Practical Issues > Things to do > Religion and Animals

Thibodaux church sheltering pets
Sept 4, 2005
By Millie Ball

THIBODAUX - The young woman from New Orleans, her 7-year-old daughter and their pet poodle were sleeping under the altar at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center on the Nicholls State University campus.

The Rev. Jim Morris said he gazed down at the family that had been banned because of the dog from the regular shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He told a colleague, "Our altar has never been adorned more beautifully than it is with these people seeking the sanctuary of God."

Morris has a dog named Blue. He understands. "I went over to the school shelter Tuesday night and saw all these people outside, looking dejected and clinging to their animals," said the slender 44-year-old priest with friendly blue eyes and sandy hair he hasn't had time to comb lately. "They wouldn't let them inside. So I said, bring them on over to the church."

The first night there were 130 people with "all these Rottweilers, Poodles, Chihuahuas, cats, birds, even a pot-bellied pig. It was unbelievable. We had no kennels or cages - PetSmart and Petco donated them later - and people slept on the terrazzo floor and on the pews. We had no electricity. It was like Noah's Ark."
Sunday, there were 53 people still here with their pets. People chatted with one another, sitting on mattresses donated by locals, kennels holding their pets beside them. Volunteers and owners were returning with the leashed animals after their walks. One volunteer chased a Chihuahua that got lose. Others smiled since they'd been in that situation too, one time or another. Volunteers served burgers. So many donated clothes that were piled on long tables in the hall, it was hard to navigate through it.

"Some people say we're stupid because we wouldn't leave our animals," said Cora DeRussy. "It's why I'm in the predicament I am now, but I'm glad I'm stupid."

An employee at Dillard's in eastern New Orleans, she lived on Vicksburg Street in Lakeview, and watched from her perch in the kitchen sink while one of her dogs swam in the water dumped in her house from the broken canal, and eventually drowned. Wearing a donated blue muumuu Sunday, the 65-year-old DeRussy said when two men in a boat rescued her Tuesday afternoon, she got them to row around the house until she spotted Amber, her collie, its head poking out of a window.

Now Amber, who swallowed a lot of polluted water, is at Ridgefield Animal Hospital nearby, recovering from her ordeal. Dr. Paul Seemann Jr., a veterinarian, shook his head. There would be no bill for any of these refugees' pets - or almost anyone else from New Orleans last week.

"Leave McGinty?" Carole Montet asked, as if that were a ridiculous question. "This cat helped my mother get through her hip surgery; McGinty inspired my mother." "She's family,"

"Our animals are the only semblance of normalcy we have left," Carole Montet said. "You've lost your home. You've lost your job. You have no possessions." "I didn't get my pictures or my albums," said her mother sadly. "The animal is the only semblance of your old life," Carole said.

Jack Weber, who lives on St. Denis Street near the Fair Grounds in Mid-City, got out with his family too. That includes his wife, Ollie, 56; their daughter, Tamara, 30; and their mixed Dalmatian-Retriever mix, Spartica. "That's my family."

Morris looked happy and content as he looked over his temporary flock of humans and pets. "Animals calm people down. And pet lovers usually have gentle hearts. If you go in the other shelter, people tend to sit still and idle. Here, there's a lot going on. And what's wonderful is the way our students are volunteering and helping wherever they can. For us this is a mission that helps the evacuees and their pets as well as our students who are here taking care of them."