Saving Spike & More Stories

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This space is reserved for Spike's photo.

Brenda Johnson lost everything in her flooded New Orleans East apartment, so we have no photos of Spike.

Saving Spike  ~  A True Katrina Tale Of Two Brendas & A Dog Named Spike

Brenda Shoss

From the moment I found my Cartoon Network junkie glued to the evening news, my life changed forever.

"Elijah, why are you watching the news?" I asked my then four-year-old son, more of a Sponge-Bob type than CNN.

"Mommy, I want to see if the people get out of their broken houses."

That was how I learned about Katrina, the unmerciful hurricane that swept through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Like everyone, I cried for people drifting on tree branches, afloat in toxic water. I watched them cling to fragments of shredded homes. Where would they all go? How would they live with everything gone?

And in that same moment I froze, horrified by an inevitable truth. What about those not yet in the news? The ones left behind – bewildered, hurt and dying. Pink-bowed girls in rhinestone collars. Outgoing boys with big floppy paws. A spoiled princess who slept on their beds. A soft tabby who nestled in their laps.

Some say it doesn't matter. They're only animals. But I knew: Caring about innocent animals doesn't diminish human suffering, it makes us human. I wanted to save them all, for the sanctity of their own lives and for the people who loved them.

By the time New Orleans evacuee Brenda Johnson called begging me to find her dog Spike, I already knew him. He was the faceless dog left behind. Now he had a name.

"Can you save our Spike? He's a big Yorkshire Terrier, probably 15 pounds, left upstairs in our apartment on Roger Drive. We thought we'd be back in a couple of days. I'm sure he's under my daughter's bed, probably really scared."

I overheard children, an aunt, a niece and a brother from her crowded hotel room in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I also heard the crack in her voice. The Johnsons fled on Sunday at 2:00 a.m., just before Katrina struck. In the chaos, they actually thought someone had brought Spike along. But the scared dog, 11-years old and prone to seizures, was likely in his safe spot under the bed.

I filed missing pet reports. I scanned lost pet photos. And I heeded the advice of new friends from California to Michigan to Louisiana united in a nationwide effort to save 15 pounds of furry love.

In the weeks right after Katrina, when animal rescuers had little to no access into flooded New Orleans, I got through to boat people, a few rescuers on the ground, parish sheriffs, and ordinary citizens. On Brenda's behalf, I granted permission to break down doors and shatter windows. But with each passing day I feared, "Is tonight his last? Will heat, starvation, or water finally take him?"

On September 16 – more than two weeks after the Johnsons evacuated – Brenda called me. "They found Spike. He is alive." Brenda Johnson, an African American storm victim, and Brenda Shoss, a Jewish Midwest mom, screamed with joy for one full moment. Words failed me. I could only make shock-relief sounds.

In the end, there is no difference between animal and person. It is about saving lives. Reaching across phone and internet. Navigating broken roads, dark waters and ruined cities. Searching for tiny heartbeats in the wreckage.

Spike stayed alive, an 11-year-old Yorkie stranded on the second floor of a flooded home. I am his new Auntie Brenda.

This story is about love. It is about saving Spike.
Brenda Johnson is temporarily sheltered in Lake Charles, Louisiana, after evacuating a second time for Hurricane Rita – this time, with Spike securely at her side.
She can be reached by cell phone:
504-239-1666 or 504-236-5883
Belmont Hotel
2700 Broad
Lake Charles, LA 70601

Brenda Shoss is director and founder of Kinship Circle, a national/global nonprofit focused in: Animal Advocacy, Education, Disaster Rescue. Brenda lives in Saint Louis, MO with many human and nonhuman mammals, including her husband Grady, son Elijah, cats Baby Noah (a Katrina rescue from Plaquemines), Isaiah and Rebekkah, and dogs Etelah, Liberty, Mabel and Mandy.
Mama's boy you are forever, Good night Stanley Schmanely my love 323x900
We Are All Spike
In above photos, Kinship Circle director Brenda Shoss is with Stanley – a Lhasa Apso loved beyond reason. For three years Stan fought kidney disease with unparalleled stamina, to stay by Brenda for endless hours of post-Katrina rescue work. While she searched for Spike, Stan stuck like glue, as if to say: "You know, we are all Spike. Your hairy kids. Devoted for life. Go find that Yorkie!" Toward the end he wore bells to alert Brenda to seizures, but she nursed Stan through each one. By then, Spike was back with Brenda Johnson and Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) was well underway, with Brenda as Food Water Assignments Director and Volunteer Co-Coordinator. So Stanley, the dog who inspired Kinship Circle, finally let go.

12/27/2005  ~  At 7:20pm he drew his last breath.
Stanley was no more.