the black Jeep's front end is completely smashed and the hood must be opened with a crowbar. It's a wonderful coincidence for all of us Jeep owners that there are so many around. This particular Jeep has served as sleeping quarters, parts depot, a boarding kennel for fish and a feline exam room. The surgery is a success, and much high-fiving and hand shaking takes place. The alternator extravaganza has cost about two hours, but you can't function down here without your own transportation, and Holly is ecstatic.

So, Iaon, Tess, Shaun and I set off to try to catch mama dog and the remaining four pups, accompanied by a van full of video equipment and crew.

We have to hack our way through several feet of debris to get Shaun and his giant crowbar near the wheel well, where he should be able to open the side of the RV like a tuna can. We try without success to tempt mama out with treats and sweet-talk; she's on to us. Shining the light into the sub-vehicular cavern, we can see mama has multiple large lacerations on her shoulders and hips, probably from scraping the torn metal edges of the RV. Shaun tears chunks of siding from the RV so Iaon can reach in and almost touch mama. He is able to get two more pups, but she stays out of reach. As he gropes around, mama tries to run out the wheel well, but I'm waiting with a snap leash and manage to snag her. As soon as the loop is around her neck, she becomes very docile and seems resigned to her fate. We remove the last two puppies while the film crew cheers. Ten homeless dogs are off the streets!

This whole process has taken most of the afternoon. By the time we return to triage with our catch, many other teams are arriving as well. There are dogs, cats, fish (those homeless fish again), and an iguana. Tess and I finally finish triage about 8 p.m. and prep about 30 animals for the two-hour ride to Best Friends Sanctuary. Holly, the SAVEAPET person running the show here, has given us a little bad news. Best Friends is full and cannot take any more animals. There are no other places within hundreds of miles that can take any more animals. BF will not be able to take any new rescues until a lot of animals can be shipped out to other rescue groups into foster care. I call Kristen and ask her if Helping Hands Rescue has room to take mama dog and nine pups. She unhesitatingly says yes, but adds that I'm not allowed to bitch about puppy poop in the hospital while we find foster homes.

We decide to pitch our tents and stay here tonight instead of going to the FEMA tent so someone can stay with the animals, who must spend the night here because they have nowhere else to go. By the time that's done it's ten p.m. and several of us go in search of food and drink. We find a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant on Magazine Street called the Nile Café. They welcome a bunch of dirty, smelly, ragged animal people with as much hospitality as the finest five-star restaurant could have welcomed Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I have to say the food, the circumstances and the company will make that one of the more memorable meals of my life.

When we return from dinner, one very late rescue team limps in about eleven p.m. with a really frightened, possibly pregnant dog they have been trying to catch for several days. She's too frightened for us to handle, and I can't tell for sure by just looking whether she's pregnant. I can see that she is producing milk, though, so that means there may be pups already. The team decides they can't take the chance of leaving pups, so they hand us the key to their hotel room. They have a room in the French Quarter, which suffered the least damage, and several small hotels there are up and running again.We get to go shower while they go on a puppy hunt.

We get back from showering about the same time they get back from puppy-hunting. They are pretty sure there are no pups out there. Since this dog has milk, that means she's probably within 48 hours of having her pups.

We all fall into bed about 1 a.m., wondering what we're going to do tomorrow if we can't bring in any more animals.

10/27/05

Today we're instructed to only bring in animals that are in serious condition since space is severely limited. The other teams go out while we stay and take the opportunity to clean and organize the staging and triage area. We clean debris, chop trees, pile bags of food and stack bottles of water. We create a dog ward, a cat ward, and an exotics ward by grouping crates appropriately. We organize the medical supplies and even create a lounge area by grouping the bench seats that volunteers have removed from their vans in order to carry supplies and animals. Shaun has bought a propane stove/coffeemaker gadget. It's become a real home-away-from-home. We just hope it doesn't rain.

The trash is actually being picked up now instead of being left to rot, and several men with front-end loaders arrive to remove the small mountain of garbage in front of our triage/staging area. As we watch them, a large black Doberman speeds by into the alley. Iaon and I immediately spring into action, grabbing our snap leashes and pelting down the alley as fast as we can run. The trash guys are yelling something, but we can't quite make it out. The Dobie leaps over a fence and runs back toward the trash men, where he stops and stares at us as though we were insane. The trash man says "It's ok. The dog is mine. He loves to come with us on the truck. Man, you really take your job seriously!" The garbage man almost got his dog rescued, whether he liked it or not!

