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Hurricane Katrina journal
by Amy L. Robinson

 

 

Arriving Tuesday night:

 

We’ve driven 15 hours from Vero Beach, FL.  Our local Humane Society director is to head up the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) operation in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for one week.  As we drive closer, passing over Mobile Bay, AL, we see the big bridge still being repaired from Hurricane Ivan.  Hattiesburg is 50 miles inland.  As we approach, the signs of destruction are creepy, and remind us all of our own two hurricanes last year, Francis and Jeanne.  Enormous 70 ft. pines down in big swaths, as if a giant’s foot had trod over them.  Many houses are destroyed, with hand-painted signs everywhere for FEMA and demolition teams.  It hits us: if this is 50 miles inland, what must the coast be like?  Pulling into the site, HSUS has secured a fairgrounds location with 4 large cinderblock barns with metal roofs, now full of dogs, cats and horses.  Imagine a small city, with a large and crowded RV park adjacent, and a strong military presence at the other end in tent cities.  It is midnight, and hard to see, but we see signs of hyper-activity from daylight hours, stacks and stacks of food and supplies, scores of cages in various states of assembly.  It is remarkably quiet, except for a few dogs here and there talking amongst themselves, as if to comfort each other. Some of the dogs sound confused and frustrated, and some sound the appeal for any human contact. We elect to stay near the first barn and camp on the asphalt, instead of driving into the RV park.  A few comical moments happen when we begin to set up a tent, only to find it stakes into the ground.  Not on a parking lot, it won’t! I am lucky, sleeping in a camper that we drove here in. Later that night, there was a cacophony of barking and horses calling.  What has set them off?  I find out later that dog fighters have stolen a couple of pit bulls.  I silently pray for those dogs whose fate is cast with these cruel people. Rescued, only to be in peril again.


 

Wednesday:

 

Our rooster alarm woke us up at 6 sharp.  Cock a doodle doo! Screeching loud. I have to stop myself from saying, “Hey, did you think the sound of 1000 dogs waking up 15 feet away wouldn’t rouse us?”  The neighing of hungry horses soothed me. I looked around to see we were situated between the horse barn and the first of four dog and cat barns.  I started the day helping our very own Horse Whisperer, who came to head up the horse barn.  I approached horse number F-2, who had a sign on her stall: “Will kick and bite”.  Her expression said, “I’m terrified, can I trust anyone?  Our horse whisperer, Johns spoke softly to her and stood still, offering his touch, for some minutes.  His patience paid off and she bent her head toward him.  John was able to halter her and lead her out of the stall while I cleaned it and fed her.

 

The dog and cat areas of the barns remind me of a huge, outdoor animal control operation.  Our leaders remind us we are in disaster mode, so get the basics done first, food and water, then a walk for dogs and litter box cleaning for cats. I was immediately struck by the love and happy attitude of the dogs.  How is this possible after what they have been through?  Some have hardly been handled by humans, and judging by their condition, were neglected in their daily lives well before this hurricane.

 

They were starved for human touch and, when we soothed them, gave lots of love right back. Everybody’s sweetheart was a small, male pit bull with multiple scars old and new, and a huge gash across his nose, which was infected.  He came in depressed and withdrawn, I was told, but has now begun to brighten with kind attention.  He was sweet and loving, and pushed his scarred head into my hand for petting.  My heart sank, as I immediately thought, he’ll have nowhere to go, he’ll be marked for euthanasia, as most pit bulls are around the country with his history.  But later that day, I saw a group of people gathered around, looking down at something inside their circle.  I thought it was a reunion moment; a happy owner who had found his dog, but no, it was the scarred pit bull, being loved on by three volunteers, two FEMA workers and a veterinarian.  They were talking about his future.  A Tallahassee, Florida pit bull rescuer had said she could take only one dog, and they should bring her the most pathetic case.  Well, he was headed to her, and we smiled, thinking his life was now finally going to begin.

