by lyle e davis
Human beings, generally, have not yet mastered the art of expressing with their eyes their love, affection, and gratitude - not the way animals have.
As Evelyn Madison and I reviewed the photo art we gathered to support the editorial end of this story we found our eyes filling with tears. To see these poor creatures in the worst of conditions, living amidst water filled with raw sewage, no food or clean water for more than a week . . . and then to be rescued . . . and you could see they knew they had been rescued. You could see it in their eyes.
You want proof of this? Visit with a member of the Emergency Animal Rescue Organization based in Ramona.
These are the folks called when when a dog gets stuck in a drainpipe, a cat gets stuck in a tree, when a horse falls into a canyon . . . or gets its head stuck in a ladder . . . or, when a hurricane creates a disaster in a distant city.
These are also the folks who do the volunteer work you and I wouldnt’ be able to do and probably simply don’t have the stomach for it.
They go to places like New Orleans to save animals who had been abandoned by their owners when Katrina hit.
They wade through water filled with raw sewage and rotting dead bodies of both human and animals. And they rescue animals. They gag . . . they vomit, they get stick . . . from the stench, the heat, the bacteria. It comes with the turf.
And for all this work, for all this suffering, they get paid exactly . . . nothing. It’s an all volunteer organization. They volunteer their time, their vehicles, their equipment . . . even their Executive Director is not paid. Theirs, truly, is a Labor of Love.
Sometimes they get bit. Sometimes they get scratched. Sometimes they get overcome with heat exhaustion. Always, they have to put up with the stench of death and of raw sewage.
I don’t have the temperament, the courage, or the ability to do this type of work. I gag if I have to change a kitty litter box . . . I can just image how I’d react if I had to wade through raw sewage . . . or saw and smelled a dead body.
These folks do it regularly. They don’t like it . . .but they know it has to be done.
And the animals love them for it. As do the animal’s owners.
Here we take a look at those magnificent and fascinating people and their mission. Join us in reading of their exploits.
Doug Lake, Executive Director of the Emergency Animal Rescue Organization:
I don’t know where to start other then to acknowledge Lisa Lightfoot for her selfless and absolute heroism in rescuing hundreds of animals from the remnants of hurricane Katrina. From humans to hamsters, she showed physical agility and heartfelt compassion for those who were left helpless to survive on their own.
Swimming in a cesspool would have been preferable to what the conditions were in New Orleans. Although we wore drysuits while doing water operations, there were times when you had to wrestle or comfort dogs that had spent the previous week in the stench of their surroundings. Many times we were wading through waist deep water, sometimes jumping into sludge over your head to rescue dogs that were possibly paddling their last strokes on this earth.
Whether making a forcible entry into a house with chest deep sewage searching for animals that had been reported left behind or going door to door through blighted neighborhoods in the Zodiak inflatable raft packed with kennels looking for strays, the conditions never improved above abominable.
You motor past dead bodies of both man and animal. You spent hours searching for animals to rescue in 95-degree temperatures with 95% humidity. By the time you get back to base you’re hauling around 2-3 liters of your own sweat in each leg of your sealed drysuit.
The constant noise of helicopter gunships searching for stranded victims on rooftops is with you all day long. As martial law was declared in New Orleans, our curfew was 5:30 PM. If you’ve not left town by then, the gunships took on a new menace. They flew much lower in the evening.
As human victims were found, they would come to us with their pets. Most fell to their knees through either joy or exhaustion. One small child had only a piece of gum left to her name. She had her father cut it into 3 pieces and gave it as thanks. Emotions ran the gamut from exhaustion from doing a technically difficult high angle rescue to tears from holding a dog who has willingly just put its fate in your hands to extreme aggravation from the political positioning of groups who show up just to be able to say they were there.
There were many days when the frustration of the heat and humidity would tug at you to give in and take a rest. This would not be the case for our team. Perseverance and the knowledge that we were one of only a very small handful of teams looking for animals made giving up an option that would not, could not exist.
The driver and caretaker of B.A.R.T. (Big Animal Rescue Truck) is a terrific guy who just goes by the name of Goose. B.A.R.T. belongs to Code 3 Associates (www.code3associates.org), which is a rapid response disaster team out of Longmont, CO. Goose became a member of Lisa and my team out of necessity when our other member had to leave. Though he had no formal training in animal rescue techniques, he quickly became very proficient in the fine art of breaking down doors or tearing out window frames to gain entry into a house. He acted as a ladder that got me to the rooftops to get dogs off. He expertly worked the catchpole that brought many a dog through the muck and the mire to safety. In so many instances his own safety was put aside for the sake of the animal. He too, was a hero in every sense of the word. In the 11 days that we were there, our boat crews brought in over 400 dogs, cats, a hamster a pig, and an iguana. Because of the efforts of Emergency Animal Rescue, they will all get a second chance at life.
