Buddy And Baby Girl
By Brenda Shoss
~ A Kinship Circle team returned to New Orleans to aid animals. Along with roaming cats and dogs, we found many Katrina stories along our route.
A wheat-colored dog runs toward our vehicle at 1400 Montegut and N. Villere Street. A curious Shepherd mix follows. Behind them, a man in rumpled shirt and jeans approaches. He wants to talk. It's been nearly two years since Hurricane Katrina leveled his Chalmette, Louisiana home.
He lives inside his commercial warehouse in the Upper Ninth Ward. When Louisiana State Police tried to evacuate him after Katrina, the man refused to desert Buddy and Baby Girl.
"I have no wife, no children," he explains. "These dogs are my family."
An officer aimed his gun at Baby Girl, forcing the man to leave or watch his dog die. He quickly confined both dogs to an upper level, with self-dispensing food and water for two weeks. Floodwaters rose 8 feet under the dogs.
But the man managed to sneak back into the city to retrieve them. "We still live in this 'temporary' warehouse apartment," he confides. "The insurance company I had for 18 years didn't come through for us."
As Katrina's two-year anniversary nears, Gulf Coast recovery progresses unhurriedly.
Renewal of infrastructure, levees and wetlands, clean-up and rebuilding…all languish in red tape.
In 9th Ward west, where Katrina seems frozen in empty doorsteps and board-covered windows, occasional new homes rise from rubble. Two black cats dart past dilapidated buildings and overgrown lawns.
Nearby, Mary Michelle emerges from her tiny shotgun style home to offer us cold Cokes. At age 90, she resettled in New Orleans after an eight-month evacuation. Her first cat died in Katrina's floodwaters. She now cares for a feisty calico who bolts from a footstool to greet me.
Mary apologizes for the mold-infested carpet she cannot afford to replace. Where is the aid, she wonders, to replace her waterlogged belongings? "At my age, honey, Louisiana is my last home," she says. "Thank you for coming all the way here to help our animals."
Stuck Between Hope And Despair
Any story about companion animals reflects the people who loved or abandoned them. Hurricane Katrina stranded an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 domesticated animals in New Orleans alone. These numbers don't account for other parishes or Mississippi. By some guesstimates, 600,000 or more pets struggled alone in Katrina's aftermath.
Before Katrina, Louisiana's spay/neuter rates were among the worst nationwide. The storm scattered unaltered pets and ferals over a chaotic landscape with ample opportunity to breed.
New Orleans dwindled from a pre-hurricane count of 484,674 (2000 U.S. census) to roughly 200,000 to 275,000 residents. Strays normally congregate near restaurants and trashcans. But with the population reduced by half, animals no longer have reliable food sources.
Human victims face overwhelming odds too. By early March 2007, Governor Kathleen Blanco's federally subsidized Road Home
program had supplied 630 rebuilding grants, even though 107,000 qualified homeowners applied. While Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers, state and municipal governments debate overdue legislation and funding, displaced residents wait for Small Business Administration loans, insurance claims and other fiscal support.
According to an assessment from the nonprofit Institute for Southern Studies, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are "still in crisis," with some 110,000 families in interim government trailers or reliant upon FEMA rental aid. Several cut-offs are postponed to August 2007, yet "tens of thousands have already been cut from the rolls," notes the Durham, N.C. based organization.
Still, a sense of hope pervades. Signs on gutted homes declare, "We will rebuild." Local contractors advertise, "With you after the storm and now." TV programs air updates from parish administrations.