September 22, 2005

Volunteer at Katrina facility urges HSUS to change rescue site policies ASAP

Laura, a long-time animal advocate, wrote the below, about her experiences rescuing Katrina animal victims in Mississippi.

From: Laura

I was a volunteer rescuer, at the Hattiesburg, Mississippi Katrina rescue site, between 9/13/05 and 9/17/05. I was accompanied by a veterinarian. This rescue site was run by HSUS. There was an HSUS banner hanging across the main barn, where all the supplies were kept. HSUS crew wore blue shirts, labeled HSUS. Volunteers wore yellow shirts. I state this to clarify which organization's workers made the decisions that I believe caused suffering and death to the animals at the site. Whether the decisions were made by individual workers at this site, or were policies set at the national level, I do not know, but the national office of HSUS must address these matters immediately.

I returned home, in tears, not just because of the suffering and death caused to the animals by the hurricane and by the people who abandoned them, but also because of the policies of HSUS, which ran the rescue site at which I volunteered. There were dozens of wonderful and caring folks, who had traveled from all over the country, ready and willing to work hard and cry hard. More importantly, they came with the ability to take animals back home with them, having previously arranged for these dogs and cats to go directly into either foster homes, permanent homes, or to veterinarians' offices for treatment.

Arriving after 17 hours of travel (from Virginia), one of the first things I was told was that there had been vets, techs, and rescuers there, previously, who had "walked" off with dogs and cats when they were scheduled to leave. I soon found out why. I was assigned to work in one of the rows, in one of the barns, in which some of the dogs were being housed. I was assigned to care for 100 dogs with one other volunteer, Terry. One of us walked the dogs, while the other cleaned the cages and put fresh food and water in the cages. I thought this system was simple, made sense, and we were anxious to begin. We were, however, required to attend a 1 1/2 hour meeting, in the morning, to discuss such questions (depending on who the barn manager for the day was) as whether to walk or feed the dogs first.

Terry and I left the meeting and started taking care of the dogs assigned to us. Many of the dogs were laying in their feces and urine. As Terry has problems walking, we decided that she would clean the cages and I would walk the dogs. When I came back from the walks, we used a hose to try to clean and cool off the dogs. Unfortunately, we had to return them to their cages. We were a good team and worked efficiently until we got chastised by HSUS staff for walking the dogs in the morning. HSUS insisted that the dogs be fed first, even if they were standing in urine that was burning their open sores. I was also told by HSUS that they did not care if the dogs were walked only once per day.

Most of these dogs were large dogs, confined in very small crates. With only one walk per day, the dogs were forced to lay in urine and feces for up to 24 hours. The cages were too small to permit them to move away from their waste. One skinny dog had urine burns on his legs. Most of the dogs ate very little, due to the extreme heat. The HSUS feeding policy, therefore, did not maximize eating and weight gain for these emaciated animals.

When I inquired why HSUS wanted the feeding done this way, I found out it was nothing more then "an old shelter trick" that makes it easier to keep the cages cleaner, but makes it more uncomfortable for the animals. I refused to do this and kept doing things as I had been. I was yelled at and yelled at, but I just ignored them.

Other volunteers from other barns left to go home because of the additional stress of being yelled at. Everyday I saw more and more people crying, both from great sadness for these babies, but also greatly due to the fact that HSUS was preventing groups from removing animals.

One woman whom I met, came with a group from Orlando Florida, with 4 large horse trailers and the ability to take 100 animals with them. They filled out all the required paperwork, as many, many groups did. The person who was supposed to be processing this paperwork was never around. We were told that HSUS was going through these applications between 12am and 4am, but I saw no applications getting approved. Each day the pile of applications was larger. No one received approval to take animals, so rescuers went home without the animals whose lives they had committed to saving.

Just the small group of folks I had met had the ability to remove 250 dogs and cats. People were literally on their hands and knees begging HSUS to PLEASE, PLEASE let them remove some of the animals, especially the ones who were old, weak, and sick.

Rescuers were crying, crying, crying, while hugging and kissing these precious babies. A Saint Bernard mix was labeled "VICIOUS, WILL BITE," though he never seemed to move much or come out of the cage. My rescue partner, Terry, opened his cage and we both sat down with him. He seemed very confused, at which point, we realized that he was BLIND and could not walk well.

He was not vicious and not a biter - he was extremely frightened. Terry and I worked on gaining his trust and he came out of his cage. He could not walk well, and neither could Terry; they were a match made in heaven. This handsome boy was the only dog Terry could walk and they looked like they had been together, forever. He was her dog and she wanted to take him home. The vet with whom I had traveled from home deemed his paperwork a medical priority, due to his age, blindness, and lameness and she said that he must be released to a home. Terry was so excited to take her new boy home.