All in all, Emergency Animal Rescue represented itself magnificently in the face of this countries worse natural disaster. From the team in the water to the support of Jan working endless hours on the phones and answering emails of literally hundreds of rescue requests a day to everyone who made it possible for us to be there for the animals, I can’t thank you enough for your support.
Mike "Goose" West (from a group called Code 3 Associates out of Longmont, Co.)
and Doug Lake, Emergency Animal Resuce, with a Doberman in the kennel.
The Dobie had just been rescued from the roof of the house on the left.
Emergency Animal Rescue is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation founded in April of 1993. Based in Ramona, California, the organization specializes in the actual physical rescue of animals that are in life threatening situations.
It didn't take long for the public to start utilizing the Emergency Animal Rescue. In early 1994, they were summoned to Los Angeles to assist in animal rescues during the Northridge earthquake. Then again in October of 1996, they flew to Texas to rescue animals in the floods in Conroe and Liberty. Closer to home, the Harmony Grove fire, the Viejas fire, the Pines fire and most recently, the Cedar fire - all were responded to by The Emergency Animal Rescue. They came through with the help of friends and neighbors, rescuing hundreds of animals, holding them in their receiving areas, and then returning every single one of them back to their rightful owners.
Again, Doug Lake:
There were so many stories playing out in the battered areas of hurricane Katrina that there just isn’t enough room or time to do them all justice so I’ll just try to hit on some high points. Lisa Lightfoot and I, along with El Cajon Police Mounted Reserve officer Larry King, took off for Louisiana on Thursday, Sept. 1st. We took off to assist the Houston SPCA with setting up a satellite receiving area. Their present shelter was nearly at capacity and they knew they would be taking in hundreds of animals that were displaced by Katrina. The first day was spent receiving literally tons of donations from the Houstonians. Food, supplies, toys, kennels. Those folks in the south really know what it means to give from the heart. Much of these supplies were then transported to the satellite receiving area and stored for the future inhabitants.
We then headed for Monroe, Louisiana, where we were to meet up with Warren “Chief” Craig from Code 3 Associates. from Longmont, Colorado. Our team then headed for Gonzalez, LA.
In Gonzales, LA. is the Lamar Dixon Expo. Similar to the Del Mar Fairgrounds only with much larger and open buildings, hundreds of volunteers from all over the country started to converge to turn this otherwise empty grounds into the countries largest evacuation center. Behind shed 3 was B.A.R.T. (Big Animal Rescue Truck) This is a 77 foot tractor trailer rig which sleeps 8, has an operating room, 9 built in kennels, kitchen area, office, bathroom, carries a truck and horse trailer, 3 boats and all the necessary gear, portable horse corrals, 360 gallons of water, enough provisions for both man and animal to be self sufficient for a week, and gets 4.5 miles to the gallon. This was home for the next week and a half.
5:30 am rolls around pretty early every morning as Chief gets everyone up and ready for the days work. A briefing takes place as we try to down a quick breakfast and get on the road. New Orleans is about 50 miles south of Gonzales down I-10. This trip alone is a story as every conceivable emergency vehicle is trying to get into town at the same time. There were police, ambulance, electric and telephone companies, relief groups and, of course, only one animal rescue group. The first couple of days were spent in the Garden District. This was a very well to do neighborhood. Down Napoleon St. past St. Charles Ave. is where we would unload our boats and stage the transport vehicles. We had very specific addresses we were supposed to find and check for abandoned animals. These addresses were sent to HSUS (Humane Society of United States). As we found these addresses, we had permission to gain entry by whatever means necessary. That usually meant breaking a window or busting down a door.
While motoring our Zodiak inflatable boat down one street, we came upon an elderly gentleman sitting on his porch. Porches in this area are anywhere from 8-10 feet off the ground with concrete steps leading up to them.
The Garden District of New Oreleans
When asked if he was alright, he politely replied that he would very much like to leave. A quick radio call back to Chief sent the National Guard in with a Deuce and a Half truck to evacuate him. A very grateful man indeed. A very humbling experience for us. These trucks have tires that are nearly 6 feet tall and can traverse nearly anything, including a cesspool over your head.