 

I had been looking out for nice Rottweilers, on behalf of rescue groups I know from Illinois that will drive down for them. There was a nice one right outside my camper in the first barn, a cute male older puppy.  When I went to look again, he was gone!  Claimed by his owner.  The best possible scenario.  Let’s hope we see lots more of that. I am happy this place isn’t chock full of Rotts, but I feel for the pit bulls and pit mixes.  They are everywhere.  As sweet as they are here, it is tough enough for shelters and rescue groups to find homes for these dogs in good circumstances.  I worry that many won’t be claimed and, because of the hurricane, find no shelters with room to take them.

 

Still day one, nighttime:  Each night, dogs and cats are brought here from the coast in trucks and buses, some without air conditioning.  The animals are in a sad state, often soaked with sewage and sitting in their own waste, too.  They have a long drive from the coast, plucked from rooftops and attics and swimming in debris-filled waters. The animal handlers must get the trucks filled before coming to Hattiesburg, so the first ones picked up can wait in the truck most of the day before getting to us. I line up with other volunteers as the dogs come out of the trucks.  The vets in gowns and masks first bathe them in special de-tox solution, and then hand them off to a volunteer.  My hand-off is an older Rottweiler-shepherd mix, a female. She is a bit overwhelmed, but polite. For many, this is the most handling and vet care they have received in a long time, maybe ever. I am affected by their total trust of us; complete strangers, who handle them hurriedly in order to get to the ones waiting in the truck. I then take my female mix to a vet, who examines her more thoroughly than I expected.  She receives a set of vaccinations.  I noticed her walk was a bit stiff, and I mentioned that to the vet, who agreed with me and prescribed an anti-inflammatory.  The vet smiles and says, “She’ll feel better now.”  I feel good about what we have done for her.  I find her a clean and roomy crate with fresh water and food. She is next to a large, very old lab with cataracts in his eyes.  I say to his handler, “Oh, poor guy!”  The handler tells me he was picked up on the side of the road, gnawing on a cat carcass.  At this point I am glad I am not on the coast at the front lines to see these sights.

 

 

 Thursday:

 

I got up at 6 AM again, doing horses until 7:30, then dogs until 1:30, when I grabbed a quick and delicious lunch at the mobile catering truck.  It was stressful work in 94-degree heat, but the need was so crushing, the faces so pleading, I can’t stop to rest more than a half hour.  Our horseman, John, has given me the kicking mare as a project.  He didn’t think she had been handled much or led on a rope in her whole life.  I was to try to get her to walk and accept a cooling hose bath.  She had other ideas, but slowly began to trust and even enjoyed a little petting.  I know I am getting somewhere when she heaves a big sigh. Just then some media crews came by and photographed us. I found out later these horses were swimming for about 6 hours until the water receded. These were the lucky ones who did not fit into the owner’s barn.  The horses in the barn drowned as the water rose, no way to escape. The loose horses swam around and around the barn trying to stay with their friends until the end. A couple of the horses had gashes on their backs from swimming under the metal roofline of the barn. The owner thought she was protecting them as best she could, but horses are usually better off turned outside. Being with the mare relaxed me a bit, as being with horses always does, and then back to the dogs until about 9 PM.

 

An adorable yellow lab female, came in later, young and very, very skinny.  She had 7 pups with her, so new their eyes weren’t open yet.  Their innocence was striking, especially in this environment, and I knew they were born during the hurricane, or in the immediate aftermath.  It took everything the young mother dog had just to nourish them, and now her body was paying the price.  The mother had diarrhea, so I walked her as late as I was awake, often midnight, and the moment I woke up, I would dash down to her cage.  This kept her from having an accident in the crate, and kept the pups clean and healthy.  We fed her as much as she could hold to help her gain weight, and continue to nurse her babies.  Despite her young age, she was a sweet and caring mother. I made her as comfortable as possible, finding her an extra large cage, and placing it up on a pallet to keep dust to a minimum. When the volunteers took a break, we sat on plastic milk crates and each held a puppy.  They slept peacefully in our arms, unaware of the stress their mother was under.

