Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2005
Schewon Kelly’s house is noisy and a bit messy.
But she likes it that way.
In fact, she leaves a few cups out in the living room to make it feel “lived in.”
She’s not even that mad about the music blaring from her son’s stereo upstairs.
“It’s almost like home,” she said. “I haven’t put the pictures up yet, though.”
Framed portraits of her four children lay on a couch that still has price tags attached to it.
Schewon’s two youngest children, Nicole, 17, and James, 15, were reunited with her Wednesday night, after having been apart for about three months.
The unsuspecting family was at home in Gretna, La., on Aug. 29 when Hurricane Katrina hit. The following week was like being in the reality TV show “Survivor,” said James Adams, Schewon’s son.
“We had to cook everything on a grill,” he said. “And I had to eat hard rice because I was hungry.”
A week after the storm hit, Schewon realized that their lives wouldn’t be returning to normal anytime soon. In a caravan of two cars filled with 10 family members and neighbors, they headed for Texas.
Soon after, she made the decision to come to Los Angeles, where she was born, and start over.
Once here, she and her family moved into a shelter. Schewon sent James and Nicole to live with her sister in Chicago until she got back on her feet.
It took three months and the diligent help of members of La Mirada’s St. Paul of the Cross Church, but Schewon is finally reunited with her children. She is also enrolled in school, studying to be a pharmacy technician.
Their first night in Whittier, James and Nicole ran through every inch of their new, three-bedroom town home, inspecting everything.
Schewon gave them Christmas gifts that night, even though it was four days before Christmas.
“It just felt good to see that joy,” she said.
The next day, the family set out to discover their new hometown – Whittier. They drove around, looking for landmarks, shopping centers and to familiarize themselves with the area.
“It’s like starting a whole new life,” James said. “It’s scary and exciting.”
JCPenney donated furniture to the family, and St. Paul of the Cross staff member Donna Ponce and the Rev. Roger LabontÈ helped Schewon find the town house apartment and to move in.
Now, they are helping her find a job.
“You can’t just forget hurricane evacuees,” even months after the hurricane is over, LabontÈ said. “It’s a relationship, not just a handout.”
The church also offered free tuition for Nicole and James at St. Paul of the Cross Catholic School.
Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005
A dog stranded after Hurricane Katrina was reunited with it’s owner in San Diego Saturday before being flown back to New Orleans.
Brutus and his owner, William Gugliuzza, were separated in early September after rescuers found them stranded on a rooftop, days after the hurricane swamped the Gulf Coast city, county officials said.
Gugliuzza was rescued, but told he couldn’t take his dog with him, and for weeks had presumed the pet had drowned, according to the county.
Luckily, Brutus was later saved and flown to San Diego, where a County Animal Services employee was able to track down the owner online.
Gugliuzza was scheduled to fly to San Diego from New Orleans before being reunited with Brutus in the morning at the County Animal Shelter, 5480 Gaines St., then taken back home in time for the holidays.
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005
As we enter the Christmas holidays, we realize that a year like most of us have never experienced is ending. For me, it is the perfect time to share our gratitude in the face of misfortunes. I know that we have heard stories of those who saved the lives of individuals during the peak of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath. But there is a lady in our area who deserves recognition for actions most of us would not have considered taking.
I was on the phone with my aunt, Geraldine Hinton, who hysterically informed me that a tree had fallen on her house. I called 911, but emergency services could not respond due to the dangerous conditions. I was not able to make contact after that.
I later spoke with my aunt, who lives on Venetian Way in Hattiesburg, and she told me of the horror of Katrina’s devastation. Another tree had fallen in her living room, separating her and her granddaughter, Christy.
During the peak of the storm, as the house filled with gas, a neighbor, Carolyn Polk, knocked at the door. From her carport window, she had seen that another tree was about to fall on the Hinton home. Although Carolyn and Aunt Geraldine had only spoken on occasion, the neighbor ignored all risks that day, begging them to come to her home where it was safer.
All three braved the winds and ran to the Polk home, where Aunt Geraldine and Christy stayed the remainder of the day and night.
My aunt and cousin now live in another location in Hattiesburg. A large, beautiful angel sits atop the Christmas tree that fills the front room of their apartment. To me, it is a reminder of the night God sent an angel to watch over them.
