It's a bright, sunny morning in Bywater, and Ken Foster is taking his dog Sula for a walk. The two of them come bounding up Piety Street, back from Markey Park, and before you can voice any reservation you've ever had about pit bulls, Sula has dispelled them all with her sloppy wet kisses.
Foster's other dogs, Zephyr and Brando, are waiting inside the house. "Two is a good number. Three is trouble," Foster says. But Sula is the cover girl today, as she is for Foster's new book, "The Dogs Who Found Me: What I've Learned from Pets Who Were Left Behind" (Lyons Press, $12.95).
It's a memoir that will appeal to dog lovers, for sure, but it's also a human story of considerable dimensions, framed by the national tragedies of Sept. 11 (Foster was living in New York then, playing in a park with his dog when the first plane went overhead) and Hurricane Katrina (he had moved to New Orleans to teach at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a job now gone with the wind).
Along the way, he lost two close friends, writers Lucy Grealey (to suicide) and Amanda Davis (who died in a plane crash); suffered heart failure (remedied by the installation of a pacemaker); and kept up his work of rescuing dogs, especially pit bulls.
In his introduction to an earlier book, "The KGB Bar Reader," Foster wrote: "There may be just one universal story: Someone loses something."
Despite its title, loss is everywhere in "The Dogs Who Found Me." Yet Foster himself has a light heart; he laughs easily and often as he shows off photographer Cami Johnson's portraits of his dogs and describes her use of a feather to focus a dog's attention.
"It wasn't something that occurred to me until I was done with it -- that the book was about loss and moving forward in some way," Foster said. "I don't know if I would rescue dogs or what I would have done in the hurricane if I hadn't experienced the periphery of Sept. 11. Once something that huge happens in your neighborhood, essentially, it totally changes you."
Now, more than ever, Foster is committed to his adopted home, and his adopted dogs.
"When things happen, you can be the person who does nothing, who retreats, or you can be the person who takes some kind of action," he said. "Once you have enough things happen in your life, you have to become that person. After the storm I was at a community meeting, and there were a lot of people who had lost everything, but the angriest, loudest people were complaining about the fact that their cable wasn't working. Cable! Probably nothing bad had happened to those people before then."
Foster grew up in Pennsylvania, studied writing in Boston, Portland, Ore., and New York (where he took a class taught by Nancy Lemann), and generally lived the life of a student and barista (his stints of residence in New Orleans include working at PJ's, then in the Garden District, 12 years ago). When he was at Columbia University, he founded the popular KGB Bar reading series at an East Village watering hole, which resulted in the anthology "The KGB Bar Reader." He is also the editor of the anthology "Dog Culture: Writers on the Character of Canines," and the author of a collection of short stories, "The Kind I'm Likely to Get."
All along, he was moving toward New Orleans, steadily.
"Even my dogs have an appreciation of this city," he said. "Life goes on outside your door, not inside of it. One of the first things I noticed living and visiting here is that nobody is exclusively what they do. You walk by houses where lawyers live and hear them practicing their musical instruments. Especially after living in New York where people are only what they do and you only know people who do what you do, and you only talk about what you do with other people who have done it. When I first moved there and wanted to learn to be a writer that was great. Then I could find writers, hear their work, and learn how to be a writer. But now. . ."
Now, he is getting ready to go on tour for "The Dogs Who Found Me," hoping to raise funds for the SPCA, and working on his contribution to a new book, "Intersections," which will feature the work of 24 New Orleans writers and artists, all the while teaching an online writing course and freelancing.
And volunteering at the SPCA.
"I don't have the fear response to the idea of pit bulls," he said. "Really, I'm just one of many volunteers, but I keep an eye out for pit bulls. That's the thing I can do and would like to do. Cute fluffy, happy lap dogs get all the attention."
But Ethel, a pit bull mix with a German-shepherd colored coat, "so laid back and so sweet," and Mikey, an enormous pit bull Staffordshire terrier, get Foster's attention.
In "The Dogs Who Found Me," Foster writes with passion and self-deprecating wit about the dogs he's rescued, recounts with sadness one haunting failure, and realizes his own vulnerability. There are chapters about no-kill shelters, bits of advice on how to approach a dog, one chiding list of things dog owners all too often do -- titled "How to Lose Your Best Friend" -- lists of resources, a meditation on "the folk art of lost pet fliers," reminders of the need to plan for pet evacuations. But above all, this is a story of the ways in which animal and human love and loyalty strengthen and sustain us -- and how love requires our best efforts and hard work to succeed and endure over the long haul.
