The following are my most
memorable events from our trip. This was all done in
retrospect, so some details may be filled in as best
I can. My goal is to give you an idea of not only what
things were like in Gonzales, but also how it felt
to be there. The people there were amazing. The animals
were even more amazing. There was happiness, and sadness.
Someone asked me today whether or not we had a good
time. I don't know how to answer that. Yes? No? I simply
told them I was really glad I went. It would take me
hours to answer the question. Hopefully they'll get
a chance to read this….
1 - The Trip
Wednesday, Sept 21- We have no idea what to
pack. Information of what our environment will be like
is in short supply. Some reports say to bring a tent.
Some say they will provide shelter. We get varying
reports on food and water. There's another hurricane
(Rita) coming. Not sure where that is going to hit
either. I've never been on a trip before with so little
information about what would be ahead of me on the
trip. But we're going. And we're packing
everything. Tent. Food. Bedding. We're preparing
to be prepared. This
will be an adventure.
Day 2 - Arrival
Thursday, Sept 22 6:00 - We
arrive. The tension is really high. At first,
I'm not sure whether it's my personal tension,
or whether it's the tension at Lamar-Dixon - an
equine center just outside of Gonzales , LA
(about 25 miles south of Baton Rouge ).
We have no idea what we're getting into. What
are we going to do? How can we best help? And what
is up with this hurricane?
For the last 2 hours
we've been in minimal traffic in our lane - with
bumper-to-bumper traffic heading the opposite
direction. They're all evacuating from the
incoming hurricane. We're going the other direction.
When we get there, the other workers at Lamar-Dixon
were stressed too. You could tell they held
the same uncertainty of what was to follow.
How bad would the weather get? Would we need
to evacuate? Would we need to evacuate the
dogs? No one was certain.
In the first 3 hours
we were there, the word on what would happen
changed several times.We're given instructions
to go to the volunteer
tent and claim our cots, then come back
to help. So we're off to the tent. The volunteer
tent is a huge, white tent that is lined
with cots - over 300 of them. After a little
looking, we found four
cots and with a little manipulation, we
were able to get them side-by-side. We set
all of our bedding on the cots, and like the
others before us, we put our clothes and supplies
underneath. Off to the kennels.
get back to the kennels (about a ¼ mile
from the tent) just in time for a meeting.
a megaphone, all
given instructions. We're getting
the kennels ready for the hurricane. About 150
dogs are getting shipped out -where they
are safe from the storm - fortunately they
will all be part of a prison-adoption program
at the prison facility in Jackson, MS. These
dogs will be “adopted” by
prisoners. This is a first in this area, but
these programs have been very successful in
other areas. The dogs get a caring owner, the
prisoners learn responsibility. We are going
to be allowed to stay in the volunteer tent
tonight, but it will be taken down after tonight
for the hurricane. Don't know what tomorrow
night holds, but there's work
to do tonight.
We're assigned to Barn
5. The barns are basically covered horse
stalls that are open on all sides. Our objective
is to get everything that is being stored outside
of the barn or in the outside stalls into the
inside of the barn. The plan is to get everything
that will blow around during a windstorm tied
down. They're going to bring RVs
and semis in to surround the barns to block
the wind. I'm impressed with how much thought
they've given to this.
Our group works on taking
down protective fencing, and moving food/water
bowls to the inside of the barn. All food
and water bowls are washed after every
feeding. Some of the dogs are ill - and they
don't want to cross-contaminate the dogs. We
move a lot of other things to the inside stalls.
We work until almost 2 am. We're off to bed.
I wake up a few times due to the heavy winds,
but the weather is holding nicely so far…
3 - Hurricane
Friday, Sept 23 We're
up and at ‘em by 7:30. We need to feed and
water the dogs first thing in the morning.
There are about 1200 dogs and cats in five
barns. About 75% are Pit Bulls. That's a lot
of food and water. We work in teams of two.
