I had once again arrived back at Base Camp, for the third time; nearly eight weeks after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Gulf Coast. 

I just can’t seem to stay away from this place; there are so many ‘left behind’ pets here from both Louisiana and Mississippi; and so much tragedy and heartbreak here, from just one storm.

As I wandered the long rows of dog pens and kennels that I had helped construct many weeks prior, I saw many familiar faces among our canine residents, many sad and lonely faces of dogs that wait and wait each and every day, for the human that they love with their entire essence to somehow find them, and to take them home.

Soon, I found myself wandering through the buildings housing all the ‘left behind’ cats and kittens; and here, too, I saw many familiar feline faces, and far too many of these felines appeared lethargic, distressed, or ill.  Cats, too, often bond with, and severely miss, their beloved human friends far more than many people even care to imagine.

To date, we have processed nearly 2,000 ‘left behind’ animals here; and very sadly to me, there have only been about 150 reunions between pet and owner.  As a result, many of these animals are now being sent around the country to foster homes or animal shelters to make room for more of them.  It seems that there is no end to the pets in need here; and I truly wonder when this tragedy will end, if ever.

Most of the volunteers working here rejoice in each and every reunion, and the hope of new reunions with each new dawn keeps many of us coming back.  But we also now rejoice in placing dogs and cats with loving foster homes and ‘no kill’ animal shelters.  If these pets cannot be reunited with their former owners, our fervent hope is that they can find new loving homes, and once again live normal dog and cat lives.

On this trip, when I wasn’t out searching for more ‘left behind’ animals, I spent much of my time helping people load dogs and cats into trucks, vans, and trailers, for their long journeys to distant foster homes or shelters.  And as I lifted each crate into a waiting vehicle, I silently wished each dog or cat ‘Bon Voyage’ and hoped he or she would somehow find a wonderful new life, with wonderful new foster parents.

The two starving young pups I found huddled under an old junked car on Halloween morning in New Orleans left camp in the trailer pictured above.  I miss them already, and I truly hope that these two innocent, deserving, adorable young dogs find loving homes at their final destination.

I also spent a lot of time in our MASH Unit with the many injured and traumatized pets here.  These animals are being medically treated for a wide variety of illnesses and injuries.  And because of their severe medical conditions, the dogs in the MASH Unit must be kept separate from the general dog population, and this usually means that they must be housed in small confining cages.  So each and every morning and evening, volunteers assist the medical staff in walking these poor creatures.

I seemed to always walk two particular dogs:  one was the valiant guard dog that I had brought into camp that was suffering from a severe case of malnutrition and mange.  And thankfully, this sweet loyal creature seems to be improving each and every day.

My other favourite walking companion was a gigantic elderly brown chow.  He was an extremely friendly and docile dog who had suffered severe head trauma during the hurricane, and one of his eyes had to be removed as a result of this terrible injury.

Yet, this dog’s valiant spirit lives on; he is extremely glad to be alive; and he always rewarded me with huge wet doggy kisses after each and every one of our daily walks together. 

As long as I live, I will never forget any of the animals here, especially these two brave, sweet, extremely ill, ‘left behind’ canines, whom I’ve affectionately now begun calling ‘Mangy Dog’ and ‘One Eyed Jack.’

Part 3:

 ©2005, Ed Kostro

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