Our entire family will always consider Carolyn Polk that angel.
Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005
Several dolphins that were swept out to sea by Hurricane Katrina will soon be reunited at a resort in the Bahamas.
Atlantis, a resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, will take on 17 dolphins from the Marine Life Oceanarium – eight of which were rescued from open water in September.
“The dolphins, I think, are a symbol of everything that’s happened on the Gulf Coast and to find a new home for them – that’s something that we hope will happen for everybody on the coast,” said Howard Karawan, president and managing director of Kerzner International Destination Resorts, which owns Atlantis.
The animals lived at Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport until the facility was severely damaged by Katrina on Aug. 29.
The dolphins have been spread out around the country. Five are living at the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., eight are at the Seabee base on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, two are in a national aquarium in Baltimore and two are at a Six Flags theme park in New Jersey, said David Lion, the president of Marine Life.
While the dolphins are being well cared for now, cold weather and the effects of separation could take a toll soon, said Frank Murru, chief marine officer for Kerzner.
“They’re very social animals,” Murru said. “These particular animals have been living together off and on for quite a few years, so they’re quite used to each other. Getting them back into a unified place, I think, will be very good for them.”
Mike Rothe is the manager of the Navy’s marine mammal program in San Diego. He helped set up temporary pools for the dolphins that remained on the Gulf Coast after the hurricane.
Rothe, a civilian, said the Navy generally does not keep animals in the temporary pools for more than three weeks. While they are not in immediate danger, the dolphins living in Mississippi have been confined to the pools for several months.
“The animals really ought to be getting into a larger environment that is set up to better facilitate their husbandry and good health,” Rothe said.
There is an immediate need to move the dolphins to a permanent location, Karawan said.
“They’re safe where they are now, but at the facilities that they are in now (in Mississippi), the dolphins are starting to show some stress,” Karawan said. “They can’t survive there healthfully much longer. They live in pods, so to bring them back and unite them – we’re very excited and we plan on having a big celebration when they get here.”
The dolphins will live in seven interconnected resident pools at Atlantis, with more than 6 million gallons of sea water. The dolphins will each have 250,000 gallons of water – more than 10 times the amount required by U.S. regulations.
Marine Life and Atlantis officials are uncertain how soon the animals can be transported to their new home, citing government regulations and other formalities.
Atlantis has signed a letter of intent in the meantime, guaranteeing the company will take care of the animals because Marine Life authorities were unsure when the Mississippi facilities would be repaired.
Atlantis is also planning to establish a program entitled “Katrina Kids,” which will sponsor trips for Mississippi Gulf Coast school children to visit the resort and the dolphins.
A research program will also be established with regional universities to enable ongoing collaboration with the Atlantis veterinary medical and research teams.
The resort will also take on 24 sea lions and 22 exotic birds from Marine Life.
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005
Joyce Morel choked back tears as 14 members of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard filed into the living room of her daughters home here, each offering a hug and kiss. One trooper handed her a vase of roses; another presented her with a gold watch.
“Theyre my guardian angels,” said a sobbing Morel, who turned 83 earlier this month. “I wouldnt even be here if it wasnt for them.”
The last time the search-and-rescue team saw Morel, she was drenched with saltwater and covered in mud and bruises, barely conscious after Hurricane Katrina swept into Claremont Harbor, Miss., and destroyed everything she owned. With her diabetic son, Charlie, 56, Morel spent two days stuck in the attic of her Hancock County home until the roof collapsed.
The pair managed to survive the cave-in unharmed, working their way out of the rubble and situating themselves on what was left of the roof. The desperate son began to worry about his ailing mother as she increasingly became “dead weight” and drifted out of consciousness. But he contends their common devotion kept them both alive.
“If it wasnt for her, I wouldnt have made it. And if it wasnt for me, she wouldnt have made it, either,” he said. “We depended on each other.”
Still recovering and unable to even tear the wrapping paper from her gift, Morel said at Mondays reunion that she recalls very little from the rescue. Morel said she remembers the water lifting their family car as the hurricane moved ashore, then her son hastily pushing her into the attic and finally incomplete fragments of being airlifted out by the Coast Guard.
Sgt. Roy Fullerton, who led his team of Mississippi troopers into the Claremont Harbor area two days after Katrina made landfall, was able to fill in a few of the gaps.