* HSUS denied Terry's adoption application. I found Terry collapsed on the ground, holding onto this dog. Her arms were around him and he was wet from her tears. I dropped on the ground with her and we cried together, holding this precious boy. Terry had to leave the next morning without him.

A rescuer in his mid-twenties, Brandon, was working in the same barn (but one row over) as I was. He showed me a cage holding 2 little girl beagle babies who came in together. The little girls were sleeping with their legs all entwined; it was adorable. Brandon said that he was going to request these little girls and he thought his chances were good. His father was a veterinarian and they lived on 12 acres.

* HSUS denied Brandon's adoption application. I next saw him with the 2 little angels in his lap and he was crying. I sat with him and we cried together.

I met a group of volunteers from Richmond VA. One of the group, Randy, had been given $25,000 to donate to HSUS, by an elderly neighbor who had recently lost his little Bichon. The elderly man had only asked Randy that if there was a small white dog available, that he bring this dog home to him. I told Randy that there was a little white dog in stall #1 - possibly a Maltese. The little dog was happy and had a great disposition She needed only a good bath and grooming (and, of course, a home). She seemed perfect. The little dog had hope in her eyes and wanted to go home with Randy.

* HSUS kept the money and the dog.

HSUS insisted that the dogs be reunited with their owners, rather then going to safe and loving homes. All of the dogs were micro-chipped as they came in, and there were representatives from Petfinder present, taking photos of these micro chipped dogs to put on their site. Everyone wanting to adopt/foster an animal was willing to sign a form, agreeing to foster and hold all dogs 30 days from the day they left, and should the owner come forward, relinquish the dogs. The dogs were easily traceable through their microchips, but HSUS would not let volunteers or rescue groups leave with dogs.

During this time, and at this rescue site, HSUS was making a movie about reuniting owners with their dogs - one or two reuniting incidents had occurred. A misting tent had been set up to provide a cool, comfortable environment for HSUS staff involved in making this movie. The only ones using the tent were HSUS staff (who were not doing the hands-on grunt work the volunteers were doing). This tent was not for the volunteers, many of whom were passing out from the heat, nor was it for the dogs, who were dying from the heat. One dog's temperature soared to 107. The tent was to keep the HSUS folks cool and clean.

I (smelly and sweaty) took one of the overheated, stitched up, intact, male pit bulls, Scarface, into the mist tent, to demonstrate "the real part" of what was going on down there. HSUS staff looked like they would faint at the site of me. I gave them a puzzled look and asked, "Isn't this really what you should be filming?" Scarface and I were asked to leave - but not before Scarface lifted his leg and urinated all over one of the tent's nice chairs - chairs off-limits to the volunteers, who might have gotten them dirty. There was no place for the volunteers to sit, should we have 5 minutes to do so.

There was a cube of hay, approximately 2' x 4' foot in size, on which we all alternated sitting. Anyone coming to this site to claim their animals needed to be able to thoroughly describe them - some mark or a word or anything that only they would know. HSUS let a group of people in that did not even know the dogs' NAMES. These folks came down my lane and pointed to male and female Chihuahuas and said, "Oh there they are!" The dogs did not even react to these people; the dogs reacted more positively to the volunteers (who saw these people lurking around the dogs, a lot). The women said the female Chihuaha's name was "Sassy maybe Mandy." I told her (to be frank, I told her rudely) to leave. I reported them to the staff, but they had taken pictures. I believe that they gave the photos to another person who later came back to claim the dogs. Fortunately, the dogs were not given to this person.

Almost none of the dogs were spayed or neutered. These 2 dogs looked like breeding machines. All of the male pit bulls were intact and many were covered in scars; some had wounds that had been stitched or stapled together.

We were told BY HSUS that they were not accepting any more donations of cat or dog food, as they had too much. I noticed that a lot of the food was prescription food from veterinarian's offices, such as I/D, A/D, etc. HSUS, however, fed the dogs (almost all of whom had either vomiting and/or diarrhea) the cheapest food available. I spoke to my vet friend and she said to give all the dogs the I/D, as they needed high quality food. I again got into trouble with HSUS. I was told that that this was special diet food. I told them that that was why I was using it on these dogs, suffering from diarrhea and vomiting. I told them that the veterinarian with me had recommended this. The HSUS representative said that since the vet was not an HSUS vet, her (the vet's) recommendations did not matter. I asked why, since they had so much extra food, they were not feeding the dogs the good food? Her response was a sneer.