 

In the dog barn I worked in, I was put in charge of the 110 dogs in my aisle. We also had about 25 cats, but the cat people rotate around and tend to them. It is a dirt floor barn, with permanent stalls, about 12 ft. by 12 ft. The heat and humidity was terrible, about 94 degrees during the mid-day hours and no clouds. The HSUS did a great job rotating volunteers, so no one burned out, or wielded power. I thought we must be here at a peak time, when lots of animals are still coming in from the coast every night, but not many are leaving yet.  We were hoping for more owners coming to claim pets, and for more shelters to take in fosters. Many local shelters were destroyed in the hurricane, some with animals inside perishing alone and in fear. Because we are here only a week, part of the challenge is to scout and train new volunteers to be leaders after we leave. I tried to make the aisle as well equipped as I could.  I knew the “go to” supply guy who could get anything.  Fans, pallets, cages, special veterinary diets, can openers, duct tape, etc.  All things you wouldn’t expect to have difficulty finding, but here in Hattiesburg, post-hurricane, everything was scarce.

 

Two dogs came in today, they appeared to be purebred English Springer spaniels, and obviously lived together.  They were so terrified, they had to be carried by volunteers and placed on the dirt floor in an open barn stall. When placed on the floor, they were limp and did not move a muscle.  The looks on their faces said it all: Where are we and what has happened to our people?  These two did not respond to petting and would not eat.  Will check on them early AM tomorrow.

 

60 were rumored to be coming in tonight, but as of 9:00 they have not arrived. We could be awakened later to attend to them. We have been asked to tighten up space in the stalls in anticipation of getting more in, so if we have two dogs that came in together that share an open stall, they need to get in crates so we can put more crates in for new dogs. I had to put the two silly Walker hounds that came in together in crates.  They played a lot in their open stall even in the heat, so I hoped they could handle being apart.   Few owners have come looking so far, but Petfinder is here, photographing every dog and cat and putting them on the Internet.  Because the hurricane victims do not have electricity and cannot watch TV, they don’t yet know where to begin looking for their animals, if they even have a way to get here.

 

I saw two gorgeous, young Rottweilers in great condition.  They had obviously come in together, and were in a stall together, lying close to the fan.  When I greeted them, they enthusiastically kissed me, and I looked at their intake sheet.  The paperwork had a name and phone number, so I asked that barn leader if anyone had called.  She encouraged me to do so, and I talked with a relative who knew where the owners were staying, and said they had lost their dogs in the craziness of the evacuation. I gave my own cell number, which was working, and hoped for a call.

 

The heat is worse, reaching 100 degrees today.  Some people are going to the military tents for medical treatment. Girls tell me the firemen in camouflage are giving out ice water and taking your temperature and administering IV fluids if necessary. The tent is a quarter mile walk, so I figure if you can get there, you probably don’t need the treatment, cute firemen or not. Five people that came yesterday left immediately because of the heat and tough working conditions.  Three of those people were to go to our barn!  We will be short handed again.  The work is very physical and we are all operating on minimal sleep.  I am drinking a couple of quarts of water a day, with Gatorade and still my urine is dark gold from the fluid loss.

 

 

Friday:

 

This was a tough day, but we were starting to have a real rapport with the dogs, now that they have seen us for a couple of days in a row. It must be hard on them when familiar people leave and new faces appear.  We did get some new dogs in our aisle late last night. Since they hadn’t come in by 10:00PM, we just set up empty crates with a fresh, folded towel and a water and food bowl and went to bed.  This morning, six of those crates had new dogs in them. How did the Walker hounds like being in crates?  They told us by pooping and dancing in it! Since no new dog was in that stall, we got rubber gloves and carted the gross cages out, so the hounds can have their stall back.  They were overjoyed and played as if they hadn’t seen each other in a month.  Even though we now had a messy, 30-minute job scrubbing these crates down and then bathing the dogs, it was great to see such enthusiasm despite their circumstances.

 

The owner of the two gorgeous Rottweilers called me today.  I gave him rough directions, and he said he’d be there later today.  He was driving all the way from Memphis, and I thanked him for his efforts.  It turned out he had a third dog, too, a cocker spaniel, so the hunt began for that one. We all needed to see some success stories to give us a boost.