“We had heard there might be people in the area, so we made our way down the street until we heard voices,” Fullerton said. “When we got there, they were in terrible shape. Ms. Morel, poor thing, was severely dehydrated and was black and blue from head to foot.”
The search-and-rescue team carried Morel for more than a mile in their arms, while also helping her son navigate the swampy terrain. Unable to contact a helicopter, one officer eventually used a can of spray paint to mark the top of a vehicle with “SOS.”
But it was an amateur ham radio operator who eventually led a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to the Morels, according to Lt. Cmdr. Mark Hiigel, who was responsible for hoisting the pair up to safety in a rescue basket.
“That was our very first rescue,” said Hiigel, who is based out of the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala.
It was also the first rescue for Fullerton and his team, after spending two days of doing nothing but recovering dead bodies.
“It completely re-energized me, just knowing someone is going to make it because of what we did. All it takes is making a difference in one persons life,” Fullerton said. “Im getting little chills up my spine right now talking about it.”
The Morels were transported to Gulfport Memorial Hospital, treated by doctors and eventually released. Since then, they have been living here in south Louisiana with family. But the process it took to find the Morels, months later for the December reunion, is an epic tale unto itself.
While the troopers had taken pictures of the elderly woman during their rescue, all of them were snapped from an angle that covered her face. Donna Mabus, a lobbyist for the Mississippi State Troopers Association, went as far as to have crime labs analyze the pictures, but to no avail.
“I wasnt going to take no for an answer,” she said.
Then Mabus tracked down the Coast Guard team and discovered Hiigle had also taken pictures of the woman who was rescued — and his images showed her face. They were distributed around Hancock County until a positive identification was made, and the first phone call to the Morels was placed two days before Thanksgiving.
While Morel said she doesnt remember the specific details of her very own “miracle,” and is still waiting for the federal government to find her a trailer to move into, life couldnt be better for her and her family.
“This is a good Christmas,” she said. “This is one of the best I ever had — just being alive.”
Monday, Dec. 12, 2005
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Rev. Lance Eden and his immediate family prayed for help.
After losing three homes, having relatives dispersed as far as Seattle and getting little help from the federal government, Eden was looking for angels.
Then Laura Kenig and Annie DesLauriers of Ely contacted him.
Kenig and DesLauriers, both 45, leave Duluth today in a 36-foot motor home the two women will drive 1,400 miles and deliver to the Eden family in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.
“It’s desperately needed,” said Eden, 27, who before the hurricane lived with his 82-year-old grandmother, father, uncle, and a niece and nephew. “It’s been almost three months, and other people have trailers and are back in their property, but we haven’t received any word from FEMA. They (Kenig and DesLauriers) are like angels. That’s the only way I can describe it.”
Eden’s family, who lived in a New Orleans neighborhood known as the The Village, lost three homes in the hurricane. As a result of the storm, his father injured a shoulder and underwent surgery. Eden’s brother is in the military in Iraq. And in the wake of the storm, several family members were relocated.
But Eden, who before the hurricane led a congregation of about 200, was instead looking for housing and relief for members of his church.
He said it took him a while to realize that his own family also had needs.
“I’ve been doing a lot of things to help the community and other persons,” Eden said. “I had a need of my own, but with what’s gone on here, you don’t always have time to think about your own needs. All my family has been displaced and are in need.”
Kenig, a community activist since relocating to Ely in 1991 from her native Maine, heard about the Eden family from Pat and Josie Milan of Ely, who this fall participated in a relief mission to New Orleans.
With $8,000 from two anonymous donors, Kenig and DesLauriers bought the motor home from a local dealer. The women also have been raising money to transport food and household supplies to the Eden family and to cover the costs of delivering the motorhome.
So far, about $5,000 has been raised.
“It’s been a huge project,” Kenig said. “And the community has really rallied behind this. It feels like an important part of life to help out.”
DesLauriers, a native of Eagan, Minn., said a phone conversation with Eden helped direct the women’s efforts.
“After calling him, we found out that he and his extended family had lost everything,” DesLauriers said. “At first, he was hesitant to talk about his needs, but it became clear to us that he was our family. Neither one of us belongs to any organized religion, but to give this good will to someone who has needs feels so great. I still get choked up when people ask me about him.”
