Hurricane Politics - Part I A Breed Rescuer’s Perspective on Katrina

Hurricane Politics - Part I A Breed Rescuer’s Perspective on Katrina

By: Staff  Date: 11/11/2005 Category: | Rescue |

On September 9, 2005, I was asked to accompany Amy Daigle, President of Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue to the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana.  While I had financially supported Doberman rescue efforts, I had never been involved in hands-on rescue work.  The site was chaos.  The VMAT 5 teams were administering to the animals by going stall to stall in open air barns.  Supplies were everywhere.  There were lots of trailers, motor homes and volunteers present, many of whom wore HSUS shirts.  Those in the HSUS shirts were, for the most part, standing around in groups and talking to each other.  Most of the crates contained feces and urine and I can't recall any of the animals having fans on them, despite the unbearable heat and humidity. We went from barn to barn, stall to stall, in search of Doberman Pinschers. 

On that day, we found two undersized Doberman Pinschers.  Their coats were awful. Found and rescued from a porch, their tails wagged at us in delight.  We continued our search of the barns for other Dobermans when Amy noticed Laura Maloney, Louisiana SPCA officer in charge of the animal recovery efforts in this state.  We approached her about pulling the two red dobes, but were directed to the HSUS folks in charge.  Our request to pull Doberman Pinschers from this facility was denied by those at the HSUS tent. 

Armed with the knowledge that Ms. Maloney was the person in charge of Louisiana Animal recovery efforts, we went back to the Louisiana SPCA trailer and again asked to speak with Ms. Maloney about pulling these dobes.  She did give us 5 minutes, stated that she had no problem with it, but she did not want to “step on HSUS toes”.  At that time we were not aware that HSUS had leased this facility.

Amy and I then headed back to the HSUS trailer and asked for Curt Ransom, the Chief Operations Officer on site for HSUS.  As we stood outside in the 100 degree heat, we pleaded our case.  We explained that our Dobermans could be used as “bait” for training pit bulls to fight - how they were strung up between pine trees, how they were neglected by many volunteers because they were considered “dangerous”, without foundation, and how our rescue team was prepared to foster these animals for a 6 month period.   We were persistent and pleading and we walked with Mr. Ransom back over to the Louisiana SPCA trailer.  After a brief meeting with Laura Maloney, he came back over to us.  We were advised that we could pull ALL Doberman Pinschers from that facility.  At my request, Mr. Ransom signed this little piece of paper torn from a small notebook that I carried evidencing this authority.  This process took 3-1/2 hours.  It occurred because Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue had such a good relationship with the Louisiana SPCA, and because we were persistent in our determination to get our Dobes out of that facility.

Exhausted from the heat, the bureaucracy, the pleading look on all the faces of the pets who had been left behind and the chaos which reigned, we proceeded back to Barn One, huddled with the VMAT vets and told them we would be pulling the two red dobes the following day.   We were assured by the vets that they would keep an eye on the two red dobes until our return.  Amy and I agreed to meet again at Gonzales the following day.

Prior to leaving, I was introduced to the Rottweiler rescue lady.  I had noted the large numbers of Rottweilers and pit bulls on the premises.

When I arrived the following day, armed with the original and several copies of the document which gave us the authority to pull Dobermans and hot pink informational flyers to leave on Doberman cages, Amy had already found another Doberman who was an obedience-trained owner surrender.  He had apparently been turned in that night and we placed our hot pink flyer on his cage.  We identified another puppy, placed a flyer on her cage and proceeded to the HSUS table to pull these animals.  When I announced that I was pulling these Dobermans by virtue of the authority given to me by this paper, I was met with looks of astonishment.   HSUS volunteers shook their heads and proceeded to do as directed when I heard Amy call out to me.  There was yet another Dobe to be pulled.

We again saw the Rottweiler Rescue lady who mentioned she had identified 61 Rottweilers.  She was frustrated and shaking her head in despair.   All of the pit bulls we had seen the day before, whose numbers were at least that of the Rotties, if not greater, were gone.  Volunteers advised us that the pit bulls had been stolen from the premises the night before.  There was no fencing or security on site. 