 

Heat and workload are taking a toll. We are going through barn leaders, sometimes two per day. Some of the leaders just haven’t done this kind of physically demanding work. I felt more prepared for it from years of running a training school and kennel for 10 years, and exercising dogs in all weather. There is a need for administrative people and phone bank people, so everyone is utilized somewhere. The need is absolutely crushing.

 

I met an incredible couple today.  The absolute salt of the earth. This was around 8:00PM. My aisle was fed and bedded down, and I felt good about our work that day.  I had been going since 7:00A, ready to relax, when I was tapped to help handle dogs while they were photographed and micro chipped, in preparation for them to be transported to a shelter out of state where they would be wait to be claimed by owners or adopted to new ones.  I was exhausted and not very happy to be still working, but I knew this was a great chance for these dogs. I held a dog on a leash and waited for our turn.  I noticed a young couple standing about 10 feet away, politely watching the process. They stood there about 20 minutes until I asked if I could assist them. They explained they were checking their dog in. They were staying at the Red Cross shelter because their home was destroyed, and no dogs were allowed in the Red Cross shelter, so we had a barn set aside for these pets. I asked if anyone had helped them, but they said they were told, “it would be a few minutes”.  I knew that could be a lot longer than a few minutes, so I asked where they were from. They explained they were from Biloxi.  It was the two of them, their two children, the grandmother and the dog.  The water came into the house fast, so they climbed into the attic.  As the man moved closer to me to tell the story, I noticed his arms were bruised heavily up and down, and his hands were rubbed raw.  He said as the water rose, he began to chop their way out of the attic onto the roof, using only a broom handle that was in the attic.  They chopped and kicked their way out as they were getting wet.  Their 13-year-old daughter held the dog. As they crawled on the roof, they all gathered around the chimney as the water continued to rise until they were floating and treading water.  They used their belts and the man’s shirt to tie themselves together and he held onto the chimney as they were buffeted around by wind.  His wife said the debris flying was terrifying and they all thought they would die.  They prayed together and tried not to give up. Finally the water receded enough for them to sit on the roof until help arrived, about 36 hour later.  The overall attitude of this couple was astonishing.  They felt they were lucky.  “We’re okay, we have each other, thank God”.  I was very impressed and knew they would have waited to be helped with their little dog for an hour without complaint.  I immediately found someone to process their request, and wished them well.  I wondered how they would recover, and admired their strength and character.

 

 

Saturday:

 

Happily, the word is getting out and more people are coming to look for their dogs and cats.  The young female shepherd went home today, amidst a joyful reunion with her owner.  The man who claimed her looked as if he’d been through a war, and indeed he had.

 

As hurricane raged and the waters rose in the family home, he and his mother and his wife left the house and sought refuge in his owned semi truck.  In short order the truck was floating and threatened to get swept away. With panic rising, they spied a construction crane nearby and made a swim for it.  The smaller dog was held in the mother’s arms, but during the swim to the crane, was lost and likely drowned.  The larger female shepherd swam with them but currents took her away.  The family last saw her swimming toward a large tree. As they reached the crane, they hung onto it for about four hours until the winds and waters began to recede. As the top of the crane’s cab appeared, the family was able to rest there.  The man decided to look for the shepherd and check on the house, so be began to wade back in chest-deep water.  As he went the distance, about a city block, he noticed the eyes of displaced alligators on him.  When he arrived at the house, a fire had started, due to electrical problems.  He ran in and salvaged a few mementos, sheer adrenaline keeping him going, and getting burned in the process. They had lost their home and their pets, and very nearly their lives.  His wife eventually was taken to a hospital where she was treated for serious injuries.  This man had all the marks of struggle against nature’s fury, including burns on his face and hands and deep cuts and bruises from the desperate hold they had on the crane, but all that stress and pain melted away when he saw his dog in crate number 622.  The recognition was instant, and as he exclaimed, “There’s my girl” the dog began yelping and squealing.  We opened the cage door and they fell on the dirt floor together, crying, laughing and barking for all they were worth. As he told us his story, we gathered up a care kit of supplies for him, all the dog food he could carry, and a leash and good collar. The animal rescuers on the coast had found his shepherd after more than two weeks on her own, and she made her way to the holding facility in which I worked.  I was so sorry for all his pain and loss, but he was completely overjoyed at the comfort of his dog.