Kenig and DesLauriers expect to arrive in Duluth about 10 a.m. today to pick up the motor home before leaving on a four-day drive to New Orleans.
“That motor home is bigger than some of the cabins I’ve lived in,” DesLauriers said with a laugh. “It may be a little tough to parallel park, but I grew up on a farm, and I can drive anything.”
The motor home, which sleeps six, will become home to Eden, his grandmother, father, uncle, niece and nephew, said Eden, who since the hurricane has rotated between sleeping in his church and an uncle’s home. By Dec. 20, the entire family will be reunited and have a motor home to call their own.
Eden said the motor home will give his father a place to heal from surgery and allow the family to take their grandmother a short distance to visit other relatives.
“I know they’re excited about it, but they just don’t realize what a blessing this is going to be,” Eden said of Kenig and DesLauriers. “I cannot wait to meet them. I do know that we prayed that God would send somebody, and God sent them.”
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005
A Louisiana family who moved to the wiregrass after Hurricane Katrina is all back under one roof.
The family left their dog at their home in St. Bernard Parish because there was no room in the car. They were planning to go back home within a few days, but Katrina changed those plans. Now, after three months and a cross country trip, the family is back together again.
Gigi has had one adventure after another after escaping from the house’s window in Saint Bernard Parish. She was rescued by the Humane Society in Spokane, Washington, and was cared for by a woman.
Gigi also had to have hip surgery, but now she’s back home with her original owners, Joe and Debbie Loustalot.
“We had to leave her because our car was full. We have my mom and dad, my son and his friend, and me and Joe, we had six people in the car, we figured we’d only be gone for a short period of time,” Debbie says.
But it didn’t come easy. The family originally found Gigi on a lost pet Web site, but the serial number to identify her changed, and they had to find her again, only to have her flight delayed not once, not twice, but five times. Now, both Gigi and the family are celebrating an early Christmas.
“She won’t be left again, there ain’t no way,” Debbie and Joe say.
The Loustalots were days away from loosing Gigi forever. The deadline the Humane Society is giving owners to claim their pets is Saturday. The Loustalots say they plan on calling the Wiregrass home for only short time.
They will be returning to Saint Bernard’s Parish to start rebuilding their house.
Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005
A New Orleans family that was forced to flee Hurricane Katrina is counting its blessings. The monster storm may have destroyed part of their home but, as CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports for The Early Show, it also brought a tiny miracle into their lives.
The O’Reagans had been waiting to adopt a second child for more than two years but, when Katrina threatened New Orleans, their dreams of a new baby were replaced by the reality of a killer storm.
“I evacuated myself, my 3-year-old, three dogs and two cats in the middle of the night. So, as far as the adoption, I figured tomorrow is another day,” says Michelle O’Reagan.
Fleeing to Houston, Michelle was on her own as her husband Ryan was in Africa working for Chevron.
“I had so many other things to worry about. I was thinking of loved ones and, you know, not thinking about the future beyond just getting home,” says Michelle.
But then, a coincidence happened in her hotel near the Houston Astrodome. Michelle ran into Danna Cousins, her social worker from the New Orleans adoption agency. [The Complete Adoption Book: Everything You Need to Know to Adopt a Child]
“I was on the phone with someone from work and I said, ‘You’re not going to believe who is at this hotel. Michelle O’Reagan is walking towards me right now,’ ” Danna says.
“I said, ‘Hey, if you get a baby, at least you know where we are,’ ” says Michelle.
She had no idea that Danna was keeping a big secret. Somewhere in New Orleans was a pregnant young woman who had already decided before the storm that the O’Reagans were the perfect family to adopt her baby. Danna didn’t have the time to tell them and then Katrina hit and the birth mom disappeared.
“We knew what the pictures looked like. We had no idea where she was, where she evacuated, where she might be,” Danna says.
But then another coincidence happened. Danna ran into a Houston social worker who said she had met a pregnant evacuee looking for a family just like the O’Reagans.
It turns out Danna, the O’Reagans and the birthmother had all evacuated to Houston.
They all met and sealed the baby’s future. Megan was born in New Orleans after everyone returned home. Four weeks ago, she came home to a mom who calls her a miracle, and a new big sister. [Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew]
“She’s home. She found us,” says Michelle.