We came upon address after address with animals more then ready to abandon their homes they had been left in. Many of the owners had left large bags of food torn open and pots and pans of fresh water for their pets, not knowing the amount of flooding that would occur. We came upon another man who had several dogs in his care. He had a canoe but was unable to carry all his dogs in it. We had enough kennels for all but one when Goose, B.A.R.T.’s driver and our new team member, remembered seeing a large kennel several blocks back floating in a yard. Lisa stayed with the man and his dogs while Goose and I went back to look for the kennel. We saw it floating amongst the other debris floating in the water and went to retrieve it. When we got to it, I jumped into the water and waded over to it. Goose and I both looked at each other in hopes that it was empty. It was. I tipped it to empty the water and sewage that was in it and we got it on board the boat. When we arrived back at the house, Lisa had gathered up most of the dogs and had them in kennels. We loaded them and the last dog and headed in with our load. When we got back we notified the Sheriffs about the man and they headed out to get him. As we were headed back for our next run, we saw the man coming in with his canoe. He said he never saw any Sheriffs. He was very happy to see his dogs on dry ground.
Our rescue missions all ended in very much the same way. A boat full of dogs and some very grateful people. But one in particular got to me. We spotted a man on the third floor of a Junior High School building. He was frantically waving at us. We motored the boat up to the front door and had him come down to us. When he opened the front door, he had his Rottweiller with him. He fell to his knees and broke down. He told us that he had been there since the hurricane hit, nearly a week earlier. We got his dog, Cisco, into a kennel. He told us that there was a white Pitbull that hadalso made its way into the school to seek shelter. He had trapped it in one of the classrooms. We contacted a National Guard helicopter and had the man airlifted off the roof. The helicopter’s downdraft was nearly lifting the boat and all its contents off the water. Goose and I had to lay across the boat to keep it from flying off. The wind from the blades gave us a good idea of what it must have felt like during the hurricane as it was only 30-40 feet above us.
We then set our sights on getting the trapped Pitbull. We opened the door a bit to see if we could see any sign of the dog. Just to the left was a desk and the tip of the dogs tail. Goose used the catchpole to push the desk against the wall and force the dog out. He came out like a rocket so we slammed the door shut. The next thing we knew we saw the happiest Pitbull in the world dancing at the classroom door. We opened the door and got the catchpole on him. There wasn’t really a need for this other then to assist us in getting them into the kennels. Unfortunately, this dog didn’t stop barking the entire rest of the day. But it was a happy bark so we didn’t really mind.
Our next area to search was a place where I-610 split off of the I-10. We went over a few hills and then the freeway went into the water. This is where we launched our boats. There were neighborhoods on either side and we had to weave around the overpasses to get into them. It was a particularly hot day with very high humidity. 95º and 95% humidity. We were all loaded up with kennels and headed into the neighborhoods. These again were very nice houses from well to do families. The kind that had the means to evacuate with their pets. We were in there about half an hour without seeing a single animal.
I was piloting the boat when I felt the onslaught of heat exhaustion. Within a very few moments I was on the floor of the boat, barely able to visualize where we were going. Lisa made her way over the pile of kennels to me and continued to pilot the boat back to the staging area and to medical help. There was a fire crew there from Phoenix. The Captain immediately pulled me off the water and informed me that my day was done. I was put into the air-conditioned animal transport vehicle and given 2 bags of intravenous fluids. This was a wasted day for me as well as all the teams as we didn’t see hardly any animals except for a Pitbull on his last legs laying in the shallow water when we first pulled up and a Koi fish that was still swimming despite all the toxins in the water. There were, however, several refrigerated trucks and a pallet of body bags next to our staging area. You can figure it out from there.
The next several days were spent in an area where we had been told there were hundreds of animals left to fend for themselves. This area was called Elysian Fields. It was in one of the more blighted areas of New Orleans. As we motored our rescue boats out into the neighborhoods we would just whistle and listen. Nearly each time we would hear a dog bark and all we
had to do was track it down. One of the first ones we found was a small brown Poodle. The initial entry into this house consisted of Goose literally pulling the entire window frame from the wall as there were bars across the windows. We bent the catchpole back later. The dog was in the upstairs bathroom. He was tied to the shower with a long plastic coated cord and the toilet seat was left open for him to drink out of. The dog had wrapped itself around the base of the toilet enough times that it couldn’t reach the toilet to get any water. Not that it would have done any good as all the sewer systems had backed up and overflowed in the houses. And this little guy wasn’t going down without a fight. Lisa had to turn the kennel on its side with the door facing up. As I picked the dog up by the cord attached to his collar and got him over the kennel, he simply slipped out of the collar and fell right into the kennel. He has lost so much weight that he just fell out of his collar.