That afternoon, we loaded up the van, and proceeded to the temporary staging shelter set up in my garage.  There was no way we would allow these Dobermans to stay at that facility overnight.  Once back at my house and settled in, I marveled at the temperaments on these Dobes, despite all they’d been through.  I was extremely pleased that they were on their journey to places of greater comfort.   These first five Katrina Dobermans seemed to understand that they no longer needed to be afraid.  They were now in the hands of Doberman owners and within a community that not only understood their temperaments and loving nature, but their health issues as well.  Transport to their new foster homes occurred immediately. 

The following day found me back at Lamar-Dixon, without Amy, who had to return to work.  This “little piece of paper “, which contained our authority to remove Dobermans from the premises was in my pocket.  Upon entering the site, I was astonished to find folks dressed in black shirts and camouflage pants and boots.  The United States Public Health Services ("USPHS") team had arrived.  They were now in charge of “export” and I watched in amazement as animals were walked to the export area to be shipped to different parts of the country.  Big rigs were pulling in and animals were being loaded.  I quickly ascertained who was in charge of export, introduced myself to him, pulled out this “little piece of paper” and was advised that Louisiana SPCA had pulled out and would be directing the recovery efforts from  New Orleans.  I was further advised that ASPCA was in charge of approving all exports and that no animal could be pulled from that shelter unless I had the signature of Jessie Winters with the ASPCA. 

I first examined all of the animals in the cages for export and was extremely relieved to find that there were no Dobermans in those cages.  I then proceeded through the barns and identified two black males, slipped the hot pink flyers into their paperwork, and made my way to the ASPCA trailer.  Once again, “this little piece of paper” was pulled out of my pocket.  After much discussion about who we were, the Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue relationship with the Louisiana SPCA, and our fears about dog-fighting and the number of pit bulls stolen from that facility, Jessie agreed to allow us to continue to pull the two black boys.  She wrote my name and address on the back of this paper and advised that I had to wait for her to walk me through the check out process.  She introduced me to the same USPHS officer I had previously spoken with and advised him that I would be pulling Dobes.  She signed off on the document I had given her with the Louisiana ID numbers and the description of these animals.  I pleaded with her to return to me “this little piece of paper” which took us 3-1/2 hours to obtain and the reasons why I wanted it, but she refused.  When Jessie left the export area, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  She looked at me earnestly and slipped me “this little piece of paper” as I gratefully and earnestly said “Thank you”.   It was a tremendous act of trust and kindness and one for which I will be forever grateful.  The paper giving us the authority to pull Dobermans was back in my pocket and I was armed to deal with what was yet to come.

I worked my way back to the barn with the two black male Dobes and discovered that one had been taken from his cage in spite of the hot pink flyer.  I found him 10 feet away being bathed and examined by one of the USPHS vets.  When I advised that I was pulling him and inquired about him, the vet looked up imploringly and stated that he could not find anything physically wrong with him.  He further stated that a volunteer had found this Doberman lying in his urine and feces and called upon him for an examination.  This very thin black guy no longer wanted to stand up and it was the vet's opinion that he had totally “shut down”.  When I asked the vet which breed he owned, I wasn’t astonished when he answered, “Dobermans”.   This USPHS vet pulled this distraught black boy up in his arms and carried him to export for me.  Once again, I was struck by the good fortune of the Doberman community and the compassion of the folks who tended our Dobes.  I am grateful.

As I went through export and was preparing to load the other black and tan Doberman, the Rottie rescue lady approached me.  She wanted to know HOW we were able to pull these boys out.  Because we had been warned not to say anything, I told her to go to the top of all organizations present and to be persistent.  I also told her to get to know the man in charge of export. 

After proceeding back to my house to get these guys situated, they were greeted later that evening by our new house guests who had come to volunteer at Lamar-Dixon all the way from Pennsylvania.  The conversation that night with my guests was interesting.  After having traveled so far, they did not want to return to Lamar-Dixon because they weren’t allowed to tend to the animals.  I suggested that they volunteer at the Slidell shelter where we needed to have folks looking for any Dobermans who came in.              

The following day found me back at Lamar-Dixon 3-4 times that day.  Besides tending to my own animals and the two boys I had pulled, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the trucks of animals coming into this facility and those with animals who were leaving.  The animals were leaving as fast as they came in and most left, it seemed, within 24 hours.  Trucks were pulling in and out at all hours of the day.  My panic button went off. When my houseguests, Shannon and Jerry, returned that evening, I asked if he would house-sit the animals while I monitored this shelter.  He agreed.  