The animal hospital where the "trash-heap Doberman" is staying is only a block away, so I go to visit her (found out it's a female). As it happens, she's out having a morning walk down Magazine Street. She's still too weak to walk by herself and has to be aided by a rolled up towel slung under her hips, but she basks in her celebrity. Local TV stations have told her story; I'm sorry to say the name of the bastard owner was not mentioned. The vet tech walking her says she can't go ten feet down the sidewalk without someone petting her and taking her picture. She loves it for awhile, but as she tires you can see her turn her head away thinking "Damn paparazzi! I can't even go for a walk." Her name is now Liebschen. I want to bring her back with me, but there's no point. She'll have no trouble at all finding a wonderful home now.

Iaon and Shaun make a run to WalMart, which is about 45 minutes away, and Tess goes on a call with another team to catch a severely debilitated Rottweiler. I stay at base and do triage as animals start to trickle in, which I expected, even though we're supposed to pick up only the ones in really bad shape. If you do animal rescue, it's really hard to leave a critter if you have the opportunity to get it. It just goes against everything you believe in.

One team brings in a set of four very large Red-Eared Sliders, which is a type of fresh-water turtle commonly sold in pet stores. They had been put in a bathtub before the hurricane and were slogging around in about two inches of muddy hurricane water that left them with a semi-permanent stench. They get their shells scrubbed with disinfectant and will probably come home with us. Shaun says they can go in his pond.

Another team brings in a chicken. They were cruising their route when they saw a skinny chicken run into an abandoned house, and they decided to capture it. That was fortunate for the chicken. It is severely debilitated and losing its feathers, but very cooperative and docile with people.

Various dogs and cats arrive as well, in varying states of health. Most of the dogs and cats we're seeing this time are pretty hardy or they wouldn't have made it this far. They need fluids and deworming, but are otherwise in fairly good shape.

Tess arrives with the debilitated Rottie and Iaon & Shaun arrive with a pregnant Beagle. They have been trying to catch a large male dog inside a fenced yard since we've been here, but have been outsmarted each time. The dog is loose in a large fenced yard, but runs under the house whenever approached, so attempts with catch poles are doomed to failure. People have been putting food and water over the fence and have told us the owner is gone and is not coming back. He is very big and very grouchy. Yesterday, they set a large dog trap and have been checking it frequently. Today they decide to try again on the way back from WalMart, but end up with a Beagle instead. Yesterday, they set out to catch the big dog and ended up with a Pomeranian. Each time they go to check the trap, the large dog is sitting under the house thumbing his nose at them, but a small dog wanders by and is immediately snagged. It's starting to become a matter of principle with Iaon, and I can see he's not leaving here without catching this dog.

Iaon and Shaun have bought a 200-foot extension cord and a couple of power strips. There is an apartment building half a block over that has electricity, and they are determined to provide power for us. They plug into an outlet at the apartment building and run it over here, where we have two large floodlights that appear from somewhere. The parking lot lights up like a tanning salon, and people begin plugging in laptops and cell phones that need to be recharged. We now have all the comforts of home except hot water. I'm sorry we're leaving in a couple of days. Of course, by then the apartment owner may have us arrested.

Holly talks to Best Friends and finds out what our situation is. BF still cannot take more animals, but they have the funds to pay for these animals to be boarded at a facility about an hour away. We are staying in the parking lot of this business because the owners let us, but apparently there is a permit required for animals to be on the premises overnight. So, a bunch of volunteers volunteer to drive most of the animals to be boarded. Quite a few will stay, hiding in tents and vehicles. Our mama dog and her nine pups will stay in our tent tonight.  

10/28/05

About 20% of the businesses on Magazine Street have reopened, and we find a coffee shop that has internet access to post yesterday's blog. Although you read about how life in New Orleans is getting back to normal, nothing really conveys the truth. The French Quarter and the business district are up and running to some extent, but most of the residential areas are still deserted. You can look down street after street of houses, and the visual is like something straight out of Road Warrior.

Shaun and Iaon are accompanying Rob today to attempt to trap several dogs that have been eluding them. Rob, who we met last time, has become a key player in this rescue operation. He is by profession a diver who contracts his services, so he can work as needed and take a fair amount of time off to help with the rescue effort. His dog-savvy and sense of humor are both put to good use.