I continued to feed the dogs the better food. I also noticed that in the supply barn there were thousands of new pet beds, blankets, and rope chews, however no dogs had a bed, a blanket, a towel, a toy or chewie in their cages. Once again, I inquired. I was told that the dogs pee on the beds and blankets and the dogs chew up the toys, and that there is no place to wash the bedding. I replied that the dirty bedding could be discarded, as there was such a large supply on hand. Wouldn't it be nice to at least give them a night or two of comfort? I received another sneer.

I took some of the beds and gave them to the dogs in my area. If nothing else, one night of sleeping in comfort might have helped them feel better. I still have no idea what HSUS planned to do with this stuff if they did not intend for it to go to the animals. I also took rope toys and gave them to all of the pit bulls and the baby German Shepard brothers who needed to chew - something small to help with the solitude.

The site that this area was in was also home to the refugees. It is an unsecured area and we had to be guarded by the National Guard. We were surrounded by gangs of men who were constantly trying to get a look at the pitbulls. There were gangs of men wandering around, looking at these specific dogs. Most of the pit bulls had had their ears cut, a sure sign that they are used in fighting. Pit bulls were stolen the night before our arrival. My assigned area had approximately 25 pitbulls. HSUS told me that if I saw anyone who did not belong there to escort them out. I caught 3 men using their cell phones to transmit pictures of some of the pitbulls. I could not get them to leave. I found a National Guardsman and he got them out. Due to the danger these men posed to the dogs, the pitbulls needed to be kept in the barn, with the stalls chained shut, preventing air circulation for the dogs.

The dogs did not even have a fan. These dogs were dangerously overheated. The refugees stole bedding, and anything that was not tied down, from the volunteers. HSUS was already giving the refugees toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc., which has been donated/purchased for the animals. Due to the presence of the refugees, the women rescuers were told to never go to the bathroom, or anywhere else, alone. Someone was assaulted the night before we arrived. There were armed National Guards stationed both outside the port-o-potties and the showers. I needed an escort, at night, to use the toilet.

When some of the volunteers passed out from the heat, and were taken to the tents to lay down a bit, they had guards stationed near by. Every morning between 4am and 4:30am, a group of HSUS workers got up and left the tent. Although, I did not witness and cannot verify this, I was told that they got up to remove any dead dogs and cats who had died during the night. I CAN verify that, indeed, when we started out for the day, there were empty cages. When I inquired about the empty cages, I was told that they probably moved some of the dogs here or there. I walked around, but never again saw any of the dogs missing from my area. The only good thing was that since I was with a vet, we were able to take 2 small dogs, who were in urgent need of medical care, out of there. The vet had labeled 4 dogs in need of urgent care, but when HSUS looked at the 4, they said no to 2 of them.

We were able to leave with an 18 year old Yorkie who had no teeth, was not neutered, had a hernia, mange, and fleas - but was so sweet. The other little baby was depressed and not eating. HSUS dismissed our concerns about this latter dog, by saying that all of the dogs were depressed and not eating. This little baby NEVER ate or drank, threw up constantly, and had bloody diarrhea. On the trip home, she sat in my lap, received lots of kisses and hugs, and I sang songs to her. We needed to stop many times, as her vomiting and diarrhea became more severe in the car. We gave her fluids, and other meds, trying desperately to keep her alive until we could get her back to the veterinary hospital in Virginia. She made it through Sunday and Monday, at the veterinary hospital. My sweet little angel baby, whom I named Katie, and planned to adopt, died on Tuesday.

She could not fight the Parvo raging in her due to so much prior stress. Her little body could not fight it. I sat with this precious baby and looked into her soulful brown eyes - her light had gone out. I will never forget her, ever, and have yet to stop crying. Had she been left there, her death would have been agony. I think that what I will remember the most, and what will always remain imprinted in my mind, is the sparkle in the dogs' eyes that, as each day came and went, died out a little more each day.

A response, perhaps from an HSUS worker:

These are just my personal thoughts, but I believe them to be good thoughts. Of course rescuers shouldn't start taking animals and adopting them immediately. Many of their rightful families are still coming in to claim their companion animals. What do you say to that family when their dog has just been sent to a new home in some other state? The time will come for adoptions to new homes, but we aren't there yet.

Response to response:

What do you say to that family when their dog has just been sent to a new home in some other state?

You tell them to drop dead and to leave the premises. They abandoned these animals in the first place and they should never be allowed to see them again.