 

This was a happy story, but there are not enough animals leaving this place.  Volunteers are getting frustrated and the rate at which shelters and rescue groups are coming to take pets for fostering to their locations, awaiting claims from owners or eventual adoption by a new family. This unprecedented disaster was so large and the need is so great, the volunteers need to exercise patience.  The rescue efforts continue and all people involved are working hard to make a difference.

 

The dogs began to settle in. Some of the shy ones were becoming friendly and happy, wagging their tails and giving kisses. Some good things started to happen.  A fencing company brought in chain link and the guys to install it.  In just a couple of hours, we had six fenced play areas for the dogs! The two scared English Springers are still traumatized, and we have had vets look at them daily. They won’t walk on a leash, so we gave them the stall.  I made a bed on a pallet for them and saw them curled up on it later. Once the play areas are completed, we’ll try carrying them out to a pen and see if they’ll walk around and relax a bit. Big day tomorrow, heat advisory is expected.

 

 

Sunday

 

This was a wild day.  We were very short handed.  The heat advisory was in effect, and we were told not to walk dogs between 9:30AM and 7:00PM.  What??? So we needed to start at 6:00AM. New helpers arrived this morning, and were enthusiastic in their work.  We flew through the AM, thinking we’d have more time in the evening hours to let them play in the pens.  That was a good plan, but the reality was different. My help was pulled to a new area (more incoming from the coast).  It was crazy trying to get all the dogs out after 7PM but before dark, in two short hours. For the PM shift, I was sent two new helpers for the aisle, but they tried to go too fast and did not exercise enough care.  One guy lost a sweet mix I nicknamed Bricks, for his big block head, who, fortunately, ran down the aisle into my outstretched arms.  I covered for the guy and never mentioned it to my supervisor.  I was rewarded for this by having this same guy yell at me later in front of the barn supervisor to “get your @#%##!! act together”. My supervisor then decided to take over the implementation of these two volunteers, so it was out of my hands. Two minutes later, the same guy lost another dog, and tried to bodily tackle it in the aisle.  Again, it ran to me (I was holding an open can of dog food at the time).  My supervisor looked at me, but I tried hard not to have an “I told you so” look on my face!  The two workers were given other assignments. The 100-degree temperatures today have frustrated people and made tempers short, but remembering the mission kept me going.

 

The facility is being patrolled by National Guard troops, and at night, they pull out the larger dogs to walk with them.  This benefits the dogs and guardsmen alike, who enjoy each other’s company.

 

The cats were beginning to overheat and the symptoms were hard to spot.  A vet told us once they begin to pant, they are already in danger. We scrounged some fans and made makeshift air conditioners, with a bag of ice with holes poked in it suspended over a bucket to catch the drips. The fan blew over the ice toward the cat enclosures and cooled the air a tad.  One of the cat caregivers made scores of small plastic bags with ice, wrapped them in thin towels and rags and placed them in the cages.  Some of the cats caught on quickly and lay right on top of them and promptly fell asleep. The feeling we got from helping them get comfortable buoyed us and gave us new inspiration for tomorrow.

 

Because we were not walking dogs in the high mid-day heat, I made an area in front of our barn in the shade to hang out.  It’s called the Dog Love station.  I compiled a collection of everything you needed to sit and bond with a dog: A cooler of iced water for people, bowls of water for thirsty dogs and a box of biscuits, a dog bed, a chair for the person, a large fan, and a pile of hay and pick up bags for bathroom needs. Most importantly, I wrote a sign that says:

 

Dog Love Station

Taking a break? Hang out here with a dog! Take time to bond

with a lonely pet

who is far from home.