"One of the reasons we rescue things," Foster writes, "is to feel a sense of control that we may not really have in our own lives. If we can save something, maybe then we can do anything. Or maybe saving that one thing really is all we can do, but we will have done it absolutely."
An excerpt from 'The Dogs Who Found Me':
This is what I left with: three dog crates, three dogs, a bag of dog food, a single change of clothes, two bottles of wine. I didn't want to take too much, since it would only be a day or two that I was gone.
This is what I left behind: dog bowls, all of my photographs, all of my books, my iPod, my hard drive, my DVD collection, my pacemaker monitor, my health insurance cards, my bank cards, my checkbook, my clothes, drafts of stories, notebooks, packaged food that I would later want when I was hungry, bottled water, my address, my job, my students, my neighbors, my friends. Almost everything.
You think about whether you'll ever see your things again. You think about whether you'll ever go home. You think about the people you knew but didn't know, like Grong Grong and his family, their baby, and the stray dog we found that they were going to take home.
I had friends. I had people willing to make room for me and my dogs. I had more help than I knew what to do with, partly because it is hard to know what help you need when you don't even know where to begin. "I don't know if I need anything," I said when people offered to help. I didn't know how homeless I was. I didn't know what would help. I knew that there were plenty of other people and animals who needed more than we did. My friend Leslie Pietryk told me in an e-mail: After my husband died, all these people kept wanting to do nice things for me and it was confusing and I couldn't quite trust them or know why they were acting that way. Made me feel odd. Eventually, I decided that they were mostly doing things to make themselves feel better . . . so I let them, which is harder than it sounds.
The dogs knew this already.
-- From Ken Foster's 'The Dogs Who Found Me: What I've Learned from Pets Who Were Left Behind'
Bill Maps a Pet Evacuation Route
You may email ALL LOUISIANA STATE SENATORS by copying the email block below into the Bcc (blind copy) line of your email. Enter your own email address in the To line and hit Send.
ACTIVISTS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES:
To ensure your comments are not blocked, please send your email to someone in the U.S.A. to forward on your behalf.
In addition to writing and CALLING all Louisiana Senators, please ask your elected Senators who represent the district you live in to support SB 607, The Pet Evacuation Bill.
TO SEND LETTERS BY FAX OR POSTAL MAIL:
Please see complete contact information for every LA State Senator, following sample letter.
SAMPLE LETTER & EMAIL BLOCK
FULL CONTACT INFO (street addresses, fax/phone) follows sample letter
In a single week last September, rescuers airlifted thousands of New Orleans residents stranded in flooded homes. Among them, Denise Okojo clung to her Labrador retriever in the shadows of their swamped apartment. When a rescue team arrived, Okojo was ordered to leave Molly, her seeing-eye service dog, behind. The blind woman said goodbye to her "eyes" and sole companion.
Laura K. Maloney, executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, claims animal protection volunteers recovered about 16,000 animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Most ended up in shelters around the U.S. Only 3,000 were reunited with their guardians. Okojo was one of the fortunate evacuees. At Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, she relayed her story to a kindhearted nurse who alerted ASPCA disaster relief workers. After smashing through a window, a rescue squad found Molly trembling in an upstairs bedroom.
A disaster preparedness plan without provisions for animals is a bad plan. In America, animals live in over half of all households. Cats inhabit 3 of every 10 homes, according to Humane Society of the U.S. figures. In New Orleans alone, 50,000 to 70,000 dogs were pre-Katrina family members.
Yet Louisiana disaster victims were forced to choose between survival and their pets. Unforgivable images are etched into our nation's conscience: A white dog is ripped from a boy's arms as he boards a bus. A bewildered yellow Lab watches his family disappear in a helicopter. An elderly woman cannot receive medical care unless she deserts her cats. A man swims and walks for miles with his dog, only to learn he must abandon his loyal friend.
An emergency plan with no animal component is out of touch with constituents. In fact, Katrina "stragglers" cited pets as the foremost reason for staying in flooded areas. The human death toll might have been lower if a strategy to accommodate animals had been in place.
You have the opportunity to ensure this never happens again. I respectfully ask for your full support of Senator Fontenot's Senate Bill No. 607 (SB-607) Pet Evacuation Bill. SB-607 requires state and parish homeland security and emergency preparedness agencies "to consult with experts in the fields of animal sheltering, veterinary medicine, public health and safety, and other professional and technical personnel deemed appropriate to formulate emergency operation plans for the humane evacuation, transport, and temporary sheltering of service animals and household pets in times of emergency or disaster."