Iaon checks his trap to see if he has caught the elusive yard dog. Finally, success! Looking dejected and forlorn, the dog is waiting in the trap, having finally succumbed to the lure of canned food. Once the dog is caught, his attitude changes completely. For one, it's a female. Now that she's caught, she begins to remember that people are not all bad, and by the time they return to base, she wants nothing more than to have her belly rubbed.

While on their way to another trap, they spot a pregnant Beagle running the streets in an area where the houses are almost all still deserted. In her bloated state, she can't run very fast, but still manages to stay just out of reach as Iaon gives chase for several blocks. Shaun is trying to head her off with the Jeep, and disappears around a corner. Iaon manages to snag a rear leg with one hand as the dog tries to squeeze her bulk under a fence. He and the dog are both panting and covered with scratches from brush and metal. As he's yelling for Shaun, he hears people running, screaming "What the hell is goin' on out there? Who's tryin' to get in my house? I'll shoot'em!" The Beagle has tried to run under the only inhabited house within four blocks. As a very large, sweaty man runs out of it, Iaon starts yelling "Animal rescue! Animal Rescue! Not a break-in!" Don't shoot, man!"

Not wanting to let go of the Beagle leg, Iaon is flat on his belly looking up at a six-foot-five, angry man in a dirty mechanic shirt. Iaon holds up a leash with his free hand and asks "Will you slip this leash over her head for me? I can't reach the other side of the fence." To which the guy replies "Hell, no, man. I'm scared of dogs." In the meantime, Shaun has come back around in the Jeep. He leaps out and manages to leash the Beagle just as she's about to slip away. She's been snaking her way under the fence farther and farther, and by the time the lead is around her neck, Iaon is holding nothing but a tail and piece of butt cheek. But, they are successful, and another pregnant dog is off the street.

While the guys are out trapping, Tess and I are doing medical stuff. Although I really want to be out on the street, we are needed more here today. A man walks in to the triage area carrying a long-haired Chihuahua in a crate. He says she has a huge wound on her shoulder and needs medical attention. As I examine the dog, he tells me their story.

When the levee broke, the flood waters came very quickly. His teenage daughter and the dog were both inside the house with the water rising fast. She was trying desperately to hold on to the dog with one hand and a ceiling beam with another. When a window broke and the water roared out, she couldn't hold on to the dog, and the little creature was washed away with the rushing water. They thought she was dead. When they returned to their house three weeks later, they found a message spray-painted on their house that a dog had been rescued from the wreckage, so they were happy she was still alive. Rescued animals are posted on Petfinder.com by the addresses at which they were found, along with a photo; when he checked Petfinder, he found that the dog removed from his house was not his dog, so they again assumed she must be dead.

Several more weeks passed, and they returned to their house today to begin the task of rebuilding. While they were picking through the ruins of their house, the little dog came running from across the street! She had survived by living off the food and water stations we had been putting out twice a week in all the neighborhoods. The huge gash across her shoulder had apparently been inflicted by another dog. Although it is large and infected, she will be fine. I sedate her, clean and dress the wound, and give her an antibiotic injection. I instruct the owner to return in three days to have the dressing changed, and he leaves with tears of gratitude in his eyes. This is why I'm here.

Tess and I check and treat several injured animals, repair a lacerated ear, and then I go to check my fish. The same animal hospital that has the trash-heap Dobie lets me place his tub in the kennel area for safe-keeping. Sarge and several other fish in another tub are doing well.

Holly has located a warehouse where twenty pallets of cat and dog food are available. The problem is how to move that much food when all the rescue vehicles are out doing rescues and dropping food & water. She makes a few phone calls, and within two hours, a large Army transport truck arrives loaded to the top with our food. It's a pretty amazing sight to see an M813 5-ton cargo truck with "1st Cavalry" stenciled on the side loaded with animal food. The animal rescue groups have a pretty good relationship with the military, as dogs are a friendly reminder of home for many of the soldiers. Almost every day, groups of soldiers will come here, assault rifles slung over their shoulders, to pet and play with the dogs for a few minutes.

Since most of the teams are in the field, Tess, Holly and I, along with three soldiers, unload all the twenty and fifty pound bags of food. I climb into the truck alongside one soldier and we start heaving bags down to the waiting sets of arms. Even though I'm in pretty good physical condition, I'll feel this tomorrow. The Army guys compliment us on our work.

