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Post-Katrina pet rescue is ongoing

Dear Uncle Matty: Why couldn't people who were being rescued from Hurricane Katrina's devastation take their pets with them? I could never leave my lifelong friend and companion behind to starve or get poisoned by toxic waste — and die.— Amelia Brown, Nashville, Tenn.

Dear Amelia: Most of us who love animals understand the strong bond that exists between a pet and its caregiver. We take on the responsibility, and that means we care for them regardless. This particular disaster of epic proportions seemed to catch everyone off guard. The best laid disaster plans seemed to be mislaid. It was difficult to coordinate human rescue activities, and from watching news reports, evacuating with pets seemed to be on again, off again. It was the luck of the draw.

I hope this will lead to coordination with FEMA and other government agencies to rescue people and their pets. Human shelters cannot accommodate pets for obvious reasons, but the numerous animal rescue groups could arrange to take custody of the pets when evacuated owners first arrive at the shelters or a dispersing area like the New Orleans airport. The pets could then be registered and taken to shelters and foster homes until evacuees find a livable location. It's better to do that than to have roaming bands of hungry and sick animals or worse yet, thousands of dead and dying animals.

For those victims of Hurricane Katrina, there are some "best friends" working tirelessly to save abandoned and stranded pets. The Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab, Utah, sent teams to the devastated area almost immediately and has the help of thousands of Best Friends members who are also working to coordinate local rescue and fostering areas. By Sept. 2, 600 animals had been rescued, and the effort hasn't stopped even with food and gas shortages. Many, many more pets located since then are in the hands of caring people. On Sept. 8, a small flotilla of boats started moving through New Orleans with a list of pet addresses to search homes that are under the greatest amount of water.

How long can this effort go on? According to Michael Mountain, president of Best Friends, "We will stay until we can pass on what we are doing to those who are there." The mission includes not only rescue but also providing care for these frightened and confused victims and then getting them into foster homes or permanent homes as quickly as possible. Mountain also emphasized that these animals are vulnerable to infection, since they are suffering from stress and reduced immune systems. There are careful screenings for Parvo and quarantines. When we asked him if the group rescues non-typical pets, he responded, "If we see a goat going down the street, we'll pick him up, too." I get the feeling that the members of this group are "best friends" to all living creatures.

How big is this animal rescue task? Think about it. Shelters are usually full or close to full. If there are 750,000 people in an area, it is safe to say there are close to 250,000 pets, according to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas. Animal rescue groups need pet food. They have to build extra shelter space. They need vehicles, gasoline and volunteers. The animals need medical attention. Thousands of foster homes need to be located. And the needs go on and on.

If you have lost a pet or had to leave a pet behind in the hurricane area, or if you know someone else who is in that position, please e-mail hurricanebestfriends.org, or call 435-644-3965, extension 4455 and include your name and where you can be located. Include a description of the pet — species, breed and special markings, as well as the pet's name and address where it was left or last seen.

For general questions and offers of help, e-mail hrfbestfriends.org, or call 435-644-2001, extension 104. Donations can be made at www.bestfriends.org where there is a lot of news about the animal rescue efforts. One hundred percent of donations to this organization goes to the rescue and care effort.

Last week, we profiled another dauntless group called Noah's Wish. You can contact Noah's Wish at 530-622-9313. Its pager number is 877-575-0128. You can also e-mail infonoahswish.org. If you wish to make a donation, the mailing address is P.O. Box 997, Placerville, CA 95667. This is also a charitable 501(c)(3) organization. Over 75 percent of funds go directly to assist animals in need.

Bless the animals, every one of them. — Uncle Matty


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