Danna says baby Megan found her place in a city that’s hurting.
“I tell the story over and over and over because I feel like it’s what people need to hear,” she says. “They need to hear that some positive things did come from Hurricane Katrina. Katrina blew her in. She blew everything else away. She blew Megan in.”
Monday, Nov. 28, 2005
2005 was supposed to be Ernest Smith Junior’s breakout year. As a high school junior in New Orleans, college football programs had flooded his home with letters of interest. Then just as the season was to start a storm named Katrina came calling.
Ernest left for his mother’s home in Missies. Thinking the storm would blow over, Ernest Smith Senior sought shelter at the Superdome. [Hurricane Katrina: Through the Eyes of Storm Chasers]
“Well I wasn’t really worried because I knew God was directing my path,” says Ernest Smith Senior, “and where He sent me I knew I was going to be okay.”
Ernest Senior spent five days in the Superdome. Ernest Junior was in hurricane-ravaged Mississippi. With no power he had no idea how his father was, priorities began to change.
“It was hard, stressful,” remembers the younger Smith, “with everything going on in the Superdome, I was worried about that.”
When the evacuation from the dome started, Ernest Senior knew he had to leave. What he did not know was where he was going.
“They were putting people on buses,” remembers Ernest Senior. “Sending some to Houston and some to Tyler, Texas. In fact I had never heard of Tyler, Texas until that.”
Ernest Senior was dropped off at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler. Carye Gillen, a volunteer at Green Acres heard the story of how Smith’s son was missing his chance at a scholarship. She contacted Rev. Jerome Milton, who in addition to leading a Tyler church was also a high school coach.
“And I met Mr. Smith and I could see in his eyes his pain and his hurt but his deep concern for his son. And God touched me then and I told Mr. Smith at the shelter of the Green Acres Baptist Church and guaranteed him under the auspices of God that his son would receive a scholarship,” says Rev. Jerome Milton.
Rev. Milton worked to get Ernest Junior moved to Tyler and enrolled at John Tyler High School. It took some time to get the paperwork done, but three weeks into the season, Ernest suited up with the JT Lions. His talent was evident to everyone, especially to the college scouts who Rev. Milton convinced to look at the Louisiana transplant. And in a matter of a few weeks, the scholarship offers began to come again. Then just this week Ernest decided he would accept a full scholarship to play football and attend class at Baylor University.
“Well they gave me the right advice, the Christian advice,” says grateful father Ernest Smith. “They said we’ll try to get him here immediately and so he could continue his education and so he could play. And God really came through. God really worked through those beautiful people right there.” [The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?]
The Smith’s spent Thanksgiving with Rev. Milton. While they are not sure what the future holds, they believe that coming to East Texas was an answer to prayer. And with all that has happened this year Thanksgiving takes on a whole new meaning for all involved.
“I’m gonna be thankful for everything that God has done,” says Ernest Junior. “He put me in a position to play. And I haven’t been injured this year. Last year in my junior year I was injured in the second game of the season. Sat out the rest of the year. For the scholarship He has given me and the chance to advance in the world.”
“But Clint, we’re thankful too,” says Rev. Milton. “We’re thankful to them because we had the opportunity to do what God has commissioned us to do. What we have been nourished and nurtured to do all of our lives.”
“We are thankful to have God in our lives and these beautiful people, its really a blessing,” says Ernest Smith Senior.
Friday, Nov. 25, 2005
Many of us have annual Thanksgiving traditions that include gathering in the place we call home and spending time with family and friends, but following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina many are forced to make new traditions this year in a new place. [The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays & Everydays]
A few who escaped Katrina and decided to move to Rochester are thankful despite the fact their lives have changed so much.
“I have cameras on every table so people can snap pictures, and I pulled out the camcorder so we can capture the moment.”
A Thanksgiving celebration Simone Jefferson and her family don’t want to forget. Separated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina then reunited after persistent searching. Jefferson, with the help of her cousin, drove her family from the gulf coast to Rochester, a place they now call home.
“There’s really nothing to go back to. My mother’s house was destroyed so all of my family is scattered abroad,” says Jefferson.
A whirlwind of change, but now she revels in peace.