One person takes the dog out for a walk (poop,
pee, etc) while the other cleans
out the cage (many of the dogs were not
kennel trained or had to be in their kennel
so long they could not hold it), and provides
food and water. Finally, one of the volunteers
out the log, making notes of if the dog
pottied, ate, or got walked. The log is affixed
to the top
of the crate in a plastic
bag with all of the paperwork that show
the dog's intake photo, microchip number, and
pertinent vetting information.
have left because of the storm, so we're a
little short handed. It takes a long time to
clean the cages of 1200 dogs. We finally finish
up around 2:00. It takes a little longer than
most days. On three different occasions our
barn manager lets out three sharp whistles and shouts
through a bullhorn for us to take
cover in concrete bathrooms because of
tornado warnings in the area. Apparently the
areas in green on TV screens that surround
the eyes of hurricanes are filled with mini-tornados.
This is news to me - Midwesterners
are pretty ignorant about hurricanes. I learned
a lot while we talk in the bathroom with the
locals. Apparently the tornados are part of
the deal. It is already
raining pretty hard at times... At 3:00
are told that we
will have to evacuate.
Skeleton crews - 10
per barn - will stay behind to ride out the
storm with the animals. We're given three different
options. There is a shelter set up for us by
FEMA. They will bus us there. The facility
has showers. That's a plus. There is also room
for 40 people at a local church. No showers,
but we get to drive ourselves. The third option
is to drive ourselves wherever we want to go.
They recommend that hotels will be easiest
to find in Birmingham or Jackson . Both are
4 hours or more away. We opt to stay at the church.
The idea of leaving our car behind and putting
our fate in the hands of FEMA doesn't seem
appealing - we'd
seen FEMA's work in New Orleans.
We use the temporary
showers at Lamar-Dixon (shower heads put
in horse washing stations surrounded
by tarps) and then head out to the United
Methodist Church in Gonzales. We stop at Taco
Bell on the way…it might
be our last hot meal in a while. The church
is again full
of cots, and the congregation has provided
some basic food for us. They were very kind
to take us in. At the church, we start talking
with the others who opted to stay there.
They are jealous of our showers. All are eager
to get back to the kennels. We hope the storm
isn't as bad as it is supposed to be. One of
the people at the church has a portable TV,
so we watch the storm coverage. The storm is
moving north more than they thought - but
is losing power because part of the storm was
over southern Louisiana. We're not really
that means for us. Is it going to be better?
Or worse? We're told to use towels the pastor
provided to soak up any water that comes in
through the church doors over the night. At
10:00, it's lights out. We're really tired,
so sleeping is easy minus a few snorers in
Day 4 - The Aftermath
Saturday, Sept 24 at 7:00 - I'm wide
awake. I go outside to have
a look. We've clearly
gotten a lot
of rain (in fact, it's still
There are a lot of tree
limbs down, a few trees are blown over,
water around, but it appears that
we've survived the worst
of the storm. I go
in and get a little more shut-eye. After more
talking in the church, a few of us go out and
pick up some of the tree branches out of the
church lawn. It's the least we can do for them.
Around 11:30, someone from the HSUS comes
by and tells us we are going to be accepted
back at the shelter. It will only be the
volunteers from the church location - the
FEMA shelter won't come back because the weather
is still threatening enough to keep them from
transporting those volunteers back. We made
a great choice on where to stay. We pack up
out. We're back at the shelter by
Back at the Kennels
Michelle and I
show up in Barn
2 - we were reassigned. The
Barn manager is SO happy to see us. No one
there has slept much and they're very short
handed. Many of the dogs are still lying
in their own feces from the night before. It takes
a lot of volunteers to take care of that
many animals. We instantly get to work with our
still skeleton crew (although nearly double
the crews that were there) and start cleaning
cages and feeding/watering the animals. We
can't take them for good
walks yet - it's
still not safe to get them far away from the
barns - but
at least they will be cleaned and fed.
and Abby get assigned to Barn
5 again, where
they again meet up with BadRap volunteers
(two of who weathered the hurricane in the
barn on the skeleton crew the night before)
and start cleaning
kennels and feeding/watering dogs. At one
point, they get to watch BadRap perform a temperament
test on a possible pit/American Bulldog
mix, and they get to see a few lucky
dogs who have already been tested go to
a rescue arranged through their group.
and I get asked to stay through the night to
keep watch on the animals. Apparently there
have been some problems with people coming
to the facilities and stealing the animals.
