Animal Aid Worker on Katrina:
The macabre images flashing on our television screens don't even begin to capture the grief, the chaos, and the stench that is being experienced by individuals in several Gulf Coast states as a result of deadly Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of horses have probably been impacted, but the current reality is that human welfare must be tended to first, and many areas containing horses are simply unreachable due to fallen trees and buildings, and widespread flooding. At this moment, nobody can say where physical help is needed the most for horses. But this current uncertainty isn't keeping hundreds of passionate volunteers from offering their barns for evacuees, their financial help to charitable organizations, or their organizational capabilities for sending supplies to the hurricane-ravaged areas, which have been described by one rescue worker as requiring months or even years to clean up and rebuild.
A pocket of farms near New Orleans, La., has a number of horses that were abandoned. Rose Westover, emergency evacuation coordinator of Habitat for Horses/Lone Star Equine Rescue in Hitchcock, Texas, told The Horse that she'd received calls from several worried owners who had to leave horses behind when they evacuated. "The stories I'm getting are not nice," she said. "I got a call yesterday from someone who had to leave five horses behind at a stable with water up to their knees." Westover said two of the horses were foundered before the owners left and all five were left standing in stalls with water up to their knees.
"There are 65 horses in the property next door," she added. The woman who reported information on these horses had broken into an abandoned home to use the phone. "Those are not criminals, those are people who are desperate. I have places and people who are willing to take in horse owners with their horses," said Westover.
Another individual identified only as Jacqulyn called Westover in tears last night, saying her 1-year-old Appaloosa filly and five other equines, including two Thoroughbreds (one of which is pregnant), two ponies, and a Quarter Horse cross had been left behind in their pasture when the area was evacuated. "She placed a yellow halter on her horse and spray painted her cell phone number on the horse's back in hot pink,” said Westover. “And she left them on Saturday. She lost everything--her house is gone, her job is gone, her car is gone."
Westover continued, "I got a call from another lady yesterday, yesterday afternoon--she was seeing (dead) horses floating by in the river, close to Slidell as well," she added. It's the rural areas that are the worst, mostly, and on the outskirts of New Orleans where people had stables.
One horse owner said she saw a television report about a man who had lost two miniatures to Katrina's fury on his New Orleans-area farm and nine more were starving.
Assessments are still being made by emergency authorities and very little equine search and rescue has been able to commence thus far. There were reports of some horses from the New Orleans area making it to safety, however. A family member of Bonnie Clark, publisher of the Horseman's Guide of the South Central Region, said Clark had been helping arrange transportation today for horses that were headed for safety at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La.
Flo Magee, director of public relations and event manager at the Center, said tonight that the Louisiana SPCA was expecting to evacuate and bring in at total of 70-80 horses from the New Orleans area, and that a good-sized group had already arrived today. "They can't do anything after dark--they know there are stables of horses they are going to get," said Magee, adding that the group was going after all species of pets they could rescue. "People boarded their animals and left town, so they (the SPCA) are picking up all those animals that were boarded and strays."
Westover said she is coordinating the collection of supplies for displaced horses. She has drop-off facilities for the items in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, and she's arranging for a truck to go pick up the supplies (see www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=6079). A tractor trailer is coming down from Illinois with hay. But she is frustrated that so far, she has been unable to find out how or when she will be able to get the items to the horses. "I'm trying to pass this information on to whoever [sic] I can get a hold of in Louisiana," added Westover.
"I took the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) course that specifically deals with evacuation in disaster areas,” she added. “During the disaster, one thing that they stated very distinctively in the very beginning is that since the way people view pets or animals nowadays has changed--it's not a monetary value but an emotional attachment--that FEMA has come to the realization that it's better to evacuate the pet owner with its pet than to try and separate them like they used to do, and it eliminates the fact that people will stay in the area too long. It will eliminate that fact that they go back too early and it will also eliminate the danger for contamination (with carcasses) and animals running loose and hurting someone. It's extremely strange that exact the opposite is being done (in this situation)."
But Greg Christy, DVM, state coordinator for the Florida State Agricultural Response Team, explained the importance of following emergency guidelines enacted by state officials when providing disaster relief. "As far as individuals and volunteers, they should not go in at this time. They need to be part of the emergency management team that's been invited in. As they get the situation under control and the area secure, there will be opportunities for volunteers to come in and assist with needs, but not at this time."
Since Florida livestock fared well in Katrina, Christy said, "The Mississippi state vet has asked for our assistance and we're going to help in any way that we can. We haven't received any assessments at this time."
Editor's note: We will keep readers informed as we hear more about specific areas of need and the state of horses affected by Katrina.
A Report From the Field
Allan Schwartz, vice president of Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR) in Lisbon, Md., traveled south earlier this week with individuals from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He took the DEFHR rescue truck, trailer, and equipment to his current base at the state fair grounds in Jackson, Miss. During Schwartz' conversation with The Horse, he would occasionally pause and instruct someone in the direction where they could find water, ice, or assistance for a particular issue.
