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