Skip to content

Locals provide hurricane aid to animals

Three local women travelled to Slidell, Louisiana in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to help save the lives of animals left orphaned by the storm. And the experience has forever changed them.

Three local women travelled to Slidell, Louisiana in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to help save the lives of animals left orphaned by the storm. And the experience has forever changed them.

"The three of us shared something really hard to explain and we have formed a bond because of it. It has impacted the way we see lives," said June Ward.

Ward, Cindy Rudolph and Pam Albers are members of the Sunshine Coast Animal Disaster Response Program. When a call for volunteers went out to aid the animals impacted by hurricane Katrina, the trio was quick to offer support.

"First and foremost, of course, we wanted to try to help the animals affected by hurricane Katrina," Ward said, adding the three women also wanted to gain hands-on experience with an animal disaster response program in action."It's the best kind of training you can get because you don't really know what it's like until it's actually happening," Rudolph said.

The reality of hundreds of dogs and cats waiting to be claimed in kennels and cages, needing food, water, love and attention was heart wrenching.

"There were stacks and stacks of animals in cages and it was so stressful for them. It was hard to take, and you had to kind of turn your emotions off and get on with the work to be done," said Ward.

That work included feeding the animals, walking them, cleaning up after them, grooming them, trying to keep them comfortable and, when there was a spare moment, giving them the love they so desperately needed.

"There was this one pitbull I won't forget. He had lost his mate the day before. She didn't make it through surgery and he was extremely depressed. All he wanted was to be hugged and held and after a few days of getting that affection, he started to wag his tail again and look forward to his walks," said Rudolph.

The Sunshine Coast trio met up with about 40 other Canadian volunteers in the area on Sept. 18. All were working under the umbrella of Noah's Wish, a non-profit animal welfare organization with a straightforward mission ÑÊto keep animals alive during disasters.

Rudolph, Ward and Albers were amazed at the devastation they saw once they arrived in Slidell. The military were running the town that's located about 20 minutes outside New Orleans. All the buildings were dilapidated in one way or another.

"We were housed in a damaged hotel called the Ballroom and we slept on mats on the floor. Meals were hit or miss as there was only one restaurant up and running and it was providing meals for the military," Ward said.

The destruction left by hurricane Katrina was almost numbing to the three women who had never seen such devastation before.

"It was very, very upsetting," Ward said. Another challenge for the women was the extreme heat and humidity in the area that reached 40 degrees Celsius most days.

Noah's Wish set up a temporary shelter for the animals at the town's public works yard. Volunteers were constantly sandbagging to make sure the area didn't become flooded during their rescue efforts.

Volunteers worked on average 12 hours a day with the animals. The Sunshine Coast team saw only a few of the pets they worked with claimed by their owners during their nine-day stint at the rescue centre.

"There were those few good moments when we'd see a pet reunited with its owner. It was such a joy to see," Rudolph said.

She became particularly attached to one black cat while serving at the emergency shelter and ended up adopting the stray kitty.

"I called her Thundercloud because she's black like a thundercloud," Rudolph said from her home in Sargeants Bay where Thundercloud was introduced to Rudolph's four other cats, two dogs and two rabbits. "She did extremely well on the trip home and she fits right in here."

The three local volunteers are back on the Coast now, replaying what they experienced in their minds and using their newfound knowledge to improve the Coast's animal disaster response program.

"I think it's imperative that each and every one of us have some kind of plan in place in the event of an emergency. It might be as simple as having a pair of sturdy walking shoes with you at all times. How are you going to make it home over debris and undriveable roads in high heels? Your children, your parents and your animals are depending on you," Ward said.

For more information about the Sunshine Coast Animal Disaster Response Program or to volunteer, contact Rudolph at 604-885-4697 or Albers at 604-637-3719.