Days End From the Front Lines

"We're walking through three feet of human waste and smelling death everywhere; it's not glamorous," described Allan Schwartz, vice president of Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR) from Lisbon, Md., on Sept. 29 while working to help animals and their owners in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

A Sept. 28th rescue trip was to Lake Charles, La., about 20 miles from the Texas border.

"What we saw, it's pretty bad," said the veteran of nine disaster recovery efforts. "We were told Cameron is pretty much buildings left. Lot of places are still flooded. There's black, brackish, foul-smelling water. Our crew was repulsed a bit because they put boat in water, and the boat was 'crawling.' There was so much bacteria they felt like the water was alive."

Yesterday's recoveries were not typical, even with the experience of these members. They went to Lake Charles to remove some small exotic animals from a registered wildlife rehabilitation center. Schwartz said one of their team members is a wildlife rehabilitator himself and knows a network of people that helped them find homes for these animals until the Cameron facility can be rebuilt.

The owner of the facility and her 125-pound chocolate Lab (that had to be pushed up a ladder into attic to ride out the storm), had numerous small and large critters to move, including iguanas, pelicans, squirrels, and a blind bobcat with a "seeing-eye" raccoon.

"They curl up and hang out together, said Schwartz. "The raccoon is the eyes and ears of bobcat. That was cool."

He said getting to hold an armadillo was a personal reward from this trip. "There were a bunch of exotic animals," he said. "Generally people bring her injured or orphaned animals, and she's a licensed rehabilitator and rehabs and releases as many as she can. Her place was destroyed. "

He said from his observations, as of Wednesday Sept. 28 they were just starting to move supplies into the western part of Louisiana that was affected by Hurricane Rita over the previous weekend.

"All the highway exits are sealed off so there's a bit of a problem getting in for most people," said Schwarta. "We can get in because of our passes. One guy stopped us and said his cows were stranded on island. He wanted us to bring some hay so they could feed them."

He said one team member talked to an official that had done a flyover of the affected areas of Louisiana following Hurricane Rita. He said there are lots of cattle in the region, and some of the cattle had gotten feet stuck in submerged cattle guards.

Schwartz is also a member of Code 3 Associates rescue group, although he working with the Days End group during the current recovery efforts. He said a Code 3 member working in Texas said they thought the horse and livestock situation was well in hand in that state.

"They might not need rescue people, but they might need resources and hay and information on where to put them," said Schwartz.

He said on Tuesday (Sept. 27), there was a rain storm in western Louisiana, "and that is not helping anything. We worry about re-flooding. Even New Orleans is still not in the best of shape."

He said he had heard that animal rescues in New Orleans might be suspended today (Oct. 30). "If you had animals in this situation for a month with no food, or animals in that contaminated water, they probably aren't alive," said Schwartz sadly. "A month in this heat and these conditions...a lot of animals we've seen have bad skin conditions because they'd been in nasty water for weeks. One of best things to do with some horses is shave them with clippers and bathe them. It looks like they were burned with whatever was in the water.

"I know HSUS and local groups shipping out 250-300 dogs per day, but they are having 250-300 dogs per day coming in," said Schwartz of rescue efforts in Louisiana.

Schwartz said he was told that 10 plane loads of dogs and cats have been flown out of Louisiana to shelters across the country. When asked if he would transport some small animals back to Maryland when his team returns home, he said no.

"I have room for 50 dogs (on his open stock trailer), but do I want to do that in this heat for 17 hours?" he questioned. "There are lots of others that have air conditioned vehicles who can drive them in more comfortable, healthier conditions."

One of the unfortunate side notes that Schwartz has seen is that some humane societies in other states are being particular on what breed they want, "and no one is taking pit bulls," he added. "There are 800 dogs at Larmar-Dixon, and 400 are pit bulls. Some are nice ones."

He said some untrained volunteers working outside the system were causing problems for local residents. There have been reports of horses and small animals being "rescued" by people, only to be whisked out of state to an undetermined fate.

Schwartz said on one location, a fireman who had been on duty five straight days had been taking breaks to go home and feed his cats. When he finally was given 24 hours off, he went home to find his front door bashed in and his cats taken. "Now he doesn't know where his pets are, and his front door won't lock," said a disgusted Schwartz. "He wondered why someone would do that.

"There are well-meaning people, but they go rougue," said Schwartz. "They start painting HSUS on side of their cars, and they aren't associated. They take an animal, but the HSUS doesn't know anything about it.

"What people have to realize is that while it doesn't sound as glorious to clean cages and muck stalls, but if we (trained rescuers working in the system) bring back 500 animals, you are part of the solution and helping," he explained.

"Everybody is an expert because they've watched it on TV," he said. "We've been to eight or nine disasters, and I'm still learning."

He said while many volunteers want to be known as "saving" animals, everyone who plays a role is important. And it isn't glamorous or easy.

"We had some people come and complain because they didn't get their full hour for lunch, or that the air conditioned tents that FEMA put up for workers were co-ed," he said with disgust. "We all three ride in this truck and stink because we don't get a shower every day. We live with it."

Schwartz said it was easy to deal with small discomforts in the face of the gratitude and spirit of community they saw in devastated areas.

"Everywhere we went in Mississippi, people had lost everything," he related. "People were offering us their water. They were chipping in to help each other. It showed the spirit of the people. It showed the spirit of the South."

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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