Monday, May 23, 2011

UAN volunteers form a temporary family for flood evacuees

We still have our eyes trained on the Mississippi River, watching it rise slowly, but steadily. UAN has officially demobilized from the emergency shelter in Natchez, Mississippi and transferred operations to our partners and the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society. Animals are still coming into the shelter and a few are going home, but everybody is still in waiting mode to see what the river will do. If it does crest the levee, flooding will be a very slow process and everyone is packed and ready to evacuate if and when needed.

This deployment was so different from the hoarding and puppy mill rescues UAN has undertaken lately. It’s so easy to give your heart over to an animal who has experienced neglect and cruelty for most, if not all, of his life. The animals we worked with in Natchez are all owned and very, very loved, but we still fell for each and every one of them.

Cooter, the basset hound who made it clear when he needed to go for a walk; Roscoe, the bloodhound who was used to spending his days roaming the fields and was terribly confused by the whole leash thing; Cassie, the pretty Calico who did rollies and stretchies whenever we were near; Deuce the bossy dachshund who thought he was a rottweiler; and Doll Face, a stray with demodex mange who came in from an evacuated foster home. These animals and more all caught our attention and inspired the volunteers to give and give, then give some more.

I was in awe as I watched the UAN volunteers get to know each animal so quickly, learn their likes, dislikes and quirks and most of all, treat them as they would their own pets. They spent time with them on walks, going at the animal’s own pace if he was frightened or caught on to an interesting scent. They sat in the grass with the older guys, making sure they had quality time out of their kennels. The cats had a constant supply of toys, treats, pets and snuggles. Even the feral cats who were surrendered to us improved dramatically each day as the volunteers sat with them and slowly earned their trust.

While we hope and pray that the levees hold and the waters recede, the volunteers should be proud of their work through the long days in heat and humidity, making sure all of “their buddies” stayed safe and happy while separated from their families. Becoming a temporary family and treating all of these animals like their own pets was difficult and draining for the volunteers, however, seeing the contentment of the animals and the gratitude of the owners made it all worth it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Peace of mind for flood evacuees in Mississippi

“Ya’ll are doing God’s work," “Bless ya’lls hearts," “Oh, I was so worried, now I feel much better," “Ya’ll will get to heaven before your toes are cold.”

These are the common phrases we hear throughout our long 10-hour days here in Natchez, Mississippi. The residents are still so amazed that this emergency animal shelter exists, and are even more awestruck when they walk through and see our operations.

UAN volunteers made hammocks
for the cats.
The cats are happily resting in their hammocks. The dogs are either patiently waiting for their walks, dozing in their kennels or out getting one-on-one social time and exercise. Even the younger, un-vaccinated puppies are able to get out of their kennels, run around and get some sunshine in our specially created puppy pens. Contagious disease control and prevention are always a high priority in any shelter and especially a temporary, emergency shelter full of owned animals.

A UAN volunteer bottle feeds a kitten.
Romie’s grandma brought him in yesterday. Romie is a Great Dane/Lab mix weighing in at about 140 pounds. His owner is active military and grandma is caring for him while her son is out protecting our country. Obviously, like the others, Romie deserves only the best. The fact that his owner was recently injured in the line of duty and his dog’s care was entrusted to us makes us even more inspired to ensure his ultimate comfort during his stay at the UAN temporary shelter.

Romie's special double-wide crate.
Romie fit “OK” in our largest crate, but “OK” is not good enough for us. The volunteers and staff MacGyvered a double-wide crate for him so he can spread out and be very comfortable. As you can see from the photos … he’s not too worried about the impending floods, budget cuts, the economy or anything else for that matter.

The special puppy play area.
One of the most gratifying occasions on this deployment is being able to take pet owners through our shelter and show them how comfortable and well cared for the animals are. Many stated they were not going to evacuate because they didn’t know where they would take their pets. Now that they know they have a safe place, they are packing, bringing their animals in to the emergency shelter and preparing for whatever the future holds. One woman said her neighbor told her to just “Let her dog go and hope he can swim.” The thought was devastating to her and she cried in relief to know there was a better option.

The staff and volunteers consider it a privilege to be here and to be able to help this community. And we are all very happy to know that our toes will not get cold on our way to heaven.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mississippi residents grateful for emergency pet shelter

Shock, then gratefulness. These are the emotions residents around Natchez, Mississippi are experiencing when they learn UAN volunteers are running a free emergency shelter for pets living in the path of the flooding Mississippi River.