“Most of all I’m thankful for Jesus, because through it all he’s really strengthened me and my family.” [Everyday Faith]
Though the gathering is large, it’s not quite complete.
To escape the storm, Simone’s mother, sister and nephews made their new home in Texas.
“I miss you guys, but there’s no reason to be sad, it’s a joyous occasion,” says Jefferson
Across town at the Laront’s home, the feeling is the same.
“I’m thankful that I’m somewhere new start off fresh and that I have a lot of people that love me.”
Wanda Weems and her two daughters were part of a van load that escaped the storm and a month ago she was reunited with her 10-year-old son.
“Her son has been reunited with her since she’s been here in Rochester, she’s also landed a job, and she’s looking to go to school,” says Beverly Laront
“I feel like I’m at home, but I’m in a different place,” says Weems.
A different place indeed. But these families remind us that it’s friends and family that matter most…and make up the place you call home.
Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2005
Just call her Oprah Claus.
Hurricane Katrina volunteers who thought they were invited to Oprah Winfrey’s show to talk about their experiences were instead lavished with loot as part of the annual “Oprah’s Favorite Things” segment. [The Oprah Winfrey Show – 20th Anniversary DVD Collection]
Among those who walked out with thousands of dollars of goods were a recovery room nurse from Chicago, a lifelong White Sox fan who sold his World Series tickets to raise money for donations to Louisiana, and 11 Loyola University Chicago students.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Erin Singleterry, a junior at Loyola who was selected for the show and allowed to bring three other volunteers. The show taped on Nov. 12 and aired Monday.
Audience members received nearly $70,000 worth of merchandise, including a Philip Stein diamond watch, a Burberry duffel coat, a Ralph Lauren Black Label cashmere sweater, a BlackBerry and 6.5 gallons of Garrett’s Popcorn.
Singleterry’s favorite things: the 30-gig Apple video iPod, a Sony VAIO laptop and custom-designed shoes from Nike.
Thursday, Nov. 17, 2005
As Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, Ann Gadel and her family crammed into a small car and fled north. But there was no room for Daisy, a 70-pound boxer-Doberman mix.
Daisy was left behind in the house with the windows boarded up. When they realized their neighborhood had been flooded, they thought there was no hope for the dog.
“At the time we thought we’d be back in a few days,” said Gadel, 47. “When we realized our house was pretty much a total loss, I was heartbroken that we had to leave her behind. I cried my eyes out.”
Daisy defied the odds and survived, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sent the dog in a truck to Ohio along with three others rescued in New Orleans. On Wednesday, Daisy flew from Cleveland to Orlando, Fla.
“I can’t believe she’s alive,” Gadel said shortly after being reunited with Daisy. “This is the happiest day of my life.” [Conversations with My Old Dog : For Anyone Who Has Ever Loved and Lost a Pet]
Gadel, now living in Titusville, Fla., with her father and three adult siblings, said Daisy has been in the family for seven years.
After Katrina, Daisy’s picture was spotted on the Animal Emergency Response Network.
Daisy was in good condition when she arrived in Ohio, say shelter workers, who helped identify her.
Eric Rayvid, a spokesman in New York for the ASPCA, said it wasn’t unusual for Daisy to end up in another state – more than 300 animal shelters or rescue groups in about 40 states are housing hurricane-displaced animals.
Gadel says the big mystery is how Daisy got out of the house and survived the flood waters.
“I was so thrilled,” she said. “I didn’t think it was even possible Daisy was still alive.” [Dogs Are Smarter Than Jack : 91 Amazing True Dog Stories]
Monday, Nov. 14, 2005
Last month the final hurricane shelter closed in East Texas. For almost two months, relief resources were put to the test across the area. For the most part, it was the church that responded to the need of thousands. KLTV 7’s Clint Yeatts went back to one of the first churches to open its doors to hurricane evacuees to find out how the church passed the test.
For years, the Tyler First Christian Church has been a first responder for people seeking shelter in times of crisis, but they had never experienced anything like what happened August 28th.
As the first shelter to open in Tyler, a few people arrived that day ahead of a storm called Katrina. In just a few days, a church that averages around 400 on Sundays had twice that many in its parking lot.
“God puts in us the gifts, the skills, the potential and then we have the choice to use that, to access that and most important, use that for his benefit and his glory. And I saw people doing that all over the place. Not only in our congregation but from within the community,” said Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, a senior minister at the church.
