Looking For Signs Of Life
Story And Photos By Timothy Gorski
Hurricane Katrina barreled through Louisiana three weeks ago. I drove up shortly after to work with the Red Cross. But now the search and rescues are search and recovers as few who road out the flood remain alive at this point, well… except for pets, pets left behind, pets who cannot turn doorknobs, who cannot open water bottles, cannot dial 911, yet pets who manage to survive on instinct alone.
It's hot, humid, smelly, and the volunteers are overworked, underfed, and underbathed. The nights are dark and eerie in the city that now resembles an apocalyptic ghost town. Dogs and cats that come into the Winn Dixie Animal Triage at a rate of 400 a day, are bathed, treated, tagged, and shipped out to HSUS in Lamar Dixon for processing with petfinder.com
. They're all emaciated after 3 weeks without food or good water; skeletons wrapped in furry skin.
Many are layered in black sludge from the city's sewer system and almost blind from eye infections. Some tenaciously guard their homes, though their humans evacuated weeks ago leaving them to the laws of club and fang
(as Jack London would say). It's the only world they know and it's been turned upside down, literally.
Former household pets (FiFi, Butch, Ginger, Sadie…) get harsh lessons in survival as they now roam in packs searching for that next meal while bored Louisiana cops use them for target practice from the bridge, "Yeehaw, got another one Jimbo!".
Chris and I work rescue in the 9th Ward (one of the hardest hit areas). The neighborhood borders the levee where it was breached and has been declared a total loss. Under 12 feet of water just days before, the region has since dried out significantly and is now buried under a 6 inch layer of slippery black slime. A quick pan across the landscape and you would swear you were in Baghdad.
Nothing lives here, I thought.
Military patrol the streets in jeeps and HumVs. FEMA combed the neighborhood once already, marking the houses with their spray painted "Xs" and codes.
We target homes marked with "NE" for "no-entry." Chris and I break into house after house looking and listening for signs of life.
They all look the same, furniture heaped against doorways, belongings covered in thick mud. Some have a distinct smell of rotting meat. These are no longer homes but mausoleums.