Denham Springs, LA Shelter flooding

Gustav Canine Survivor Needs Your Help

I have written below a story line about myself and of a dog that has come home with me who needs help from the Baton Rouge, LA area after Gustav. I am a Woodinville resident since 1996 with a home near the Cottage Lake area. I just thought a story of a local's efforts after Gustav and Ike (a whole other story which you may or may not want to print as it is controversial) and the help a dog from that area needs. I have more information and many photos of the area damage, shelter damage, the staff's goodbyes to the dogs, etc... if you would like them. You did a story of me back after Katrina in December of 2005 when I returned home with 65 cats to the Forks area.

So here is what I just wrote up and hope that maybe you could find a story in it. I was hoping it would lead me to someone who could become a forever home for Goldie.

-------story below--------

I just returned yet again from an animal rescue stint in the New Orleans area after Gustav and Ike paid their respects to that area. I went expecting the same conditions as was after Katrina when I went for the first time which meant no potable water, no power and few locations to stay.

But once I arrived, I found that I could stay at places near by the disaster zones that still had water, albeit you had to boil it, but at least there was water. And there was electricity in many places as well. Another rescuer, Lucy Pribbenow from Alaska, had chosen Baton Rouge as her location to be before Gustav thinking that would be a safe place and ended up in the middle of it. So when I joined up with her later at a no-kill animal shelter in Denham Springs, just outside of Baton Rouge, she warned me that she had become a hurricane magnet.

We both volunteer through the organization called Muttshack. They were originally based out of California and started out as being the saving grace for the cats and dogs on the euthanasia list at kill shelters. The shelters would call Muttshack and let them know there were animals on this list and Muttshack would arrange for no-kill shelters to house them or other volunteers to become foster homes until these poor animals could be placed. Many were just scared or of ill health needing a lot of individual TLC that most high occupied/low staffed shelters could not provide. But when hurricane Katrina happened, the owners of Muttshack, Amanda and Martin St. John, packed up their gear and flew to New Orleans to help any way they could. Once there, they found a school that had been badly damaged and got permission to set up a triage area and housing area for rescued animals. There were mainly cats and dogs. However, in the two months I was there they also rescued Iguanas, Tropical Fish, Turtles, an owl, 4' pet Boa and an Alligator that was surrendered to our Northwest sect of the National Guard who was stationed there at the time.

So Katrina was over and most of the organizations that came to help closed up shop and left. But not Muttshack. They saw a need to help Louisiana plan ahead for the next hurricane and evacuation efforts which would now include animals. They spent the next 2.5 years working with the state of Louisiana in putting together LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team). All their hard work came to use when Gustav came. Residents were now able to take their animals with them to evacuation points where they would load their animals onto climate controlled trucks provided by Muttshack and then they would walk right onto buses provided by the state which would take them to safety. Their animals were taken to a shelter in Shreveport, Louisiana where they would be transported back to their original pick-up places when residents were permitted to return to their homes.

The next set of volunteers to go included myself. I am part of the second string, the group of people who go in after the hurricane hits and helps where needed. In this case, I was assigned as the Incident Commander for a shelter in Denham Springs, Louisiana. They had been hit hard and all the outside dog housing was demolished from the storm. The outside fencing was damaged and the roofs were lifted up and folded back onto themselves. The power lines were so badly damaged it took well over a week to get power back but only after volunteers working through Muttshack showed up and did major structural repairs and electrical.

When I arrived there with another fellow volunteer who is the head of the Muttshack chapter here in the Northwest, David Friedman, we were faced with another dilemma that had taken place in the short time it took us to fly there. The rivers were all overflowing due to the rains happening to the north as a result of Gustav. This caused flooding of the river in the back of the shelter. And by the time we reached the shelter - we were looking at water all around it. There was no way to get to it except by boat.

Now, with LSART in place, there are new rules about any organization helping local facilities. You have to have an MOU, Memo of Understanding, stating what your organization was going to do for this facility. We had one with Denham Springs, yet the American Humane Society tried to take over the operation. But once they got to the shelter and saw that our people were already in place and had been since first thing the morning after Gustav, they left.

