Ceres, VA 24318
"And the greatest
gift is
Last Updated:
10/19/2014 6:57 PM

Remember Hurricane Katrina

Sometimes the strangest things drive you to act in a way you could never expect…an act that will completely change your life from that point on. That’s what happened to me last year when I left my comfortable existence and dove headfirst into the unknown at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana and then again to Camp Katrina/HSLA in Tylertown, Mississippi a few weeks later.

I went for no reason other than I HAD to. There was something in my mind and in my heart that would not let me think about not going….not doing something to help.  I didn’t know if I could do it but I knew I had to try. I was ashamed of our government and their indifference to the plight of the animals and people of the Gulf Coast…I was ashamed to be a part of this world….and I didn’t like that. I knew I might not make much of a difference but I knew that every little bit helps and I could be that little bit of help for someone. The broadcast photos of the stranded animals broke my heart into little pieces and I wasn’t sure it would ever heal.

When we pulled onto the grounds of Lamar-Dixon I was so amazed to see the number of volunteers who had come from points all around the world to help. Cars from
Canada, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and places everywhere in between dotted the parking lots and volunteers of all ages, races, and abilities filled the barns of the Expo Center with willing hands and open hearts giving to the scared and hungry animals much needed love and attention. I cried openly many times during my stay there but a little piece of my heart began to heal.

I met many people and animals there that have changed my life forever. Jenny, Cindy, and Rita have become lifetime friends that I would never have met except for this tragedy. Working for hours in the stifling heat side by side with these women made me see that everyone can make a difference in their own way. I saw dogs that had no one…dogs who were so abused prior to the storm that they were terrified of human contact…and dogs who had been much loved pets that were left behind through no fault of their own. I held the head of a beautiful fighting pit bull in my lap wiping off blood from his face while he was condemned to die because he attacked another dog due to a handler error and I cried for him while he licked my face and hands. His eyes still haunt my dreams.

I met my soul mate in the depths of hell as well. Bruce is a beautiful old blind golden retriever whose owner gave the ultimate sacrifice ….his life…to save his dogs’ lives.  When I met Bruce he was covered in mats and cowering in the back of his cage in a barn filled with barking dogs he couldn’t see and heat that he couldn’t escape. Thanks to Cindy who saw this old dog and brought me to him he left New Orleans with us to come back to Virginia along with two other dogs…Gonzo a JRT mix and Little Man a beagle mix. We left as Hurricane Rita was bearing down on the coast again and we all prayed that New Orleans and the remaining animals would be spared.

Gonzo has since gone home to his owners who evacuated to Kansas and Little Man now lives with Cindy. Bruce is indeed a lucky old dog who has two families who love him. Carolyn is Al’s daughter and she found Bruce here with us after frantically searching for both her father and his dogs for weeks. Because of Carolyn I know how Bruce’s owner gave his life for his dogs and because of her Bruce still lives with me. She gave my family the ultimate gift by allowing Bruce to live out his life here with us….loved and cherished by all who know him. Looking into his sightless eyes and feeling his cold nose brush against my legs helps to heal my heart.

After I came home I knew that I wasn’t done yet…that I still had another trip to make back to New Orleans to bring back more dogs and cats that needed help. I decided to go to Camp Katrina run by the Humane Society of Louisiana in Tylertown, Mississippi for a weekend to help. There I met yet more people who helped to change my life and another dog who would break my heart and show me just how horrible people can be. Laura, Laurie (who insisted that I take Tootsie Roll home with me…lol), Tammy, Lisa, Shelli, Emily, Elizabeth, and Rick along with many others have left an imprint in my life that I will hold dear forever. Because of the cruelty of some people and the sacrifice of many others I met my heart dog at Tylertown. Me-Moo was a beautiful pitty girl who was abandoned by her owners for 41 days tied in a bathroom with nothing…not even floodwaters to drink. The night she was brought into camp I knew in my heart that she was “my” dog and that I would be taking her home with me to Virginia. Her body was skeletal but her heart was still huge and through the help of the Winn Dixie group, DARR, and HSLA she was given the help she needed and brought out of the hell she was confined to.

Me-Moo weighed 25 pounds when I became her mom and she was heartworm positive. I was told she would not likely survive heartworm treatment but I knew in my heart that she deserved a chance. She had survived 41 days in a bathroom prison and she deserved the chance to live. I don’t believe this old dog had ever been loved before but she became a part of my family and she became the protector of my children and the love of their lives. She didn’t lack for anything in the few months we were blessed to have her with us. When her heartworm treatment failed I held her old body in my arms and I cried for her….I begged her to stay with me and not leave me…but she had other plans. I remember her looking at me and sighing and I lost it…I knew she was telling me goodbye…and she was. She died that night in ICU. Now her photo and her ashes sit on my computer desk and each day I pray that she is watching over us and that we have made her proud.

Hurricane Katrina taught me many things. I learned that I am much stronger than I thought that I was and that I can make a difference. I learned that love is stronger than anything else but love can’t always save us. I learned that friends come to you from the most unlikely places and that a true friend will always be there for you day or night. I learned that many people do not view their pets the way I do mine…as part of my family…and that makes me sad. I learned that nightmares can drive you on when you want to quit. I learned that a broken heart doesn’t always heal the way you thought it would.

Yes, I still have nightmares and I have trouble dealing with many aspects of my trips to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and I probably always will but that is something I am learning to work through. When I look at Bruce and Tootsie Roll I know that we all did indeed make a difference and we should all be very proud of what we were able to accomplish. I am currently undergoing my EARS disaster training and trying to finish my FEMA courses so that if there is a next time I will be more prepared to help out. I am also trying to write a book about my experiences in NOLA to bring some peace into my life. I cherish each day with my children and the many animals that call our rescue home and I know if it wasn’t for what I learned during Hurricane Katrina I would not be the person I am today and for that I am eternally grateful.

I tell everyone to remember because that is what keeps us going on through good and bad times.

Remember those who were lost: Me-Moo, Kate, Shannon, and Al
Remember those who remain: Bruce, Tootsie Roll, the “Wal-Mart puppies”, Gonzo, Little Man, Nemo, Cathy, Carolyn & Paul, & Trina
Remember the lessons we learned there
Remember and never forget

May the blessings of the animals be with you always.