A Day in the Life of a Hurricane Rescue Team From LSU

"There are hundreds of little interest stories that have or will come out of this thing" said Ky Mortensen, Director of Advancement for the Equine Program at Louisiana State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Some will be remembered for a long time, written down, and shared nationwide. Others will only live in the memories of those immediately involved. We got a call on Tuesday night from some of the guys from the Arkansas Horse Rescue team, letting us know that they had rounded up five mules and two horses and had cornered them near the railroad tracks downtown near the Aquarium and needed us to come and get them. That's what the LSU role has been--you call us, tell us where the horses are, what you need, and how to get there, and we get the trucks and trailers out there with veterinarians, technicians, and volunteers on board to handle the situation once they arrive.

"When the call for the mules came in, Dr. Dan Burba left immediately with our own LSU truck and trailer and headed into downtown New Orleans to try and find the mules. We were on the radio back and forth. He was driving right through downtown New Orleans, military everywhere, roads blocked, flood waters all around, shots being fired...it was crazy. Luckily we never lost contact, because we were at headquarters in front of a wall of maps, guiding him through the street maze to get him in the area where the mules were supposed to be, and he was just driving for all he was worth down there trying to do the best he could.

"I remember he said, 'Okay, I'm on the street (Elysian Fields Avenue), tell me where to turn and how far down they are...this is crazy down here, we need to find these mules as quick as we can and get out of here. Okay, I see them. Man they're all over the place! I thought they were supposed to be in a barn! This is going to be tricky...hold on, I'll get back to you.'

"That was the last thing we heard for awhile until he was able to get back with us about 20 minutes later," said Mortensen. "He and a technician had them all loaded and were leaving New Orleans. Amazing really, when you consider what they were up against.

"We should have well over 350 horses at Lamar Dixon by tonight," continued Mortensen. "By the time this winds down, who knows, probably close to 500. This weekend we should be getting close to having a pretty good handle on having brought in what needed to be evacuated, and knowing what is okay where it is for the time being. Right now, people need to know that there horses are here (Lamar-Dixon) and that they can come and claim them.

"We've been manning the horse rescue hotline 24 hours a day for about six or seven days now and it's been non-stop," said Mortensen. "There are literally thousands of individuals that have called in wanting to help or in need of help. We've simply divided them up into groups. Some are those that have horses that need to be rescued. Others are those with available resources, pasture, hay, stall space, and they want to make that available to anyone who needs it. Others are those that want to send money, and then we've got a lot of people who are willing to bring their trailer and physically come and get involved.

"We (LSU) have been at this for quite awhile now, and I think the most challenging thing has simply been the communication among groups in trying to coordinate the efforts and get everyone on the same page," he said. "Nobody was ever really placed in charge here; this has simply been a massive effort by a lot of different groups working with LSU from the beginning. It's a little hard to keep a handle on at times, but we're not complaining. Its working for the horses, so its working for us too.

"Every day we make several runs to various parts of New Orleans and the surrounding area," said Mortensen. "Sometimes its seven or eight trips, sometimes more, it just depends. Each evening we try to work as a team in headquarters and assess who is still out there and who we can get to the following day. Dr. (Rustin) Moore (director of the Equine Health Studies Program at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine) puts it all on a schedule, lining up volunteers, trailers, and veterinarians from the clinic and surrounding area, technicians, supplies, etc. Then the following morning we all meet at Lamar Dixon, the assignments are handed out, and everyone hits the road. We won't know what the outcome of the day's efforts are until everyone is back that evening. Sometimes we come back with only a fraction of what we went after. Other times we end up sending additional trailers into an area where we ended up finding many more."

Following is a glimpse of what a typical schedule looks like for any given day during the rescue process, the people involved to make this happen on a daily basis, and the results of a day's effort.

