Rescuers have walked among the saints

I think I have looked into the eyes of a saint. It happened this way.

My wife, Kathy, and I have been long-time animal lovers and have supported the efforts of various animal rescue groups over the years. One such group that has especially touched us is the Best Friends Animal Society located in Kanab, Utah, which has managed to develop a nationwide outreach program over the past 16 years.

It was one of the first animal rescue groups to respond to the Katrina disaster and is still providing aid to lost and injured animals more than three months later. We placed our names on the volunteer list early, willing to assist in what was yet undetermined ways and waited to be contacted by Best Friends.

The call came in early November. Best Friends, with the help of Saint Francis Animal Sanctuary, had an established rescue shelter in a field outside Tylertown, Miss., two hours from New Orleans. It was a collection point for rescued animals from Louisiana, Mississippi and surrounding areas.

Volunteers were desperately needed to help with the care and assistance of animals still being brought to the shelter. The organization stressed that we should be willing to live in primitive conditions and bring our own shelter and other items we would need to survive. Limited food, water, coffee and Gatorade would be provided. We made arrangements for the safe keeping of our dog, Clancy, and arrived in Tylertown on Nov. 8.

The next seven days would change our lives.

We pitched our tent and were given a short orientation to the area. We experienced a renewal of our faith in humanity. The sanctuary is in a field 15 miles from the nearest town and contains basic essentials to provide assistance to injured, lost and abandoned animals. There is an initial intake area -- dubbed Ellis Island by the volunteers -- where the animals are first evaluated by volunteers and Best Friends staff members.

Depending on their condition and medical needs they are then moved to the clinic for additional medical attention or to one of the numerous "runs" that will be their home until reunited with their owners or released to foster homes. There is "Toy Land," for the smaller breeds; "Pooch Alley" and "The Back Forty" for the larger breeds; "The Heights" for the more aggressive or less social dogs, and an improvised area near the feeding tent that contained a number of puppies so traumatized they were terrified of people.

They are brought in by rescue teams, individuals and owners who can no longer care for them. We saw the blind, maimed, scared, scarred and nearly hopeless. More than 2,000 have already passed through the intake area. The volunteers, 40 to 60 at any given time, worked most days from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. feeding, cleaning runs, providing fresh water, administering medications, cooking, washing dishes and most important, providing some individual love and attention to these needy creatures.

Volunteers come from throughout the U.S. and Canada. We worked with folks from Florida, California, New York, Ohio, Canada, Minnesota, Michigan and a host of other states. Some were professionals -- veterinarians and vet-techs that provided truly life saving tasks -- while others were individuals trying to make a difference.

I will never forget the evening of Nov. 9. A white van with the words "Animal Rescue" hand lettered in blue paint pulled into the entrance. Inside were a number of rescued dogs and cats. Two were to catch my attention and remain in my memory.

A woman got out carrying an injured dog wrapped in a towel and newspapers. I thought it was dead but saw a movement in its eyelid. The other dog was in a crate and was so traumatized it had what combat veterans know as the "thousand yard stare." Both were obviously so ill they could not be cared for at the sanctuary.

Best Friends officials authorized their transport to the animal hospital in McComb, Miss., and agreed to pay the necessary expenses.

In the faces of the rescuers and volunteers I saw determination, compassion and a light of humanity that would have pleased Saint Francis of Assisi. We will never forget the simple kindness of individuals who took the time to provide some love and caring to these animals that surely would not have otherwise survived. One person can make a difference and every person should try.

Charles M. Nobles is a Tulsa resident.