You may have heard about the mass dog slaughter at on CNN. If you didn't, you need to know. When flood waters came up fast, many people fled to this school with their pets, mostly dogs. They holed up there until they were found by the military, and the people were removed, but forced to leave their animals. People wrote their animals' names, descriptions and addresses on the walls of the building hoping to get their pets back. About three weeks ago, thirty-two pets were found murdered in this school. They had all been tied up with curtain cords and shot. They had not been shot in the head as if it had been a mercy-killing; they had been gut-shot and forced to die prolonged and painful deaths.

Pasado Animal Rescue found the bodies and were outraged. They have offered a $25,000 reward for the dog-killers. It is suspected the killers were New Orleans Police, based on the shell casings, but that won't be known for sure until ballistics test results are back.

Today, one of our rescue teams drive by that school, and a man tells them he heard a dog barking inside. The team walks through the rooms where the killings had taken place, the stench of old blood, feces, and vomit permeating everything. They open the door to the gymnasium, and there is a small black and white pit bull puppy tied to the handle of a file cabinet drawer, left to die of thirst. No one knows who left this dog or when, but it would surely have been dead in a day or two if it had not been found. No one was supposed to have returned to that building to look for animals. The team immediately brings the pup back to triage, where we administer fluids under the skin and feed him his first meal in many days. One of the rescue team that found him plans to keep him.

By the time all the teams return, we have quite a menagerie. Dogs, cats, four large turtles, fish, and a chicken. The chicken was found inside a house, emaciated and with half her feathers gone, but docile and friendly. We decide the chicken will also come home with us and be a yard-chicken who will live out her days laying eggs whenever she feels like it.

We are accumulating a lot of animals here, because Best Friends is still full. They are working round-the-clock to find places to ship animals, but even the boarding facilities are now full. We get permission to keep the animals here until more space is found.

We get some bad news on the medical front. Tess had intended to stay another week after Iaon, Shaun and I leave; she would be the only vet avaiable for several rescue groups. However, the Louisiana Veterinary Board has now rescinded all the temporary licenses they had granted to out-of-state vets to come here and treat these animals. She won't be allowed to practice veterinary medicine. This makes me furious. There aren't many Louisiana vets helping out down here, and now we find out we won't be allowed to help, either. If I were staying, I'd ignore the order and work anyway, but Tess doesn't have that luxury, since she works for the University of Florida-she has to go by the rules. She'll be going back with us tomorrow, and there will be no vet working triage for the rescue groups.

We find out we'll also be taking a cat back to Florida. The cat's owner has been located in St. Augustine, where she's living in a motel. She's going to meet us in Gainesville. Sassy the cat survived the flood and aftermath, but her brother did not. She was plucked out of a flooded two-story house and taken to Best Friends in Mississippi; today she returns to New Orleans for the ride to Florida with us. She's a well-traveled cat.

Since this is our last night here, we eat another wonderful dinner at the Nile Cafe, although they have no lentils tonight. We have been looking forward to the best lentil soup in the world, but food shipments are still iffy, and the menu is limited. Tonight we have a choice of hummus or chicken. After dinner, we drive to the the French Quarter to have coffee and beignets at the world-famous Cafe Du Monde. We have heard it re-opened last week. Unfortunately for us, their hours are still limited, and they're closed for the night. We settle for wine and Guiness from a local bar. Shaun finds his beloved Stoli and Bailey's, so we share with other members of the group and make a toast to the animals of New Orleans, who are still proving they are survivors.

10/29/05

Leaving this morning is a lot like launching a battle ship. Shaun has rented another U-Haul so we can leave all the medical supplies in a safe area for the SAVEAPET group. We transfer all the medical stuff to the new trailer and load all our gear into the old one for the trip home. We're taking with us all the fish, the turtles, the chicken, the cat, the mama dog with nine pups, and Iaon's elusive trap dog. The packing job is a work of art.

We have one small tragedy this morning that puts a damper on our spirits, though. When I go to pick up Sarge, the large fish, I find him dead. The animal hospital has suffered more damage than originally thought, and sometime during the night, the ceiling has caved in on his tub, which was sitting on top of a kennel run. This poor fish, who survived the hurricane, weeks of cold, dirty water, and no food, was within hours of a normal life. If you're saying to yourself "It's just a fish. What's the big deal?" then you'll never understand.

Fortunately for the other animals in the kennel, the runs are made of concrete and do not collapse, so at least that's something.

We say our good-byes. Everyone is wondering how the group will make out without a vet, but they'll be ok. Whatever they do, they will still save more animals. Holly tells us she thinks a vet will be arriving on Tuesday, and that's only three days away.

