Letter from a grateful pet owner and Katrina evacuee

this letter was sent to Denise - the totally dedicated, awesome cat coordinatro for No Animal Left Behind; she has worked tirelessly with hundreds of residents of New Orleans who had to evacuate without their cats. She has searched for and found many cats and faciliated many reunions. This is being posted here with the permission of Yvette. Photo is of Mikko on the car ride home.

Dear Friends, Strangers, and Caring Pet Community Members,

After 9 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days, I am wonderfully happy to announce that we found our cat, Mikko. On Friday, June 23rd, we drove from Houston, Texas to Atlanta, GA, stopping in New Orleans for the night. On more than five occasions I had been back to our home in the Gentilly area of New Orleans to salvage memorabilia and to look for our missing cat. We had two cats prior to Hurricane Katrina. Many of you know that on my first visit back to the city in October 2005, one of our cats, Gus, came running to the front lawn when I called his name. He was scared and jittery but he recognized my voice and came running for rescue. I called and called for Mikko, but he did not come. I went back several times that visit and even left an item of clothing like the Humane Society suggested, but he did not return at my bidding. I visited in November, December, and finally in January – no Mikko. Many champions for pet’s rights surfaced throughout that time, tirelessly searching any lead that would help us find our missing cat. A wonderful lady found a picture on pet finder’s - BFC 1978 and we were almost certain it was him. Sadly for us, the owners of BFC 1978 (who was found nearly 30 miles from our home – Mikko probability was slim) had claimed him. The search continued. I never gave up hope and never allowed my daughter to give up hope. I told her that he had probably been trapped by rescuers and adopted by a nice family somewhere across the country. I refused to giveaway his cloth cat carrier salvaged from the garage ruins. It sat on our back porch waiting.

As we drove into the outskirts of New Orleans, nostalgia rose like the tide at sunset. I had the strongest urge to visit our home – now gutted and overrun with grass. I drove to the exit and approached stealthily; it was 10:30 p.m. The main thoroughfare of Elysian Fields once bustling was now quiet and bleak. My daughter and I circled the block slowly as we talked about the neighborhood. Dim lights peered out from FEMA trailers on the neighboring streets. The Baptist church on the opposite corner had been razed. The starch contrast of newly refurbished dwellings, a bare frame blackened by fire and smoke, and vacant homes still marked with scarlet colored spray paint, decorated the scene before us. As we spoke in hushed tones and surveyed the new beginnings my eyes darted to a small figure frozen in anticipation on the neighboring lawn as our vehicle approached. I halted my daughter in mid sentence with one ghastly phrase, “Epiphany, that’s Mikko.” She screamed, “Where, Momma? Where?” I stopped the car and rolled the window down. I began calling his name. The queerest look came over his face. I’ll never forget it. It was as if he was searching through his memory for a time when he didn’t have to scrounge through a deserted, hurricane ravaged neighborhood for food and water; fend off predators, disease and harsh elements; and a lady and a girl loved him, gave him a home and called him Mikko. He began to meow. Epiphany jumped out of the car and walked to him. He was skittish and untrusting but she kept calling his name. He threw himself onto the ground and began squirming the way he would when he wanted someone to pet and scratch him. I sat in the car in total shock. It took us a while, but we got him into the car, calmed him down, drove 15 miles to get a cat carrier from my cousin, purchased cat food and a litter box from the only store open at 11:30 p.m. (Walgreens on Airline Hwy), and settled at a pet-friendly W Hotel located downtown. Whew! Thank God for Starwood points. The veterinarian gave him a clean bill of health the next morning, updated his vaccinations, and boarded him for us until we got back from Atlanta three days later. We drove Mikko back to Houston. He is adjusting well. He has been pretty jumpy, but I remember Gus reacted the same way when I rescued him after the storm. Oh yeah, Gus. Ummm… I think Gus had gotten adjusted to our house being a one-cat-home again. We adopted Gus one year before Mikko. He had always viewed Mikko as a disgusting little brother who followed him around and mimicked his every move. Mikko weighs about 9 lbs. At 17 lbs., Gus is almost double his size. It’s been challenging to re-introduce them. But I believe Gus now realizes that Mikko is here to stay. Mikko has staked new territory – on a rug underneath my bed. He has also taken to prancing around on rooftops of houses in Houston – a feat that makes my daughter quite nervous, but one I’m sure he acquired during his tenure in post-hurricane New Orleans.

Those of you reading this may or may not understand exactly what happened with pet-owners prior to Katrina. Many of them were not able to transport or evacuate their pets. I was one such pet owner. I am an event manager. I had traveled to Miami on business the Wednesday before the storm. My daughter attends middle school in Orlando, Florida and had transitioned to her father’s house at the beginning of August. Neither she, nor I were in New Orleans and our cats’ care had been entrusted to my father and my friend. I was only to be gone away on business one week. Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of Miami on Thursday afternoon. I was there. It was accompanied by strong winds and rain. On Friday, as I sat at my computer and perused the Weather Channel, I saw that Hurricane Katrina had re-entered the Gulf of Mexico on a northwestward path. I remember thinking nonchalantly, “That doesn’t look good.” I closed my computer to head out the door for a busy weekend of preparing for award show after parties. I heard of the residential panic in New Orleans through a casual call to a friend to rave about the celebrity presence in Miami. The news sent me into a tailspin. I began calling family and friends to gather information on their evacuation plan. I am the youngest of five children. My mother is deceased. I was told that my brother would pick up my father, and my sister would follow them in the vehicle with my sister-in-law and their kids. My sister and brother-in-law who have five kids were evacuating to Dallas. My brother who is a New Orleans Police Officer would stay behind to serve, protect and defend. His wife and kids had already evacuated to a small town 120 miles west of New Orleans. Everyone was busy preparing to leave. No one would take my cats.