I hate people sometimes. Michelle and I jump
on the opportunity - they need the help
and honestly, we don't know where we'll stay
tonight if we have to evacuate the property
again. This will solve that problem. We finish
up late again. Midnight. A friend who we've
met over the past 2 days, Arjian,
has met some people who are going to be out
tonight - so
they have allowed us to sleep in their trailer.
We accept the offer. We crawl in bed around
12:30. Our Night shift is from 5am - 7am.
It's going to be a short night.
5 - Back to
work, Business as usual
Sunday, Sept 25 - the 5-7 shift is pretty
uneventful. There are a lot of people around - they're
sending crews back into the city to rescue
more dogs today for the first time in several
days. At 7:00, it's time for the morning food/water/walking.
Michelle and I notice that a lot of the animals
in our new shelter area are kennel-trained.
Because there are no other volunteers around,
Michelle and I work to take out all of the
animals who haven't messed their cages before
we clean and feed. It's extra work, but these
poor animals! It is really sad because you
realize they were someone's pet…. someone
is probably looking for them. With five shelters
around similar to this one, and with animals
getting shipped out regularly, it must be impossible
to find their animals. It makes me sad.
Many of them will never get back together.
9:30 or so, we're almost back to a close-to-normal
group of volunteers. Michelle and I are assistant
barn managers and are helping the new volunteers
learn what needs to be done and helping them
out. There is a woman named Kelly in my group
who has been there for several days. Kelly
is probably 60 and just loves these animals.
There is one puppy that is very sick. She is
very concerned so we get a vet to come check
her out. We're given some special food to help
her digest better.
Something new for me today.
They are letting owners of lost dogs back in
to look for their dogs. They are all coming
through with special nametags looking. They
all look so sad and frustrated. I try to talk
to some of them. “What kind of dog are you
looking for?” I ask. They vary in their responses.
Two just start crying when I ask. I feel horrible
for these people. One woman is looking for
a Dachsund. I shake my head. I haven't seen
one. They're not exactly the best swimmers.
She starts to cry. She's the last person I
Meanwhile, Melissa and Abby are over in
Barn 5 and right about the time that Melissa
realizes she's not sure she can cope with saying
goodbye to her special buckskin,
bellyrub-loving boy tomorrow, Furry
Friends Foundation shelter director Catherine
shows up and distracts her, thankfully. They
get through the rest of their shift -barely.
Abby finally asks Melissa to go and get the
ball rolling on what dogs we are going to take
back with us to get her out of there. Abby
stays back at Barn 5, finishing the dogs before
she meets up with the BadRap gang, now being
introduced to Furry Friends folks.
get done with the morning shift work. It's quiet
time until 3:30. The dogs need their naps
and don't sleep well with a lot of activity
in the kennels. Kelly comes up to me - she
has to go. The person she came with has to
leave. I thank
her for her help. She then tells me she doesn't
want to go. The dogs need her. Her little buddy
(the sick dog) needs her. I promise her I'll
keep an eye on them. She cries. I hug her.
I cry too. Leaving all of these animals behind
is going to be really hard for me too… I'm
now starting to realize that. My last day is
Michelle and I are told to take a
break after 3:00. We have been on for 10 hours
solid, after a really long day yesterday. They
are really concerned that tired workers make
mistakes. We use the time to set up our tent.