A kitten sleeps comfortably at the
emergency shelter in Natchez. 
“People are astounded that the shelter is free and there is no catch,” said UAN Emergency Services Manager Janell Matthies, who flew to Mississippi to run the shelter and manage the UAN volunteer team. “Many of them are telling us that they know they will lose their homes in the flood.”

The Mississippi River reached a record 58.48 feet in Natchez on Wednesday and is expected to crest at 64 feet next week.

Janell said one woman who visited was very worried about being separated from her eight-year-old pit bull. They’ve been together since he was three weeks old and have never been apart.

“I brought her through the shelter and showed her how comfortable the dogs were,” Janell said. “She was crying the whole time because she was so relieved to know she can bring her best friend here and he will be taken care of.

Volunteers take an evacuee for a walk.
Indeed, the evacuated dogs and cats who have already been evacuated to the shelter – about 50 of them – are being spoiled rotten by the UAN volunteer team. Volunteers are walking dogs three or four times a day. They have comfortable bedding in their kennels and plenty of food and treats. Yesterday the volunteers made the trademark UAN “hammocks” for the cats.

Among the shelter residents are three litters of kittens so young they need to be bottle fed. The kittens were being cared for by foster parents who had to evacuate, and are now getting round-the-clock care from the volunteers.

Janell acknowledged the Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield for encouraging residents to evacuate their pets and inviting UAN and The Humane Society of the United States to set up and operate the shelter.

“Sheriff Mayfield is a smart man who is very community oriented and proactive for the animals,” Janell said. “He also knows from watching other disasters that people won’t evacuate if they don’t have a place to bring their pets.

UAN volunteer Jerry Lousteau
in the kitten "nursery"
Members of the community have been supportive and grateful for the emergency animal shelter. When word got out that volunteers could use a few ice chests to keep drinks cold, someone brought a refrigerator. And after someone said, jokingly, that it would be nice to have a rocking chair volunteers could sit in when bottle feeding the kittens, the president of the local humane society brought three of them.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Animal flood victims in Missouri returning home

Submitted by UAN volunteer Debbie Ferguson of Kildeer, Illinois

Happy to see his family coming for him!
Each day seems to get a little bit easier for the UAN volunteers who have been sheltering more than 500 animals threatened by the flooding of the Mississippi River. Since the threat of more flooding was lifted Monday, more than half of the animals have been reunited with their families! After today we have 153 dogs, 96 cats, 5 horses, 1 dove, 1 rabbit, 1 guinea pig and 1 lonely but very friendly goat. All seem to be settling into their temporary homes quite well due to the many volunteers who have traveled to Missouri to give them the love and care they need while separated from their families.

This girl spent 15 minutes in this position,
happily chewing her toy.
The dogs seem to be especially happy as we have been able to move many of them into larger units and spend more time socializing with them as their numbers have dropped. Their personalities have been coming out as their fear and anxiety disappears. We see the two basset hounds wrapped around each other, the little bulldog happily chewing on her toy, butt up in the air, and the many smiling dogs throughout the shelter, and our exhaustion from the long, hard days is replaced by the satisfaction of a labor of love.

The last bunny waits to be
reclaimed by his family.
Our lone remaining bunny is hanging out with the last guinea pig. Gus the goat has a nice little pen all to himself, close to the horses, but really appreciates human company more than anything else. The cats love their cozy beds and the many beautiful kittens spend their time sleeping, playing with each other, or bothering Mom.

Gus the goat.
All in all, this has been a most rewarding week for those of us lucky enough to spend time with these lovely animals. Though most of the animals will go back to their homes, a number of strays and voluntarily surrendered animals will soon move on to adoption shelters to find new forever homes. We have enjoyed spending quality time with these animals, getting them socialized and accustomed to giving and receiving love, and we know they are going to have great lives with loving families soon. And that is the primary reason we do what we do.

A beautiful kitten
Each day I see my fellow volunteers leave for home with tears in their eyes as they say goodbye to the animals they spent so many days caring for and loving. We know when we arrive that our relationship with these animals will be temporary, but we still lose our hearts to them and grieve at the loss of these beautiful animals that have touched us so deeply. Tomorrow I say goodbye once again to my many charges: shy Rudy, sweet Kelly, no-name Benji-dog, wild Max, the two Buddys, my three surrendered young Labs and so many more. And I will leave with tears in my eyes as well, some of sadness at my loss, but many of happiness for the future of these animals I had a small part in saving.