"I felt we were derelict in our duties to the citizens of Louisiana, because we didn't make arrangements for pets," Senator Fontenot told reporters. "I don't think we recognize that pet-human bond that was there, and a lot of people refused to evacuate because they weren't going to leave their pets behind."
Long after the last humans had evacuated, thousands of emaciated and dehydrated pets roamed empty New Orleans parishes. Seven months beyond the storm, animal advocates continue to rescue and rehabilitate displaced pets. Please stand behind SB-607, which instructs government to consult with animal welfare organizations to fully implement protocols on rescue/shelter of animals during a disaster. I am counting on you to cosponsor the critical Pet Evacuation Bill.
COMPLETE CONTACT INFORMATION
CENTRAL FAX NUMBER, when the Legislature is in session. Faxes are placed directly into each senator's mailbox: 225-342-0617
CENTRAL PHONE NUMBER, when the Legislature is in session: 225-342-2040
LOUSIANA STATE SENATE MEMBERS
Senator Robert Adley
611 Jessie Jones Drive; Benton, LA 71006
ph: 225-342-2040, 318-965-1755; fax: 318-965-1757
Senator "Jody" Amedee
2109 S. Burnside Ave., Suite A; Gonzales, LA 70737
ph: 225-644-1526; fax: 225-644-7392
Senator Diana E. Bajoie
Post Office Box 15168; New Orleans, LA 70175
ph: 225-342-0752, 504-568-7760; fax: 504-896-1301
Senator Robert J. Barham
Post Office Box 249; Oak Ridge, LA 71264
ph: 225-342-2040, 318-244-5582; fax: 318-244-5015
Senator Walter J. Boasso
100 Intermodal Drive; Chalmette, LA 70043
ph: 225-342-2040, 504-270-9258; fax: 504-277-0113
Senator Sharon Weston Broome
P. O. Box 52783; Baton Rouge, LA 70892
ph: 225-359-9352; fax: 225-359-9353
Senator James David Cain
Post Office Box 640; Dry Creek, LA 70637
ph: 225-342-2040, 337-328-7266; fax: 337-491-2027
Senator Joel T. Chaisson
P.O. Box 1255; Destrehan, LA 70047
ph: 225-342-2040, 985-764-9911; fax: 985-764-9686
Senator Sherri Smith Cheek
9973 Mansfield Road; Keithville, LA 71047
ph: 318-687-4820; fax: 318-687-4077
Senator Donald R. "Don" Cravins
Vice Chairman, Judiciary B Committee
200 West Pine Street; Lafayette, LA 70501
ph: 225-342-2114, 337-234-9695; fax: 337-234-7019
Senator Jay Dardenne, Judiciary B Committee Member
Post Office Box 94183; Baton Rouge, LA 70804
ph: 225-342-9788; fax: 225-383-3733
Senator Ann Duplessis
6600 Plaza Drive, Suite 211A; New Orleans, LA 70127
ph: 504-243-7795; fax: 504-246-7689
Senator Reggie P. Dupre
P. O. Box 3893; Houma, LA 70361-2016
ph: 985-876-9902; fax: 985-873-2016
Senator Noble E. Ellington, Judiciary B Committee Member
4272 Front Street; Winnsboro, LA 71295
ph: 318-435-7313; fax: 318-435-9885
Senator Cleo Fields
Post Office Box 94183; Baton Rouge, LA 70804
ph: 225-342-9793; fax: 225-219-4354
Senator Heulette "Clo" Fontenot
Author of SB 607, Pet Evacuation Bill
P.O. Box 1238; Livingston, LA 70754
ph: 225-686-0108; fax: 225-686-2161
Senator "Nick" Gautreaux
209 E. St. Victor Street; Abbeville, LA 70510
ph: 337-740-NICK (6425), 1-866-740-NICK (6425)
fax: 337-740-6400; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator D. A. "Butch" Gautreaux
1103 Eighth Street; Morgan City, LA 70380
ph: 800-562-3204; fax: 985-380-2447
Senator Francis C. Heitmeier
3709 General DeGaulle; New Orleans, LA 70114
ph: 504-361-6014; fax: 504-361-9794
Senator Donald E. Hines
Post Office Box 262; Bunkie, LA 71322
ph: 318-346-4619; fax: 318-346-2301
Senator Ken Hollis, Judiciary B Committee Member
2800 Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Suite 365; Metairie, LA 70002
ph: 225-342-8325, 504-828-9300; fax: 504-828-9355
Senator Lydia P. Jackson
610 Texas Street, Suite 201; Shreveport, LA 71101
ph: 318-676-7029; fax: 318-676-7034
Senator Charles D. "C.D." Jones, Judiciary B Committee Member