The volunteer tent hasn't been set back up
yet, but the winds have died down enough that
we can set up our little tent. We shower. Around
4:30 I go and check on my sick puppy. She is
gone. The vets have come and gotten her. That's
good - she
needed the individual attention. I'll head
over to the vet
area tomorrow and check on her. The two
of us, along with Abby, decide to head to town
to get dinner. Melissa stays back to shower.
She had a hard time today. After trying to
stay relatively detached from all of the dogs
she knew she wouldn't be able to take home,
her buckskin male finally got to her. She knew
she'd have to leave him behind and needed some
They've been doing a great job
of feeding us - but getting away would be nice.
It's a Sunday night, and every restaurant in
town is overflowing. It's a 25 minute wait
at Chilis. The drive-through lines at Wendy's
and McDonalds are huge. The population of Gonzales
has nearly doubled in the last 3 weeks. Every
hotel is full. One hotel has a sign on the
door - “No Vacancy until 12/30.” There are
thousands of evacuees from New Orleans staying
in the city. Some are in area hotels. The area
YMCA and 4-H building adjoining our barns has
also been turned into a temporary shelter.
There are also hundreds of volunteers in town
on a regular basis trying to help out at Lamar-Dixon.
Some may never go back. It's a strange feeling.
After dinner at Taco Bell (who, due to shipping
problem, was out of beef), we head back to
Lamar-Dixon. We talk to some of the other volunteers.
I check in the vet area for my puppy, I can't
find her, but it's a busy time, so I'll follow
up tomorrow. The crews that went into the city
have come back with their animals and are checking
them in. We watch in-take for a while. Many
of them are in pretty bad shape, but they'll
be much better taken care of here. It's getting
late. Off to bed. It's an early morning again
6 - our Final Day
Monday, Sept 26 - up and at ‘em early again.
6:30. Michelle and I are again asked to be
assistant barn managers. I immediately resign my position
today. Overnight, I decided that I want to spend my
last day here with the animals. Being a manager doesn't
allow me to walk the dogs. I can be middle
management at home, so I step down.
Per my new routine,
I get out the kennel trained dogs first - I know who
they are now. We run across the parking lot to the
dog-walk area. They do their thing, we come back. I
rave about how great of a job they do. Being kennel
trained will help make them more adoptable. On our
walk back, a beautiful brindle Pit jumps up and gives
me a huge bear hug (ok, Pit Bull hug). He wraps his
front paws all the way around my waist. Some other
volunteer shoots a photo of it. If you were that guy
outside Barn 2, please contact me, I'd love to have
that picture. I can't believe how loving these animals
are after all they've been through. This dog
was my favorite. Another favorite of mine was a beautiful
small, red Pit. He was VERY fun. Energetic.
I don't think he's adoptable. Pretty dog aggressive.
Probably bred to fight. But he and I became buds over
the course of 3 days in Barn 2. We go for a walk too.
We then go through our usual routine. I run with
as many of the dogs as I can.
Around lunchtime, my
partner in dog cleaning, Rick, had some friends come
by and see if he wanted to get lunch (provided by HSUS).
Rick declines. “We're almost done." They insist
that they may run out of food. Rick pipes back
with a smile, “These dogs need food too, this
is what I came down here to do.” I can't mention
enough how impressed I was with the majority
of the volunteers.
After my shift, I go to look
for my sick puppy that I'm keeping an eye on
for Kelly. I can't find her anywhere in the
ER area. As it turns out, the dog was relocated
to LSU's Veterinary school for further care.
I don't know if the pup will make it, but I
at least know that if she doesn't make it,
it wasn't because she didn't get the care she
needed. I'm at least happy about that. Being
sick in the kennels with 1200 other dogs is
no way to get individual care.
About this time
Melissa and Abby are over in Barn 5, packing
the van and making final preparations to leave
Gonzales. The weather sure is different than
it was when we first arrived -the refreshing
breeze and overcast cloud filter has been replaced
with a cooking sun and impossible humidity.