Thereafter, I located a black and tan and another fawn bitch to be pulled.  I waited patiently to obtain Jessie’s signature outside the HSUS volunteer tent.  There was much screaming and hollering by the volunteers that animals were being stolen and not properly tended to.  At one point, I literally thought it was going to come to blows.  These two Dobermans walked out with me that afternoon, received baths and had their every need tended to by Jerry when I wasn't there.  During this time, USPHS began pulling some order into the chaos that had thus far reigned.  Specific intake and export procedures were initiated, and more thorough vet exams and photos were taken upon arrival.  These folks were friendly, courteous and had the animal’s welfare at heart.  I cannot say enough good things about these volunteers.

When I arrived the next morning, USPHS advised that they had a red Doberboy waiting for me in Barn One.  I quickly placed my hot pink flyer on top of his paperwork and proceeded to check all of the stalls and cages in all of the barns.  The fawn bitch that had come in earlier had been mistakenly labeled a “pointer mix” by the volunteers doing intake and I did not want to miss any “mislabeled” Dobes.  This red male was the only Doberman there and I stood outside the ASPCA trailer waiting to obtain Jessie’s signature for at least an hour.  Her meeting with HSUS folks went on for quite some time and when she finally got around to me, she had bad news.  The rules had changed and they would no longer allow us to pull our Dobermans. 

Jessie was accompanied by another woman in a HSUS shirts and when I inquired who was responsible for this decision, this HSUS representative advised that they were.  I told her that was “not good enough” and that I wanted to speak with Wayne Pacelle.  She seemed surprised that I knew the name of HSUS top representative or that I even knew he was on site, but she stressed that I would have to accompany her first on a mission to deliver the new lease of the premises to be faxed to their attorney.  I did, and was then brought to the HSUS command center, where I entered and was greeted by Dave Pauli of HSUS.

When I advised that there was a red Doberman in Barn One that I wanted to pull, he stated that NO animals were being taken from that facility.  I told him that I had pulled nine Dobermans to date, and pulled out the “little piece of paper” which had Louisiana SPCA and HSUS authority on it allowing me to do so.  He couldn’t refute his own representative’s signature or that Laura Maloney of the Louisiana SPCA was the person in charge of all animal recovery efforts in Louisiana.  He then asked if HSUS had it’s paperwork on these Dobermans.  I advised that I wasn’t responsible for HSUS paperwork and if he wanted a copy of my paperwork, I would be happy to provide it, provided the red Doberman walked out with me.  Some whispering occurred among the troops, and once again, the “little piece of paper” prevailed.  It was returned to my pocket as I was escorted by HSUS personnel over to the ASPCA trailer where Jesse’s signature was obtained, then escorted through export through the gates and to my van.   I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this red boy would have disappeared from those premises that evening.  No less than 10 volunteers approached me to say that they had been “eyeing” him.  While thin, he was a very striking and obedient Doberguy.

Over the course of the next week, the “powers that be” at the Gonzales facility finally came together to develop a process for allowing breed rescue groups to pull their breeds.  Once again, the rules and the paperwork changed.  We submitted our paperwork with copies of the “little piece of paper” that had given us the authority to pull our Dobermans.  While other breed rescue groups scrambled to locate and obtain Laura Maloney’s signature, this crumpled and worn “little piece of paper” sufficed for our Doberman efforts.   Jessie at the ASPCA left and she was replaced by Sam.  Sam approved our ability to pull.  The new rule was that if you pulled your breed of choice, you also had to take 5 more animals.  This made no sense from the standpoint of breed specific rescue.  While the best "caretakers" of our breeds, most of us wouldn't have a clue about the temperaments or specific health issues of other breeds.  Nor would we be able to find them suitable homes.  This 6 animal rule simply got ignored by the breed specific rescue groups.    

