Valley residents help pets in Louisiana
November 14, 2005
Before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans this fall, Donna Mabon-Shrull had only visited the Big Easy during a college Spring Break road trip.
Her travels to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana at the end of September were not quite in the same spirit.
“It was horrific. Some neighborhoods weren’t that bad ” mostly tree damage ” but the area we were in, I just can’t imagine they can do anything but demolish and rebuild.” said Mabon-Shrull, who joined farrier Erik Kallstrom of Rifle and former veterinary technician Sue Schmidt, of Silt, during the pet rescue mission that departed on Sept. 26. “Your emotions ran the gamut, but rescuing an animal was worth it. We crawled through debris on our hands and knees looking under beds.”
Although Mabon-Shrull has been back in Glenwood Springs for more than a month now, the former probation officer said the experience is still fresh in her mind.
“It’s a life experience I definitely will never forget,” she said. “The smells ” rot, death and mold ” some of the worst things I had ever seen. There was urine, feces, bugs and maggots. We were rescuing animals that were living in those conditions, and it’s kind of a testament of their will to live.”
On Sept. 26, Mabon-Shrull, Kallstrom and Schmidt left for Hattiesburg, Miss., to help with the temporary pet shelter there. After hearing the pet rescue efforts in Gonzales, La., were in dire need of help, they headed to the shelter at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.
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The next morning, Mabon-Shrull said the volunteers suggested she and Kallstrom go into New Orleans to help with search and rescue.
“Erik has a big red Dodge truck, so we painted “Animal Rescue” on it and that was kind of our ticket into town,” she said. “I thought I would head down to Hattiesburg and walk some dogs and love on some cats. I had no idea I would be doing search and rescue.”
While in New Orleans, Mabon-Shrull and Kallstrom worked mostly in the devastated Ninth Ward. They searched abandoned homes, rescuing dogs and cats with the help of sectioned-off maps indicating animals’ locations through tips by owners.
“Each time we left a house, we tagged it. At our first rescued house, there were steel bars on the windows. We couldn’t get in this particular house, so I was able to break in by pulling myself in through the window,” Mabon-Shrull said.
Once inside, Mabon-Shrull and Kallstrom rescued a black-and-white cat named Noodles and a gray cat named Carl. She said the pets’ owner had left enough food and water to sustain them, but wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
“We didn’t have much luck the next day,” Mabon-Shrull said.
A large cat proved elusive for Mabon-Shrull and the result was a minor injury when the cat scratched and bit her during the attempted rescue. Mabon-Shrull and Kallstrom could only leave food and water behind and move on to the next house before she sought medical attention.
“Erik was singing ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ the rest of the day,” said Mabon-Shrull, who had her injuries treated at a local free clinic. “They gave me a tetanus shot and checked my wounds.”
The rescuers didn’t always follow the list of where to find animals. Mabon-Shrull said they kept their eyes open for an any animal in need.
“We got stopped by a man, a priest of this church, who said there were two pit bulls, one black and one white, staying in his backyard and one was having babies,” Mabon-Shrull said. “We nicknamed them Pebbles and Bam-Bam. They weren’t mean and aggressive by any means ” they were actually shy.”
Eventually a veterinarian came and got the dogs out.
“She was carrying the big male in her arms and Mama was walking along side her, looking up at them. Pebbles had seven puppies Sunday night,” Mabon-Shrull said.
While Mabon-Shrull and Kallstrom were doing search and rescue, Schmidt stayed back at Lamar-Dixon, assisting with volunteers.
Prior to the trip Mabon-Shrull, Kallstrom and Schmidt had never met.
“They were going out on the streets in the devastation and witnessing the real pain that was caused by the hurricane,” Schmidt said. “In 99 percent of the case, my experience at Lamar-Dixon was dealing with volunteers like myself.”
Schmidt described the scene at Lamar-Dixon as chaotic and disorganized.
“It was absolute bedlam. There was dog food just out in the sun, there were medical supplies out in the sun because there was no organization,” she said.
Many people did not expect to see such a high survival rate of so many animals, she said.
“The assumption of the facility had been that no cats, dogs or animals would be found alive after Sept. 29,” she said. “They extended that deadline because people were still coming in with rescued animals.”
Schmidt said she and other volunteers would walk more than 60 dogs in the morning and another 60 in the evening, along with feeding and watering.
“Your adrenaline is working so hard ” all you can think about is these poor guys who need to be fed, watered and walked,” she said. “You look at the dogs, you look into their eyes, it was just so sad.”
Mabon-Shrull, who returned to Colorado after five days of search and rescue, agreed.
“Every one of us broke down at one point,” she said. “For me, it was day five. It wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t happiness. It was just stress relief.”
Schmidt and Mabon-Shrull also agreed that their volunteer efforts with the Hurricane Katrina pet rescue was life-altering.
“I think this gave me an incredible new respect for humanity,” Mabon-Shrull said. “For these animals to have lived through the hurricane and after, the people and animals showed a lot of heart.”