I am grateful that my brother evacuated my father, a task that in my absence would have probably gone undone had it not been for his generosity. I am grateful that at my request he pulled open the staircase to the attic in my house. He also gathered my photos, memorabilia and computer hard drive and transported them in a plastic bag out of the city that would soon be submerged. I am, however, most grateful for my friend, Wendy, who stopped at my house, placed all my cat food and a huge pot filled with fresh water in the attic. She led the cats to the stairs to peak their curiosity thereby laying out the hurricane escape route the veterinarian would later quote, “That probably saved their lives.” She and her family took initial refuge in the Federal Reserve Bank where her husband is employed. I am most grateful for Debbie, the animal control officer from Dallas who volunteered to rescue pets in New Orleans. I met her while searching for my cats at the pet shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana two and a half weeks after the disaster. She took my card. She went to my house. She climbed over the debris left from 5 feet of water to get to the aforementioned staircase, ascend and give me the news that my cats were not dead in the attic. Debbie called for my cats but they would not come at her calling. She also marked my house as an SPCA feeding post, and left a pail of fresh water and a large bag of cat food under the carport. I am grateful for each person who went to my house and called out my cats’ names in an effort to rescue them for me. I am grateful for my neighbors, whoever they are, wherever they are, who continue to feed stray cats and dogs, separated from their loved ones by this horrific tragedy.

And, I am most grateful for you who are reading this letter; you who sent my missing cat messages to everyone in your email list; you, who forwarded pictures, initiated rescue efforts, searched Pet Finders listings and reports, reunited families and pets, fostered pets, facilitated adoptions and you, who prayed for the safe return, rescue, or care of the animals/pets affected by the disaster in the Gulf Coast region. May God bless you and keep you.

Yvette, Epiphany, Gus & Mikko


Five Leading Animal Welfare Organizations Give $3.2 Million Boost to Spay/Neuter Efforts in Gulf Coast Communities

ST. BERNARD PARISH, Lousiana (July 11, 2006) -- Today in St. Bernard Parish, La., the Big Fix Rig -- a traveling spay/neuter clinic for cats -- opened for business at its first stop in the state to help reduce pet overpopulation in the hurricane-ravaged region. The rig will provide low-cost services to area residents. St. Bernard Parish was one of the areas hardest hit in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, a storm that exposed on a national level the need for vigorous population control efforts in the region.

The Big Fix Rig is part of a $3.2 million effort funded by the ASPCA, The Humane Society of the United States, PetSmart Charities, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and United Animal Nations to increase the number of affordable and accessible spay/neuter programs in the hurricane-affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. Local organizations Spay/Louisiana, Mississippi Spay Neuter (SPAN) and Humane Society of South Mississippi are coordinating the initiatives with the help of other local animal agencies throughout the region. The rig will go to Mississippi after its Louisiana tour.

The problem of animal overpopulation in the Gulf Coast region, where nearly 80 percent of all pets are unaltered, has long preceded Hurricane Katrina. Animal control agencies euthanize tens of thousands of healthy animals each year for lack of homes. Animal welfare groups believe this focused spay/neuter initiative will help improve the overall health and adoption prospects for all companion animals in the region.

In addition to the Big Fix Rig, the initiative provides funding for high-volume spay/neuter clinics in New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss. and for voucher programs in both states. The latter two programs will serve both cats and dogs. All told, the initiative has the capacity to fund up to 20,000 spay/neuter surgeries in the first year.

About the Big Fix Rig

  • A one-of-a-kind, 53-foot semi-trailer retro-fitted as a mobile spay/neuter clinic for cats.
  • Can accommodate 120 cat sterilizations per day.
  • Can be converted into an emergency transportation vehicle capable of housing up to 160 cats.
  • Will spend six months in Louisiana then six months in Mississippi.
  • Managed by staff from Humane Alliance, a successful and self-sustaining high-volume spay/neuter clinic in North Carolina.

About the High-volume Spay/Neuter Clinics

  • At a new 5,000-square-foot facility in Gulfport, the Humane Society of South Mississippi has the capacity to perform 6,000 spay/neuter surgeries in the first year and 16,800 in the second year of the initiative.
  • By early 2007, Spay/Louisiana will open a regional clinic in New Orleans with the capacity to perform 8,400 surgeries in the first year and 16,800 in the second year.
  • The Spay/Louisiana clinic will serve up to 25 parishes with a combined population of 2.58 million and an estimated cat and dog population of more than 1.66 million -- an estimated 221,000 of which live in households that fall below the federal poverty threshold.

About the Voucher Programs

  • Spay/Louisiana will subsidize spay/neuter surgeries performed by a designated network of veterinary hospitals and clinics. Participating veterinarians will accept a reduction in their usual fees, thereby encouraging more surgeries for pets of low-income owners.
  • Mississippi SPAN, working with the Humane Society of South Mississippi and other partners, will double the size of its existing statewide voucher program to 7,600 vouchers a year.