"Pretty much everybody's here," Schwartz said. "What's really cool is everybody's working together. We're sitting here with our truck and trailer with the Humane Society group, the Humane Society of Missouri, and Code 3 (Associates) is coming in…there will be enough work for all these groups once we're able to get in. This is going to be an ongoing project for months."
Today Schwartz helped begin assessments of affected areas. "The further south you go, the worse it gets," he said. "You can't get people in to do rescues. We passed a few horses around here, but all seemed to be fine. There were a lot of horses that they evacuated from this area (prior to the storm), from what we understand. This afternoon the HSUS team was trying to move some displaced dogs and cats from one shelter to another.
But right now, the real issue is the safety of humans. "Bottom line is they're not going to worry about the animals right yet," Schwartz said. "There are people who have nothing to go home to anymore. I did all the responses last year with Charlie and Ivan and that was almost a cakewalk compared to this. The devastation from what we've heard and the little bit of what we've seen is pretty complete." Housing, availability of safe drinking water, and the potential harm of hazardous waste water are just a few of the human concerns.
"You have 20 feet of water filled with contaminants--it's just a sea of contaminated, brackish muck. We haven't been anywhere near that (yet)," said Schwartz.
Schwartz has had all kinds of training and a laundry list of vaccinations to prepare him for this kind of work, but nothing can protect a team member from immediate dangers like roads giving way. Teams must follow the proper protocols and wait for the next mission. "We have to work in an organized manner so we're working with the local people--they tell us what we can and cannot do," added Schwartz. He explained that part of the problem (in commencing rescues) was locating the animals in the first place. "You have the dead bodies--the dead human and animal bodies (to work around), which present a very hazardous situation. As much as we want to go in and save as many animals as we can, we cannot put ourselves and our team members in jeopardy."
To assist with rescue efforts, he has brought a trailer holding $80-90,000 worth of rescue equipment that has been purchased over the past several years to be able to assist with such disasters. He hopes that in the meantime, he and others might be able to use some of their equipment to help with human rescues. "With big disasters like these, our primary goal is to help livestock, but we can work with anything, given the opportunity."
However, getting fuel to the area is a big problem. Schwartz said it cost $600 in fuel to bring the truck and rescue trailer, and they are continually burning fuel during their assessments.
With all the driving and waiting, Schwartz has had time to think about funding this and other rescue efforts; he wishes that state lotteries would donate the jackpots to hurricane victims.
A Little Help From Your Friends
Could anyone be prepared for the kind of destruction that reportedly has left more destruction in its path than Hurricane Camille in 1969? "The federal government is truly overwhelmed. I don’t think our country has ever seen a disaster of this magnitude," said Schwartz. "I think even if you had everything 100% in place, the systems would still be overwhelmed. A lot of us, we'll go back to our homes whether it's in weeks or in months…but no matter what happens, all of us are going home somewhere. What are these people going to do? Where are they going to go? Maybe if people with four-bedroom houses can open their hearts…if thousands of people can open their hearts to these people, maybe we can make a big difference."
With Schwartz' experience in raising funds for Days End, he knows what a just a little help from a lot of people can do. The rescue recently was awarded a "Best in America" seal of approval from Independent Charities of America, which designates the rescue as one that uses its funds judiciously (see www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=6056). "If everyone could pull together for the next six months for Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, the areas that have been devastated, if everyone in this country took a dollar a week out of their paycheck and put it in the right hands for these people, you'd have $100 million a week helping these people.
"It's the ones who don't have all that much to give who are giving the most," Schwartz pointed out. "A lot of the times it isn't through their wallet, but through their donations of time. I look around at the people (at the fair grounds who are waiting for when help is needed)--there are some damn talented people here that could make five times their salaries if they had a regular job, but they have their job that they're passionate about and it's not about the money."
"I'll be honest with you," he added. "We haven't been into the true devastation, but we hope to within a day or two. I don't know what tomorrow's going to bring. There are people with no water and no gasoline, and we're driving through with a great big truck with 100 gallons of water and transporting animals…how do you make some of these people understand that we're using 100 gallons of water and fuel to care for some dogs and cats?
"It's tough on all of us," he concluded. "We fight with the demons--we're not going to pass people by when they don't have water and food. But where does it stop? By the time we get to the animals, our resources would be gone. I have no answer for that."
Editor's Note: If you would like to help Days End Farm Horse Rescue in its efforts to aid horses--both in Mississippi and in Maryland—see donation information at http://partners.guidestar.org/controller/searchResults.gs?action_donateReport=1&partner=networkforgood&ein=52-1759077. The rescue is operating with the help of many volunteers while Schwartz is away. He said he'd appreciate donations to Days End, but if you're going to donate, that you donate directly to the national organizations and to local humane societies that have been impacted by the hurricane as well as Days End. Here are the other organizations to which you can donate for animal aid: www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=6081.
About the Author
Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.