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005

GROUP 1 - St. Bernard Parish. Departed at 7:25 am. Four horses in a corral at a stable and others around. Toby knows where these should be located and Dr. Giardina will be in touch with them. He will go there in a 4X4 truck without trailer. Some (at least three up river) should be above and below the ferry. May be as many as nine horses at The Grove area.
NEEDS: Check inside the St. Bernard Fire Station; reportedly there is a horse inside the station. Need two trucks and large trailers for horses. Need two trucks and trailers for over 150 dogs (60 dogs at Sheriff's station and Army guards are bringing more). Food for people.
VEHICLES and DRIVERS: Dr. Chad Richard, Toby Wallace, with Roger from Georgia with 12-horse trailer, seven horses coming back. Dr. Neil Henderson and Leslie Talley with Texas LoneStar with long-horse trailer. Veterinarian and tech from Austin, Texas, with six-horse trailer (bringing back dogs and cats). Dr. Jason St. Romain with his 24-foot stock trailer (eight horses and bringing dogs and cats). Texas LoneStar with small stock trailer bringing dogs and cats.
OUTCOME: Two trailers are headed back with about 100 dogs, three cats, and a pot-bellied pig (called and told Renee). Leslie's trailer has seven horses. St. Romain trailer has dogs and cats. Austin, Texas, trailer has dogs and cats
GROUP 2 - Hahnville, La. Departed at 7:15 am. RUN #1 -Dr. Phil Deville, Dr. Ashley Stokes, and Dr. Cassie Johnson with Robbie Murphy in his 32-foot stock trailer to I-10 to 310 to River Road. E.J. Phillips (he will be at Lamar Dixon at 6:30 am) with nine Quarter Horse mares that are pregnant. They had been evacuated to here from Algiers, but need to be moved on to Lamar Dixon until he can find another location.
RUN #2 Mr. Lemaire and Mr. Forestier from Lafayette loaded their long stock trailer with barrels of water, 25 bales of hay, and 750 pounds of pelleted feed to deliver to Bush area. Then they go to Bush, La.,where 15 horses either need to be hauled out or feed and water need to be taken in. Take the same truck/trailer plus Pat Lemeire with a truck and 24-foot trailer.
OUTCOME: Delivered hay and water to Thornhill Road and took pelleted feed to Folsom Equestrian Center.
GROUP 3 - French Quarter area. Depart at 7:50 am. Dr. Shannon Gonsoulin & Dr. Artell went with Mr. Lucien Mitchell and Darnell Stewart and two long stock trailers from Dominigues to the Royal Carriage on Rampart and may go on to New Orleans East area where there are reportedly about 30 other horses. Dominigue Trailers and Pat.
OUTCOME: Brought back about 28 horses from Hayne Blvd. and Parry area. No animals at Royal Carriage on Rampart. There was a painted sign that said help 37 mules, but they were gone. It looks like someone got them out. There were no horses around the Hayne-Gannon barn. It looks like someone had gotten them out also.
GROUP 4 - Lakefront New Orleans East (Hayne Road/Crowder/Gannon/Bullard). Departed at 7:30 am to pick up 19-21 horses (at least three still loose). Drs. Harry Kleinman and Amy Snyder will take three trucks and trailers; #1 Red truck from Texas LoneStar/Habitat for Horses and #2 Texas LoneStar (red stock trailer  with Amy Backo) and #3 Lonnie Berry (from Iowa) Dodge truck with stock trailer.
OUTCOME: Brought back 20 horses from Hayne/Crowder area (Yeager's Stables).
GROUP 5 - Plaquemines Parish. Departed at 7:30 am. Drs. Hubert and Fugler and Ben McMath in Dawn Kelley's truck/trailer headed to the store across the Belle Chasse area to deliver food to Marvin Johnson and to pick up horses that were identified in the area yesterday. Will connect up with Group 1 (Dr. Richard). Six horses on their way back from Lori Wilson's farm being transported by the Texas EquiSearch.
OUTCOME: Picked up four horses and delivered to Lamar-Dixon.
GROUP 6 - St. Rose Area. Mrs. Martha Lambert. Departed at 12:00 pm. Dr. Dale Paccamonti and Jeffrey Cardinale going after four horses owned by Ms. Laura West.
OUTCOME: Picked up four  horses and a goat and delivered to Lamar-Dixon.
Group 7 - Texas EquiSearch picked up seven horses from Lori Wilson's farm in Plaquemines Parish and will be delivering them to Lamar-Dixon around 5 pm. They will drop off the trailers (which belong to someone down there). Lori Wilson will be right behind them by about 30 minutes with two other horses.
"The main thing now is to look at how we're going to handle this thing in the long run" said Mortensen. "Dr. Pete Haynes and I met last night with Dr. Bonnie Clark and Dr. Denny French, who have been coordinating and looking after everything at Lamar Dixon in terms of horses. We're working on a plan right now as to how we are going to care for these horses over the next weeks, and even months. Where we are going to be able to keep them, how we are going to look after them logistically, how we are going to verify ownership of those that are claimed, and what we are going to do if we end up with unclaimed horses on our hands months down the road.

"We are really concerned with getting these horses claimed and reunited with their owners," he said. "Everyone needs to know that if they are unsure about the location of a horse that is missing from the hurricane, there's a good chance he is doing just fine and he is sitting in a stall at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La. People need to either go take a look themselves or send someone they know."

Those interested in providing financial assistance to the effort are encouraged to make their contributions to the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association's Dr. Walter J. Ernst Jr. Memorial Foundation. This fund is established specifically for emergency efforts to help animals. By simply visiting www.lvma.org, potential contributors can click on "Hurricane Relief Fund" on the home page to download the form. Simply designating "Horse Rescue" on your check will ensure its use for the equine rescue effort. For more information or to make donations, please call the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine at 225/578-9900 (www.vetmed.lsu.edu) or the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association at 800/524-2996.

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