Melissa was near the area where they do intake
at night when she noticed what appeared to
be a reunion. During our stay at Gonzales,
we learned that over 6,000 animals had been
processed at the makeshift animal shelter -and
a little over 400 of those pets were reunited
with their owners. So it's obvious that we
did not get the opportunity to see very many
reunions. Of the two we saw, one was obviously very
pleasant -with a little boy bubbling with
the sight of his dog. The other... well
I just don't know. Some young men claimed that
a young, rednose female was their dog, but
they didn't have any photos for proof. And
who would? They probably lost everything when
their home was flooded. But when they took
the dog out of her crate, it seemed as if she
idea who they were. When asked if they
were happy they get their dog back, they said "Yes,
ma'am. When asked if she was left behind in
their home when they fled from Katrina, they
said "No Ma'am,
she lives in the yard".
We get the car
all loaded up and we're
ready to go. We have found two dogs to
rescue that we're bringing back. Neither dog
is one of our favorites, but both need to be
rescued and will be good fits for homes. They're
good dogs. We named the female Nola - short
for New Orleans, LA. The male we named Dixon,
after the equestrian center he's called home
for 3 weeks.
goodbye to the BadRap folks we have been working
with the past few days, and goodbye to all of the loving
little faces in Barn 5. It's tough. On our way out of
the kennels, we make one last stop, by Barn 2. I have
four pictures to take of Michelle and I's new
four-legged friends. It's only been five days, but I sure got attached
to them. Our plan is to drive through the night and arrive
home the next day.
Day 7 - the
Tuesday, Sept 27 - okay, Nola is
wimpering in the back. We
cave, and bring
her up front with us. She promptly crawls up
on Abby's lap and spends basically the next
6 hours sleeping
her lap. It's quite possibly the cutest
scene ever. Dixon continues
to be a champ. He has already learned to
kennel on demand, and is great on a lead. I wasn't
the biggest fan of him at first, but he's
really growing on me. We made a great choice. Choosing
only two to save was one of the hardest decisions
we've ever made.
We finally arrive home. We're
tired. Content. Everything looks and feels
so different, like we are looking at everything with
a completely changed perspective. My dogs are glad
to see us. I want nothing more than to be a good parent
to my two dogs. They deserve it… and
too many other animals I've just spent time
with should have it.
Day 9 - Dreams
Wednesday, Sept 28 - it's morning.
Two nights in a row I've woken up in the
middle of the night with that half-awake
feeling that I should be walking the dogs. I
see their faces. It makes me sad. There
are so many left down there. Who knows what
will become of them. I could have loved all
of them. It's pretty crazy.
Melissa just called. Nola passed away. She
was sick…we knew
that. But she had complications during surgery. Tears
form. We had a chance to save two. Only two.
And two days later, it's down to one. And she
was so sweet. I pictured her snuggled up on Abby's
lap. Licking my chin. She deserved better than this.
The only comfort I have is that this poor dog, who
knew little about being loved in the first few years
of her life, at least was loved by four people for
a week before she died. She'll be missed. And in the
end, she has a legacy. I guess that's something.
amazing to me how attached I became to that dog in
5 days. Five. I find it amazing that somehow she was
left behind by her owner. I can't even imagine having
to make that decision. It angers me. It saddens me.
What is wrong with people?! I'm going to miss that
So when you ask, “how was it?”, pardon me if
I keep in short… or maybe run too long in an explanation.
There's no short way to sum up the emotion, and the
experience of being there.
By: Brent Toellner
here for all photos of our experience in Gonzales
Update 11/30/05: Melissa's
special, bucksin, bellyrub-loving boy did not make
it. By the time she was able to finally track him
down again, it was later November -and
she learned that he had beentransferred to a shelter
and euthanized on November 2nd. Perhaps if pet
overpopulation wasn't such a sad reality, the shelter
would have had more resources for her boy. Please,
spay and neuter ALL of your pets.
will remember him always and forever.