The days were long and hard. Confusion, frustration, despair came here. But in the midst of it all, the people who spent so many hours here remember how God worked in their lives and the lives of the people whose lives had been turned upside down.
“I personally felt like that I really been touched. And that God put me here because I felt I could contribute, but I was the one that really benefited,” said Pam Sartain, one of the volunteers. “Yes, it was a lot of work, a lot of long, long, long hours. I would drag in at 10:00 or 10:30 at night and be exhausted but I couldn’t wait to get back up here, to be around the people, to see what I could do to help them.” [The purpose driven life: What on Earth Am I Here For?]
“Over and over they would say, ‘Well yeah, but my family is okay.’ Or, ‘I finally located my kids,’ you know, things like that. So they sort of kept us going instead of the other way around,” said volunteer Jackie Littleton.
“Were they ready? Evidently they were,” said Wilson. “A tremendous amount of ministry took place. A tremendous amount of compassion was offered. So, whether they realized they were ready… I mean that’s my understanding of how God works. He grows us and he grows us then give us the opportunity. In a sense it is a test. In a sense it is an opportunity to utilize that.”
Over five weeks, hundreds of people would find shelter here. Even more would arrive for meals, assistance and counseling. It was a scene played over and over again in churches and places of faith across East Texas. The church standing in the gap, providing in a time of crisis. A test of resolve that many feel was passed with flying colors.
“I think the church should always be the first line of help. And we’ve sort of gotten away from that in this country. Until we have something major like this to come and remind us that’s our job,” said Littleton.
“So when you look at what was done by faith-based groups, all the volunteers, all the millions of meals, all the shelter that was given, it was heroic and historic. I think when the story is written about Katrina, Chapter One will be about what the faith-based groups did,” said Jim Towey.
“It’s absolutely what the church is supposed to do. The church is supposed to be the expression of God,” said Wilson.
“Am I glad for the opportunity. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Let me put it this way, we haven’t taken ourselves off the list and we haven’t said go somewhere else first next time,” said Wilson.
Recovery costs at First Christian Church will top around $100,000. Dr. Wilson says his church and the community has already come forward to cover some of the costs. He expects God will provide the rest.
Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005
After sitting out many a hurricane in her family’s Louisiana home, Nita Tyson decided to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina blew in.
She, her husband, Gerald, and their two daughters began rounding up their Rottweiler, two kittens and a cat named Garfield. But Garfield darted out the window and streaked away. “We chased him as far as we could, but we could only chase so far,” Mrs. Tyson said.
Eventually, they arrived in Front Royal, Va., and began making plans to move permanently to West Virginia. But Mrs. Tyson never forgot about the cat that got away.
Her online reminiscences paid off two weeks ago when she was reunited with Garfield at Rude Ranch Animal Rescue Center in Harwood, courtesy of a Web site, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and Bob and Katherine Rude.
About three weeks ago in Virginia, Mrs. Tyson mentioned how much she missed Garfield in an online chat forum, and a friend told her he had found his dog in San Antonio through www.petfinder.com.
She managed to narrow it down to a handful of male orange tabby cats at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Tylertown, Miss., and convinced Mr. Tyson to stop there en route back to Louisiana to pack up what remained of their house. So far, Best Friends has documented 112 reunions, a spokesman there said.
But Mr. Tyson wasn’t as lucky. He discovered that the cats from the neighborhood had been picked up by Bob Rude to be taken to the rescue center. Mrs. Tyson and her 9-year-old, Angelique Starr, drove out to Harwood to look at the orange tabby cats.
“The first cat, it wasn’t it, and I thought I was going to cry,” Mrs. Rude said. That cat turned out to be a stray from her neighborhood named Itsy-Bitsy, Mrs. Tyson said.
Then, Mrs. Rude introduced them to another orange tabby, hard to recognize because of his massive weight loss, worn paw pads and series of dog bites. Mrs. Tyson said Garfield frequently curled up in naps with the Rottweiler, Nazareth, which is why she believes he had no fear of dogs.
Although Garfield shied away from the Rudes, when he saw his human owners, he began a paw motion that cats do when content.