And it makes me think about the comments I get when I tell people about UAN and what we do. The typical question is “How can you do it? It would break my heart!” And my response is the same as every other animal lover who has participated in any kind of rescue: “How can I not?”

Monday, May 9, 2011

Animal flood victims getting royal treatment from UAN volunteers

Submitted by UAN volunter Debbie Ferguson of Kildeer, Illinois

It has been a hectic week for the ten UAN volunteers who traveled from across the United States to assist with a flood response in Kennett, Missouri. With the Mississippi river at an all-time high, residents in southeast Missouri were warned of imminent evacuation orders and many were proactive and took their animals to a local shelter for safekeeping.  It soon became clear that the shelter could not handle all of the animals, so the ASPCA was called in to assist.

Early morning horse feeding.
UAN volunteers began arriving last Thursday to help with the intake and sheltering of a wide variety of animals: horses, ponies, chickens, cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, a duck and even a goat. Hundreds of animals arrived each day and the total count reached well over 500 animals by Sunday afternoon.

Yes, we have chickens, too!
With a large number of very noisy dogs disturbing the peace for the other species, the decision was made to move them to a very large warehouse a couple of miles away.  Though the move created extra work for everyone involved, it soothed the nerves of the other animals tremendously and provided a large outdoor area for walking the dogs,  making everyone happier.

Though the majority of the animals were dropped off for safekeeping to be picked up when the flood threat is over, we also have a number of strays and animals who were voluntarily relinquished by their owners for various reasons. Those animals will be sent to adoption shelters and rescue groups after the owned animals are reunited with their families.

A happy pup gets hugs from his family
We were happy to hear last night that the National Guard had been instructed to leave the area and the potential order to evacuate was removed. So… we anticipated a busy day of animal reclaimis today and we got it. 

With well over 300 dogs, we were kept very busy feeding, watering, cleaning and walking them this morning, but the amazing UAN volunteers completed all tasks by 11 a.m. and the dogs were sleeping soundly around noon, when families started coming to pick them up. It was fun to see the reactions of both the dogs and their people when they were reunited. 

A happy reunion
The first to arrive was a man who came in for his two small dogs; he couldn’t get the smile off of his face when the dogs jumped into his arms. And his dogs couldn’t stop smothering him with kisses. 

The next was a family of four picking up their three dogs. When the first of the three dogs was handed over, both Mom and Dad were in tears and the pup couldn’t decide who to kiss first. 

And the day continued with other families and their dogs being reunited. At this writing, people are still coming in to pick up their dogs and the joy of watching them makes the hard work and long days worthwhile for all of us volunteers. At the same time, it is bittersweet, as many of us have become attached to our four-legged charges.

UAN field leader Shannon Asquith
says goodbye to a favorite dog
Field Leader Shannon Asquith tearfully said goodbye to a beautiful German shepherd she had grown very attached to. And most of us are watching to see if the next reunion will be with one of “our” dogs, because we want to personally walk them to their owners for a last goodbye.

I am waiting for the owner of a wonderful mother/daughter pair who have captured my heart completely, so I can rejoice in their reunion. 

Inseparable and adorable mother and child
We still have a large number of animals to care for but are hopeful that the majority will be back in the comfort of their own homes soon. And some of us may then move further south to assist in a similar emergency sheltering operation occurring in Mississippi right now.

More tomorrow…

Helping flood victims in Missouri and Mississippi

As floodwaters, saturate parts of the Midwest and Southeastern United States, UAN's Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers are hard at work taking care of hundreds of animals evacuated in Southeast Missouri.

A puppy at the temporary shelter for
flood evacuees in Kennett, Missouri
Last week, staff at the Caruthersville Humane Society began housing a few evacuated animals, but quickly outgrew its space as animals poured in. Now more than 500 dogs, cats, birds, bunnies and even two guinea pigs are enjoying comfortable and temporary accommodations in an old warehouse and a fairgrounds building in nearby Kennett.

EARS volunteer Shannon Asquith is leading the volunteer team and said the temporary shelter took in more than 100 dogs per day three days in a row.

"There was a lot of pre-evacuation planning and it worked," she said. "Everybody responded. I think we have every dog and cat in Caruthersville in the temporary shelter!"

Meanwhile, another UAN volunteer team is arriving in Natchez, Mississippi to set up an emergency shelter for families expected to evacuate their pets in advance of anticipated flooding of the Mississippi River there.

Please check back soon for photos and stories from these disaster responses.