Sunday, September 4, 2005; Posted: 10:31 a.m. EDT (14:31 GMT)
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- As Valerie Bennett was evacuated from a New Orleans hospital, rescuers told her there was no room in the boat for her dogs.
She pleaded. "I offered him my wedding ring and my mom's wedding ring," the 34-year-old nurse recalled Saturday.
They wouldn't budge. She and her husband could bring only one item, and they already had a plastic tub containing the medicines her husband, a liver transplant recipient, needed to survive.
Such emotional scenes were repeated perhaps thousands of times along the Gulf Coast last week as pet owners were forced to abandon their animals in the midst of evacuation.
In one example reported last week by The Associated Press, a police officer took a dog from one little boy waiting to get on a bus in New Orleans. "Snowball! Snowball!" the boy cried until he vomited. The policeman told a reporter he didn't know what would happen to the dog.
At the hospital, a doctor euthanized some animals at the request of their owners, who feared they would be abandoned and starve to death. He set up a small gas chamber out of a plastic-wrapped dog kennel.
"The bigger dogs were fighting it. Fighting the gas. It took them longer. When I saw that, I said, 'I can't do it,' " said Bennett's husband, Lorne.
Valerie Bennett left her dogs with the anesthesiologist, who promised to care for about 30 staff members' pets on the roof of the hospital, Lindy Boggs Medical Center.
"He said he'd stay there as long as he possibly could," Valerie Bennett recalled, speaking from her husband's bedside at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital.
On Saturday afternoon, she said she saw a posting on a Web site called petfinder.com that said the anesthesiologist was still caring for the animals.
Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, who was helping with relief efforts Saturday, said some evacuees refused to leave without their pets.
"One woman told me 'I've lost my house, my job, my car and I am not turning my dog loose to starve,' " Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he persuaded refugees to get on the bus by telling them he would have the animals taken to an exhibition center.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals picked up two cats and 15 dogs, including one Kennedy found tied up beneath the overpass next to an unopened can of dog food with a sign that read, "Please take care of my dog, his name is Chucky."
The fate of pets is a huge but underappreciated cause of anguish for storm survivors, said Richard Garfield, professor of international clinical nursing at New York's Columbia University.
"People in shelters are worried about 'Did Fluffy get out?' " he said. "It's very distressing for people, wondering if their pets are isolated or starving."
The Bennetts had four animals, including two beloved dogs.
They moved to Slidell, Louisiana, in July when Valerie took a job at an organ transplant institute connected to Lindy Boggs. Lorne, a former paramedic, is disabled since undergoing a liver transplant in 2001.
On Saturday, as Hurricane Katrina approached, both went to the hospital to help and took all four animals with them.
They fed their guinea pig and left it in its cage in a patient room. They couldn't refill its empty water bottle because the hospital's plumbing failed Sunday, they said. They poured food on the floor for the cat, but again no water.
"I just hope that they forgive me," Valerie Bennett cried.
This story breaks my heart. I hope someone from the Humane Society, Louisana SPCA, American Humane Association, or the Vet Medical Association finds these pets to care for them. My prayers are with these families while they try to pick up the pieces of what they have in their lives.
UPDATE: September 5, 2005. Someone brought this article to my attention--from USA Today.
Animal welfare groups rescue abandoned pets
By Anita Manning, USA TODAY
Animal welfare groups, which have been barred from entering most flood-affected areas of the Gulf Coast because of safety concerns, have finally reached parts of southern Mississippi and Louisiana to set up shelters and move hundreds of imperiled dogs and cats to safety.
Rescue teams from the Humane Society of the U.S. on Friday moved 120 dogs and cats from Gulfport to a staging area in Jackson, HSUS president Wayne Pacelle said Saturday. Another 500 are being moved from St. Tammany Parish, just north of New Orleans, he said. "The needs are enormous," he said.
While Hurricane Katrina's impact on people remains a "national and international trauma," Pacelle said, "the animal situation is another massive saga that's still unfolding."
About 200 animals drowned after the Humane Society of South Mississippi's shelter in Gulfport was destroyed in the hurricane, he said. In Harrison County, rescuers found one woman who took refuge in an evacuated structure with seven dogs and eight cats afer her own house was destroyed, Pacelle said. "There's a dead man on the roof," he said.
Sad about the animals in Gulfport. We have to keep trying though.