Give love, get love, it’s all good.

 

“And, in the end,

the love you take

is equal to the love you make.”

(John Lennon, Paul McCartney)

 

This made my love station very popular!  I think the lyrics from the Beatles song clinched it. Volunteers were coming by all day with their favorite dogs, taking pictures and videos and shedding a few tears.  I hope the Dog Love Station comforted dogs and people alike.  I know if I had lost my pet, I would hope someone was giving it attention and love.

 

 

Monday:

 

100 degrees today. Firemen were bringing big water trucks and hosing off the metal roofs of the barns to try to bring the temperature inside down. I was talking to a veterinarian and throwing some ice water on my head when a man on a Harley roared up He asked if the man was a vet, and hearing “Yes”, he explained that his Rottweiler was overheating and would the vet help him out.  Without a word, the vet yanked a bag of IV fluids and some ice out of the cooler and jumped on the back of the Harley.  They tore off together as I wished for the best, but feared the worst.

 

Today was an exercise in problem solving. When you forgot the roll of paper towels at the opposite end of the aisle, it was a long, hot walk to go get them.  I had some new people I was training to take over for the crew that is leaving, so we took the divider grates that came with the crates, and tied them up to the barn doors as shelves, up and down the whole aisle, and stocked each with essentials; paper towels, cleaner, pick up bags, duct tape, zip ties, etc. We also identified the dogs that have a tendency to get really hot and gave them an extra fan. Pallets were found, hauled over and placed under crates to minimize dust (our barn has a dirt floor). For dogs that were loose in the barn stall, uncrated, like the two Walker hounds that came in together, we used a bucket on a rope and raised and lowered it for water refills.  Much of the beginning of the week was spent scrounging scarce needed items.  As the week went on, the HSUS did a good job of acquiring all that was needed.

 

The English Springers are relaxing, and starting to respond to our voices and petting.  One of the new guys I am training is very good with them, and I saw the female give him a tender little kiss. We got them to walk on leashes all the way out to the play pens, it took a half hour to get them to go about 60 yards, but it was worth it.  They trotted around the pen and sniffed and seemed to momentarily forget their stress.

 

A new dog came in to our barn, a medium sized skinny and exhausted looking mix, and I noticed he looked very touchy on his feet, as if his pads had been burned.  Upon closer inspection, his toenails were blunt stubs, some of them scabby looking and the swollen pads of his feet had been bathed with iodine solution. I looked at the intake paper the vets filled out, and it said he was found 30 feet off the ground in a tree, almost two weeks after the hurricane struck. Animal control, who rescued him along with firemen’s help in a ladder truck, deduced that he swam over to the tree as the water rose, and stayed in it as water receded, leaving him clinging to a large branch until rescue arrived.  It hit me all at once, that the will to live is stronger than we can imagine.

 

I saw the vet who jumped on the Harley to try to save the over heating Rottweiler.  He shook his head and said the dog did not survive.  His temperature was 110 degrees. The man who owned him is a timber cutter, here to work clean up after the storm. He had the dog in the bed of his pick up while he drove, and thought the wind was enough to keep him cool. The vet said he was crying like a baby. This is typical of the highs and lows here, and I was laid low by this story.

 

A steadier stream of people came through today to look for their dogs. A woman who was looking for her hunting dog peeked in at the two Walker hounds.  She brightened and said “I know these dogs!” My heart jumped; I’d love to see these two go home.  She explained she belonged to a hunt club near Pass Christian, one of the most devastated communities. She then said, “Check under their collars.”  Sure enough, there was a last name and phone number written in black marker.  I was floored.  We had looked at each dog for ID, collars, tags, tattoos, or microchips, but this number was on the inside of the collar.  I alerted other barn leaders and they did a re-check of all their dogs. One problem:  Pass Christian was wiped out, so no phone service, but the woman said she’d try to find all the hunt members and alert them.  She then went to each building and made a note of cage numbers for all the Walker hounds. (Walker hounds are tan and white and look a little like English foxhounds, but a little more light-boned.) There were about 15 here, so hopes were high most will be claimed by owners. Most people at this stage just don ‘t have any communication; phone lines are down, no Internet or cell phones work near the coast.  Evacuees are far-flung and are just hearing about where they can look for loved ones and pets.

