Ten years ago today in the early morning hours Hurricane Katrina, made landfall in New Orleans. The levees breeched shortly thereafter. It was “the storm that changed us”. Indeed it did.
In the preceding days evacuation orders had been given, people had scrambled to heed the warnings or to fortify and defy. Cars had streamed onto highways until the congestion halted all movement. People fought to get on public transit buses taking them away. There were not enough buses for all.
People were forced to make impossible decisions – save their children and leave their pets behind, stay behind with their pets and maybe die. I will never forget the image of the hysterical, sobbing young child, his beloved dog Snowball being taken away as he was forced onto a bus. This image haunted me.
Ten years ago today, on August 29th 2005 by 11:00 am St. Bernard’s Parish in New Orleans was under 10 feet of water. My girls Ruby Jane and Jezebel Jane were there among those in the fight for their lives. I do not know how or where they found high ground or by what grace they survived. Their rescue would not come for almost six more weeks. I know that it had to be terrifying. Ruby’s cries during nightmares that consumed her sleep for months after she came “home” told me so. Her abject terror when the water started to rise in the bathtub told me so. Jezebel’s wounds, both physical and emotional told me so. The scars run deep, she is forever changed.
My personal Hurricane Katrina experience was a few weeks down the road yet. The part I played no more than that of a walk on extra in the crowd shot in the movie. Yet, that experience was still powerful enough to change the course of my life, to put me on the course my life was meant to take.
For me, in some ways, it feels like a whole different lifetime or that I was a whole different person then. Then I remember the first time I saw “Chow Boy” and the sting of that moment feels so raw and real and fresh that my eyes are instantly wet as if it happened moments ago. “Chow Boy” was sitting regally in the very top crate stacked up on the back of the truck that pulled into Best Friends Tylertown rescue center. It was the first arrival of dogs rescued from the city on my first day there. I glanced up and his deep, piercing eyes caught mine. He was all bones and skin, all sunken in, bedraggled and spent. I had never seen a dog look that bad and still be alive. Yet he was and somehow he still managed to appear noble and majestic. He took my breath away. My eyes were wet then as now. It was the beginning.
Hurricane Katrina – the storm that changed us. Out of tremendous tragedy new hope was born. It changed the way our country responds to disasters. It changed how we look out for our companion animals in disasters. It was a call to action for animal lovers turned animal welfare advocates and animal rescuers. It led to the creation one year later of our organization, Safe Hands Rescue. If you have a Safe Hands’ rescue dog or cat or are part of our rescue family through volunteering, fostering or donating, if the work we do is meaningful to you, then in a way Hurricane Katrina changed you too. I am humbly and deeply thankful for each one of you. Safe Hands Rescue would not be without you.
Today is not the sort of anniversary you celebrate. It is the anniversary you set aside for remembering. It is a day of respect for those who lost their lives to the storm or the rescue efforts, and for those who survived. It is a day of very mixed emotions. Hurricane Katrina brought out some of the worst in people during the early days. The ongoing rescue efforts for people, animals and the city also brought out so much of the best. Today I will carefully pull out photographs and memories, reflect and honor the experience I had. I’m also going to go hug my Katrina survivors a little bit longer, give them a few extra kisses and cookies and tell them how grateful I am to share their lives. Ruby and Jezzie, your mom loves you.
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