Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hitting too close to home

Submitted by EARS volunteer Shari Neal of Marion, Iowa

I began my first EARS deployment in Cedar Rapids on my birthday, June 15. I have been training to help animals in disasters for two years from a variety of national animal welfare organizations. I trained, and I waited for a disaster to happen…to someone else's town, probably in a different state. I was prepared to drive in and help care for animal victims so their families could have peace of mind about at least that one thing. I would return home knowing I had done something important for this devastated community.

When the rain refused to stop in Linn and other Iowa counties, the water rose fast in creeks and rivers. With the ground still saturated from enormous amounts of snow melt, there was no place for the water to go. So it filled homes, covered even the railings of bridges crossing the Cedar River, surrounded then consumed the city's animal shelter, then made its way downtown until 1,300 city blocks had been covered in debris-laden flood water. That is when I got the call I had been waiting for…finally I would be able to use my training. I was thrilled to be involved and crushed to know the disaster to which I would deploy was just a short drive downhill from my home.

Two hours after I got the call I was on site. I brought only my cameras, a bandana and my EARS badge. After six days averaging 11 hours of work each, I've used that bandana for mopping up sweat, rubbing barn dust out of my eyes, wiping the perspiration from cold bottles of water, and cleaning my lenses. I've proudly worn my badge every minute, and taken more than 2,000 photographs. (A few of them are displayed on this post)

I've also been lucky enough to photograph the animals for identification purposes. I've seen the look on a person's face when they recognize their missing animal from a photo I took. They look thrilled but in a way that is riddled with fear. They are simply too afraid to hope that after all of this time, all of the worry and tears, that they may have actually found the last missing member of their family. Sometimes it turns out to be an animal that simply looks like their animal but many times, I have witnessed a broken heart mend right before my very eyes.

I've also witnessed hope in the strangest places. One woman comes to the shelter every day to spend time with her dogs. She is there so much she is forging friendships with volunteers. She casually remarked yesterday that she had just taken a shower! She was elated to have had a shower as she explained in a cheerful voice, "Because I'm living in my car!" Still, there she was, with a smile from ear to ear because she was at the shelter to play with her dogs.

My full-time deployment has come to an end, but I will continue to work at the shelter several hours a day until they no longer need volunteers. I can see that the other volunteers hurt when they have to go home at the end of their deployment feeling as though they are leaving something unfinished.

I am trading the uneasy feeling of going home before seeing the emergency shelter through to the end for the uneasy feeling of watching my neighbors struggle to find places to live, witnessing the end of many local businesses, the demolition of the heart of the city and helping find homes for loved animals who can no longer be cared for by their heartbroken and homeless families. This is one disaster I wish I could go home from…but alas, I am home.

All photos this post courtesy Shari Neal.

1 comment:

  1. Shari: What a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday. Hang in there--you're doing a great thing! I posted news about your efforts on my blog. If you have time, please check it out at God Bless!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.