Later that day we had noticed a dog that was trapped on top of a roof. A Doberman. We motored across the street (river) and tied up the boat and waded through chest deep water to the back yard. We looked for any way to get to the roof. We went inside and found no access to the attic. There was a hole in the roof where the dog was entering through to get out of the sun. We couldn’t find any ladder or other access to the roof. Unfortunately, the eaves of the roof were keeping me from accessing the roof. Goose came over and told me to stand on his shoulders while he stood on the concrete steps outside the back door. This got my shoulders to the rooftop and I was able to lift myself the rest of the way onto the roof. The dog was trying to scramble back into the hole in the roof and I grabbed her just as her back legs were going in. She fought me the whole way. I was able to get her out of the hole and onto the roof. The attic must have been over 100° inside and the roof was all black shingles. No matter where she went, it was hot. As I made my way down the steep slope of the roof, I was thinking of how we were going to get her down over the edge. It was about a 5 foot drop down to Goose. If I leaned over too far, we were both going into the drink. I had to lay on my stomach, get the dog to lay down and slide her over the edge and inch my way over the edge until my waist was in the gutters. I knew this was as far as I could go. Goose was able to reach up and grab her front legs. I told him I was going to let go of her hind end and he would have to swing her into his arms. It worked. Goose handed the dog into Lisa’s arms and came back over to get me off the roof. When I got down and over to the doorway where Lisa was, she had the dog drinking fresh water off a plate on top of a capsized refrigerator. There were tears in Lisa’s eyes. She told me that as soon as Goose handed her the dog, she completely gave up as if to say, “My fate is now in your hands.” She knew she was safe. It was a very emotional moment for all of us. That rescue alone made all the hard work and all the dangerous conditions worth every minute of it.
I could go on and on about rescues that were like this. Most we got, a few we didn’t. But that’s the nature of disasters. You do what you can with every last ounce of energy you have. And if that’s not good enough, then you know how we felt each night going home. Maybe we could have gotten one more. Maybe if we had tried this or that. Maybe. But I know that our team, and the teams like ours, gave everything we had to the animals and I’m very proud of what we did. There are now over 400 animals that have another chance at life. Many will not see their owners again, but will most likely be adopted by new family and I’m sure over the next few weeks, there will be a thousand new pets named Katrina.
But I need to thank others who made it possible for us to be there. Kathy Helms for taking care of Lisa’s horses and letting her concentrate on the tasks at hand. To Jan for handling literally hundreds of rescue requests a day and answering them all until late into the night.
Even to the casual observer it would appear that this organization deserves a great deal of support . . . both financial as well as a participaant.
You Can Help
Each of us wishes to leave a legacy that says our life had real meaning, that we left the world somewhat different and better than we found it.
Planned gifts are a crucial source of future funding that enables the Emergency Animal Rescue to continue saving animals. To remember animals in such an enduring way is quite possibly the most powerful gift that a person can make.
U.S. tax laws are structured to encourage charitable giving, and unlimited amounts can generally be left for charitable purposes free of estate and gift taxes.
Your estate plan represents your beliefs, your life, and a way to continue your compassion into the future. There is no more valuable way to do this than to care for the earth’s most innocent and needful creatures ---the animals.
Contributions can be sent by mail to: Emergency Animal Rescue P.O. Box 2462 Ramona, California 92065
Or Online at our website: www.emergencyanimalrescue.org.
Members of the Emergency Animal Rescue provide the actual physical rescue of any animal, domestic or wildlife, that is in a life-threatening situation. They are not a rehabilitation or adoption facility. Their members are constantly trained in the actual physical rescue techniques for animals that are in crisis situations. Whether it is a horse that has fallen over a cliff, a dog trapped in an abandon well, puppies and kittens in storm drains or the notorious wildland fires. Training and cross training has become a most valuable asset both in the day to day rescues and in major disasters.
They need volunteer members in Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido. Several levels of membership are available (all volunteer):
Active, Reserve, Junior and Auxiliary.
If you wish to participate, your enthusiasm and talents will be welcomed. If you have any further questions regarding the levels of membership, please contact Ermergency Animal Rescue by phone at 760-789-5775 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org