“This one, he was standoffish with us, but with them he immediately began kneading,” Mrs. Rude said. There are now 21 cats and a dog from Tylertown recovering at Rude Ranch, and they are expected to be available for adoption in the middle of next month.
“He was looking at me like, ‘Oh, it’s my human,’ alternating with ‘You little … why did you leave me?’ ” Mrs. Tyson said, sniffling. “I really felt guilty.”
Garfield is making a slow recovery, she said. Still too traumatized to get out of his carrier, he’s slept inside there, and is steadily regaining weight.
Mrs. Tyson said she’s forever indebted to the animal volunteers who were rescuing, rejuvenating and reuniting the animals with their owners.
“I thought we’d never see him again,” she said. “I don’t think people have any idea of the effort the people at the shelters are putting in.”
She said when her husband returned to Virginia, he had little with him – practically nothing in their St. Bernard Parish house was salvageable.
“A lot of people only escaped with their kids and their pets, and some didn’t even get to do that,” she said. “That’s why that cat meant so much to us.”
If there was any doubt of the cat’s identity, it was erased when the other animals sniffed Garfield’s cage.
“They were like, ‘Oh, it’s you,” Mrs. Tyson said. “If it had been a stray, they would have gone crazy.”
That night, she said, Nazareth slept by the cat carrier.
Friday, Nov. 4, 2005
The rescue boat’s arrival at Paula Messick’s Hurricane Katrina-flooded home necessitated an immediate decision: The New Orleans woman could either ride the boat to safety or stay behind with her beloved pit bull terrier, Carmine, and take her chances.
Tearfully she ordered her pet to “stay” and pushed him away when he tried to follow. Then for two months, she agonized over his fate.
On Thursday, Messick, now living with her brother in Katy, and Carmine, who traveled from a Louisiana shelter to Mississippi and, finally, New Mexico, were again brought together at a suburban pet store in what may have been one of the most unlikely dog-and-owner reunions of the hurricane season.
It was a moment made of dog spit and stardust.
“I don’t have any words to describe how I feel,” Messick said as she fought back tears. “I just want to blow my nose and cry. … He’s my life, my love, my happiness.”
As many as 50,000 cats and dogs were left homeless when Katrina hit the greater New Orleans area early Aug. 29. Lou Guyton, director of the Humane Society of the United States’ southwest region, which includes Louisiana, said that number represents almost a third of such animals thought to have been in the city.
Eight thousand animals have been rescued by Humane Society volunteers alone. Guyton estimated 1,200 of them have been reunited with their owners. Carmine was one of them.
Thursday’s reunion was facilitated by California actress Linda Blair, best known for her performance as the demon-possessed child in the 1973 movie The Exorcist.
Blair, founder and president of the animal-welfare group Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation, traveled to the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast to assist with animal rescues. She took responsibility for Carmine and 50 other dogs at the Humane Society’s crowded emergency shelter at Gonzales, La.
“Cats and dogs died on the trucks waiting to get into the shelter,” Blair said Thursday at the PetSmart at 140 FM 1960 East.
Blair transported the animals to a makeshift shelter near Jackson, Miss., from which the animals were moved to other areas. Carmine ended up at the clinic of Alamogordo, N.M., veterinarian Dr. Chris Staley, and Messick spotted his photo on a hurricane-oriented lost-pet Web site.
As Messick relived her ordeal Thursday, Carmine washed her face with sloppily affectionate dog licks. Then, pulling free from her grasp, he roamed the store before returning with a fuzzy squeak toy.
“He’s spoiled rotten,” Messick said of her pet, who will be a year old later this month.
The toy was among welcome-home gifts provided by the store. Others included an oversized dog bed, crate and 40-pound bag of dog food.
Messick, who told reporters she is terminally ill, said neighbors had noted how Carmine’s presence seemingly had reinvigorated her.
“They said they could see it on my face,” she said. “They noted how much more life I seemed to have.”
Messick spent several days in her house, which was flooded with waist-deep water, before the rescue boat arrived.
“People say they would rather die than leave their pets,” she said. “I don’t know — I certainly didn’t like sleeping in the wet. It was a hard decision, but I think it was the right decision. I felt that someday I would see Carmine again.”
With that, she looked at the pooch sprawled at her feet and gently rubbed his head.
“Carmine,” she said. “Carminita-mine.”