As we're rushing around trying to pack, a team pulls up in a mini-van and runs toward us with a crate, saying "Wait, you can't leave yet! We have a dog with a broken leg here!" I tell Iaon to keep packing and Tess and I will see the dog, but the rescue team insists on Iaon's presence. They hold the crate up to eye level, and inside is a black-and-white dog statue with one rear leg broken off. Everyone laughs and applauds the vet joke. I'm glad they've kept their sense of humor. We'll really miss these people.

Since everyone here has heeded my feeding advice from last time, not a single animal has had diarrhea. By feeding I/D prescription diet for their first meal, it's much easier on the animals' stomachs, so I'm confident we'll make the trip home without having the inside of the Jeep painted with runny, brown squirts of stinky poop.

SAVEAPET plans to be here through the end of November and wants to know if there's any chance we can come back. I don't see how we can afford to do it a third time, but I know we will keep in touch and help them in whatever way we can. They have my cell phone number and free veterinary consults for as long as they need them.

We make one stop before we leave New Orleans. Tess and I are determined to have a beignet before we leave, so we go to the French Quarter to try again. We park the Jeep near Jackson Square, with Shaun and Iaon animal-sitting while Tess and I walk to Cafe Du Monde. It's packed with the people working in this area, and even a few tourists. There's a "Help Wanted" sign in the window, and for a fraction of a second, it makes me think about staying. This city has an unprecedented chance to start fresh, and part of me would like to be here to help that happen. But, I have a life I love at home, so we take our beignets and walk back to the Jeep, passing the sidewalk artists along Jackson Square and the clown blowing up balloon animals for the kids.

The beignets are delicious, just as everyone said they would be. It's a good thing for my waistline that we don't have them in Gainesville.

We make it back to West End by nine p.m. and Sassy's owner is waiting. She and her daughter have made the trip from St. Augustine and are anxious to get their cat back. It's obvious from Sassy's reaction that these are her people. The owners thank us profusely and return to the job of rebuilding their lives; one more piece of the rubble has been picked up.

We get all the other animals situated in their new digs and go home, exhausted. We get our first hot shower in many days, and we agree that, of all the trappings of modern life, we missed this most of all. You can handle cold food, long hours, and hard work, but there's no substitute for hot water steaming the dust and dirt away from your skin. Once again, we are reminded that the basic ingredients for happiness in life are not expensive or complicated; you just have to notice them when they're in front of you.

We think about how it's going to be as we make the adjustment from this adventure back to regular life and a daily routine. Iaon worries about how much money this has cost the hospital, and I can't disagree that it has, but we both know it was worth it. He worries about the next Poker For Pets tournament, which is scheduled for Nov 5, only a week away, and he has not been here for nearly two weeks to publicize it. This tournament is for Puppy Hill Farm, which is one of the rescue groups that has taken in Katrina animals, and they really need the money. We'll figure out something. If you play Texas Hold'Em, sign up and support Iaon and Puppy Hill Farm. Filling this tournament would make Iaon a happy man.

My father was a career Army officer of more than 30 years, having spent most of his career in the 82nd Airborne. He fought in two wars and several "military actions." In spite of the fact that he saw a lot of combat, he also firmly subscribed to Ghandi's theory that you can measure the level of a civilization by the way it treats its animals. Before World War II, my father was a bow-hunter. He hunted deer, bear, javelina, whatever was in season. When he came home, he put his bow away in its case and said he would never again kill an innocent animal. I never saw my father use his bow, because it went in its box before I was born and he was true to his word, but I have kept it all these years. It's a reminder that my parents raised me to love and respect all living creatures, even human beings, who are often not worthy of respect.

My father has been dead for several years. He would have liked Iaon (once he got past the age difference, the earrings, the tattoos, and the tongue stud), partially because Iaon shares those values about love and respect. My father's best Army buddy read my blog from our first trip to New Orleans, and even though we don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, he emailed me a note I cherish: "Your father would have been proud of you."

April 2006 Update

The black dog with nine puppies that we extracted from under a wrecked RV has finally found a home. After months in our kennel and a foster home, Amelia was adopted on April 24.  We are very happy for this poor dog who suffered so much.

But, it is with tears in my eyes that I write about Liebschen, the trash heap Doberman. She became a celebrity who found a loving home to nurse her through her ordeal of starvation and neglect. She died on April 23 as a result of kidney and liver damage suffered during her Katrina ordeal.  Her stoic faith in people never wavered, and I'll never forget her.