141 Desiard Street, Suite 315; Monroe, LA 71201
ph: 225-342-2366, 318-362-5469;
fax: 318-325-2647; email: email@example.com
Senator Robert W. "Bob" Kostelka
Post Office Box 2122; Monroe, LA 71207
ph: 800-508-5572; fax: 318-329-9150
Senator Arthur J. "Art" Lentini
6620 Riverside Drive, Suite 312; Metairie, LA 70003
ph: 504-780-8700; fax: 504-465-3463
Senator Max T. Malone
610 Marshall Street, Suite 722; Shreveport, LA 71101
ph: 318-676-5733; fax: 318-676-5734
Senator Robert "Rob" Marionneaux
Chairman, Judiciary B Committee
P.O. Box 577; Livonia, LA 70755-0577
ph: 225-637-3623; fax: 225-637-3124
Senator Joe McPherson
880 Robinson Bridge Road; Woodworth, LA 71485
ph: 318-484-2211; fax: 318-445-2872
Senator Michael J. "Mike" Michot
P.O. Box 80372; Lafayette, LA 70598
ph: 337-262-1332; fax: 337-237-1185
Senator Willie L. Mount
P.O. Box 3004; Lake Charles, LA 70602
ph: 337-491-2016; fax: 337-433-8080
Senator Edwin R. Murray
1540 N. Broad St.; New Orleans, LA 70119
ph: 504-945-0042; fax: 504-942-5968
Senator Ben Nevers
724 Avenue F; Bogalusa, LA 70427
ph: 985-732-6863, 1-800-881-2749; fax: 985-732-6860
Senator Julie Quinn
3330 North Causeway Boulevard, Suite 438; Metairie, LA 70002
ph: 504-219-4640; fax: 504-219-4639
Senator Craig F. Romero
300 Iberia Street, Suite B-150; New Iberia, LA 70560
ph: 337-364-8006; fax: 337-364-7355
Senator John T. "Tom" Schedler
3840 Highway 22, Suite 200; Mandeville, LA 70471
ph: 225-342-2040, 985-727-7949, 1-800-836-9581
fax: 985-727-9904; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Derrick Shepherd
2009 Ames Boulevard; Marrero, LA 70072
ph: 504-371-0263; fax: 504-371-0265
Senator Kenneth M. "Mike" Smith
Post Office Box 1381; Winnfield, LA 71483
ph: 225-342-0637, 318-628-3075; fax: 318-628-5286
Senator Gerald J. Theunissen
Post Office Box 287; Jennings, LA 70546
ph: 337-824-0376; fax: 337-824-4780
Senator J. Chris Ullo
2150 Westbank Expressway, Suite 705; Harvey, LA 70058
ph: 504-361-6690; fax: 504-361-6691
Here are the members of the committe the bill has been assigned to. These members definitely have to be bombarded with calls to get it passed through committee.
Louisiana Judiciary B Committee
Senator Robert "Rob" Marionneaux, Jr. (Chairman)
P.O. Box 577
Livonia, LA 70755-0577
Senator Donald R. "Don" Cravins (Vice-Chairman)
200 West Pine Street
Lafayette, LA 70501
Senator Jay Dardenne
Post Office Box 94183
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
Senator Noble E. Ellington
4272 Front Street
Winnsboro, LA 71295
Senator Ken Hollis
2800 Veterans Memorial Boulevard
Metairie, LA 70002
Senator Charles D. "C.D." Jones
141 Desiard Street
Monroe, LA 71201
FOR EVERYONE STILL LOOKING FOR THEIR CATS:
We just heard about a cat ARNO had been looking for since September. Angel was being evacuated after the hurricane in her carrier (in a boat) with four other cats when the carrier broke. Angel ran and was never seen again. We sent trappers and feeders out to look for Angel numerous times....no luck. Angel's mom put flyers and ads everywhere around NOLA and never gave up hope. She just got a call from a man who saw the flyers and said he had been feeding the cat for the past 2 months! Angel's mom is out in Oregon so she sent a friend to identify Angel...sure enough it was her. So, she was caught, looked at by the vet and now going home to Oregon almost 7 months later!!.
Do not give up looking for your animals. Put their photos everywhere in your neighborhood and continue to leave food and water at your home. Cats typically do not stray too far but may have gone several blocks to find food so be sure to hang flyers in a 10 block radius (at least). This is only one of many reunions we have seen...you could be next! Don't give up...