When I arrived, there was much cleaning up to do first. And we needed to get animals out of there as they were now overcrowded due to the damage of the kennels causing less housing for the animals they already had. Right away a transport was planned to a shelter in Little Rock, Arkansas for 40 of the 250 cats they had. In 36 pet carriers which fit tightly into a rental mini van, two volunteers, myself and Martin St. John, drove the 9 hours to the shelter (needed extra time to care for the cats on the way up) they split the driving duty. Once there, they unloaded and then cleaned out the carriers and collapsed them down. They reloaded them into the van and drove straight back. By the time we returned, we had calculated that both of us had been up for almost 40 hours straight.

The City of Denham Springs opened up a meeting room at the Municipal building for the volunteers to stay. The police department donated the use of air mattresses. The Fire Department was also cooking meals for those residents and volunteers who had no power or homes. Showers were only had if you knew someone in an area that was unaffected.

Muttshack volunteers worked hard and tirelessly in keeping this shelter going and in the state of ongoing repair work. They had a network of other organizations that were helping to find volunteers and letting them know where and when to go as Muttshack was also helping other facilities in the Louisiana area now. They also had other organizations helping to find homes for the current dogs and cats Denham Springs was housing. Photos had been taken by myself and a few other volunteers of each of the original 100 dogs that were to be transported and placed on the Muttshack website. This would be a tool which would allow possible organizations to choose which dogs they could find homes for. Through this hard work, 25 dogs were now slated for a long drive to Arizona and California via 5 different places who had said they were take certain dogs. Two cargo vans later and four drivers all the dogs were placed, except one, Goldie. A couple of the original organizations didn't work out and Denham Springs made the call to not leave these dogs with them. They are a no kill shelter and really look out for the well being of the dogs and cats they place into homes. In the end, Goldie came back to the shelter. She had been abused when young and living in the shelter for the last 3 years. She is distrustful of men and shies at loud noises. But one driver left after the first California stop and the remaining three drivers needed a break after the last stop in the San Francisco area. The youngest of the drivers had not seen either the Golden Gate Bridge or the Pacific Ocean. So the return trip included both and Goldie benefited from the ocean air and the waves splashing at her heals. What news she would have to tell the other dogs back at the shelter.

After returning to the shelter and seeing how well they were now doing, I decided it was time to get back home to my very loving and patient family. But as I looked into the eyes of Goldie, I could not leave her behind. I had already decided to bring home a puppy who I nicknamed Triple-P for Piranha Puddle Puppy since he was the runt and ate his food like everyone else in the world wanted it too. Bringing home Goldie would be a big effort for me. But I decided that since she had taken to me which I don't really understand, that I could possibly work with her and get her over her fears and get her a forever home where she could be loved and cared for. She didn't deserve a life in the shelter anymore and if this shelter was to be repaired, it would need to place most of its dogs before the final repair work could begin. That meant there was a possibility Goldie could be placed in a kill shelter and that meant her life wouldn't be safe anymore. There are very few no-kill shelters in the Louisiana area which is why many of the stray/lost dogs are transported out of the state being spayed and neutered first if possible.

Now we are home after a 4.5 road trip in a one way rental car through Hertz. I had decided that a flight home would be too stressful for Goldie as most flight personnel are men who handle the cargo. We drove via the way of the Grand Canyon. You might say now that Goldie is a well travel and educated dog since she has now see much of the country. She travels really well in the car. She walks right next to the one with the leash and looks at you with loving eyes. She cared for and played well with the puppy on the whole trip back. Once to my home, we found she plays well with the other dogs and even the cats. She needs a chance at a good life and if there is anyone out there who could help me give that to her, please contact me. This little Yellow Lab mix needs a new start in life.

Here is a link to a local paper's article about Muttshack mentioning me as well,

Mary D. Jarman Karr
Muttshack Volunteer

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