By Millie Ball
THIBODAUX - The young woman from New Orleans, her 7-year-old daughter and their pet poodle were sleeping under the altar at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center on the Nicholls State University campus.
The Rev. Jim Morris said he gazed down at the family that had been banned because of the dog from the regular shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He told a colleague, "Our altar has never been adorned more beautifully than it is with these people seeking the sanctuary of God."
Morris has a dog named Blue. He understands.
"I went over to the school shelter Tuesday night and saw all these people outside, looking dejected and clinging to their animals," said the slender 44-year-old priest with friendly blue eyes and sandy hair he hasn't had time to comb lately. "They wouldn't let them inside. So I said, bring them on over to the church."
The first night there were 130 people with "all these rottweilers, poodles, Chihuahuas, cats, birds, even a pot-bellied pig. It was unbelievable. We had no kennels or cages - PetSmart and Petco donated them later - and people slept on the terrazzo floor and on the pews. We had no electricity. It was like Noah's Ark."
Morris looked happy and content as he looked over his temporary flock of humans and pets. "Animals calm people down. And pet lovers usually have gentle hearts. If you go in the other shelter, people tend to sit still and idle. Here, there's a lot going on. And what's wonderful is the way our students are volunteering and helping wherever they can. For us this is a mission that helps the evacuees and their pets as well as our students who are here taking care of them."