 

 

Tuesday:

 

Our last day here.  New volunteers are arriving to take over for us and we  showed them the ropes.  I felt good about the people in my aisle; they were shelter workers from St. Louis,  MO and have a nice manner with the dogs and cats.  The place has backed off just a bit, with fewer animals coming in and more people coming to claim lost pets. We also have more shelters and rescues that have been approved and were coming to take animals as far California in some cases.  Petfinder will post all their pictures, descriptions and where they were found on the Internet so original owners can identify them. I tried to imagine the anguish people felt at just not knowing whether their pet was safe or had perished in the hurricane. Each shelter that leaves here with animals has agreed to ship the animal back to the owner at the shelter’s expense if they are lucky enough to be reunited.  Our group is ready for a rest,, but it will be hard to relinquish our responsibilities and go back to our regular lives. 

 

I started to say goodbye to some of my favorites, and prayed for someone to come get them.  I even talked to some rescue groups about “Bricks” my name for the block-headed sweetie pie who got loose, and about the English Springers, who were getting better day-by-day. There was a delicate and sweet gray and white female Amstaff who looked very well-bred without a mark of stress or injury on her, obviously a house pet, so I hoped her family is intact somewhere and will look for her. She was a doll and we had spent some quality time at the Dog Love station together.

 

We are planning to leave early AM after a few hours of much needed sleep, but it turns out there is a stock trailer coming from Vero Beach to bring animals back to our local shelter. Because the stock trailer is open to the air, (no air conditioning) it is decided we will leave tonight. 

 

(What??? Didn’t they realize we have been up and working on little sleep in 100 degree heat since 6:00AM?) I found out the plan was to load up the trailer with dog crates and bungee them to the sides for safety, and have the trailer follow us in the camper all the way back.  The heat dictates we leave at night when it is cool. We’ll stay awake knowing we are leading a caravan of stressed, but lucky dogs.  The cats will have it easy, they’ll ride with us in the camper with A/C blasting.

 

I know how tired I was, and I dislike driving at night on unfamiliar roads. It’s 11:00PM, and we were almost ready to go.  I glanced at the other two ladies I came with.  They looked more bedraggled and sweaty than I did, so I asked, ”Would you like me to drive first?” The gratitude and relief on their faces was obvious.  I psyched myself up by taking a cold shower and grabbing some cold Diet Coke and then got a quick tutoring on driving the camper: “She’ll flip if you turn too fast, and you’ll need a lot longer braking time.” Great, should be a piece of cake.

 

We headed out, and carefully made our way home. Sue sat up front with me and we talked and talked for three and a half hours, then Gloria, who has been stretched out in back, took over after a gas, bathroom and caffeine stop. The trip went well.  At our pit stops, I was elected to go into the trailer and check on the dogs, offering water and making sure they looked OK. Even though it was a 14-hour trip, we were reluctant to take them out of the crates for bathroom breaks at the gas stations.  What if one got loose?  Plus, we had 15, so it would have taken an hour that we couldn’t spare.  As the sun rose, we knew the high heat was coming mid-day and wanted to be home by then. When I checked on them the first time, there was a skinny older female, a large Mastiff type mix, with her nipples hanging very low.  Her face was so sad; I knew why our shelter director had picked her to go with us.  She had obviously been over bred and underfed, and no one was likely to come looking for her.  She had pooped in her crate and would not lie down. I knew she would try to stand up the whole way so I decided to take her out while Gloria tried to clean her crate. As she came out of her crate, we were shocked to see her condition. She had lost her hair on at least half her body, and seemed depressed.  She was thin and had been used hard, and I hoped her life was going to improve starting right now.  When we put her back in the crate, she immediately lay down and gratefully lapped her water.  We smiled, and got back in the camper, inspired to drive our precious cargo home.
 


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