During this time, the USPHS team had further organized the intake procedures.  The search and rescue trucks went out in the morning and began returning with animals around 3:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon.  By 7:00 or 8:00 pm the trucks were lined up waiting to unload the animals, and later in the evening they would be lined up around the last barn.  After searching the barns individually, you could stand at intake, watch and assist with the animals being unloaded.  It became my habit to walk from vehicle to vehicle to see if any Dobermans had been rescued or spotted in any part of New Orleans that day.  At that time, animals were being exported during the morning hours.  As time progressed, animals also began being exported during the cool of the night.  It thus became important to be present when the animals arrived.      

While standing at intake, I was there when the two emaciated Dobergirls arrived.  They had been stranded in a house since Katrina and had also been through Hurricane Rita.  They were vaccinated, despite my plea that the vaccination alone could kill them in their fragile condition. The VMAT triage team advised that they did not expect one girl to live overnight.   Given the new rules, we were no longer allowed to pull animals in the evening.  I left these girls in the care of the vets and one tech that had a lot of dehydration experience.  They were given fluid IV’s and it was with great trepidation that I approached their cages the next morning.  Both were standing with tails wagging.  They had been kenneled next to each other and they had a will to live.  I pulled and transported them to a local vet for care and hand feeding.  When I checked on them two days later, they had put on weight and were frolicking around the grassy exercise yard. 

Our next pull was the following day as a blue boy arrived.  He had the worst case of demodectic mange the vets had ever seen and was also appropriately vetted.

Then, the last blue Doberman arrived.  I watched him being unloaded from an 18 wheeler and offered to get him out of his cage.  The person in charge of intake refused to allow me to do this, despite the fact that her 20 other volunteers were lined up with animals awaiting vet exams.  I explained to her that I had assisted with intake for 2 weeks - that I was here only for Doberman rescue this past week and that I would gladly assist in walking this boy through intake.  She proceeded to tell me that I wasn’t familiar with the procedures and refused my offer to assist.  I sat back and watched 3 volunteers approach his kennel and walk away.  I then watched her move this fellow to the “aggressive” section of intake where he would be allowed to “chill out” and be removed hours later from his kennel by a behaviorist.  I approached and fed him and he proceeded to “talk” to me.  He looked directly at me and just talked and talked and whined.  There were 2 inches of urine in his cage and he appeared to need to defecate.  I again asked the HSUS intake person to allow me to take him out of his cage.  When she told me she’d have me removed from the premises, I advised her that I wasn’t going anywhere and that the dog didn’t want to poop in his crate.

Shortly thereafter, I was approached by another person in charge with a walkie talkie and a security guard that I’d come to know over the past two weeks.  She was to escort me off the premises, but almost dropped her walkie talkie when I advised that I was an attorney and inquired by what authority she proposed to do that.  Confident of that “little piece of paper” in my pocket, which provided implicit authority for me to be there, I knew I would prevail.  The security officer was left to guard me as I watched that the Doberman defecate in his crate and back up from it as far as possible. He was miserable.

Finally, the USPHS person in charge arrived to handle this situation.  I explained the politics of the intake person, arranged to have a big clean crate delivered and got authority to put this guy in his new crate.  He was then transported to the behaviorist whom I had watched for weeks and whose talent I had come to respect.  This behaviorist was told him the story behind this dog's arrival and proceeded to evaluate him as I sat there quietly.  The behaviorist conclusions were that the dog had been handled a lot and showed no human aggression, no dog aggression and no food aggression.  He let another animal control officer handle this big boy and then let me take the lead.  This Doberboy had some training as I moved him on the left and trotted him without a hitch.  Needless to say, he was scheduled for “check out” to me (and me only) the following morning.   I advised all involved that this dog never should have been considered “aggressive” and of the intake person's blatant disregard of my offers to assist with the breed that I knew and loved. 

The  Lamar-Dixon Expo Center closed its doors to all incoming animals, except those critically injured, on October 1, 2005.   To my knowledge, there were no more Dobermans to be pulled from this shelter after that time.  

My rescue efforts had the full support of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America ("DPCA").  It was the DPCA membership who provided the funding to care for the Dobermans in need, the bevy of foster homes to call upon, transportation volunteers, those who assisted in contacting shelters and providing our email, website and toll free number to all, those who are assisting with owner re-unification and adoption, and those who volunteered to come directly to the area of devastation and assist in the hands-on effort.  I am extremely proud of this Club and am honored to have been of service to our often misunderstood breed in their time of need. 

Each of the 14 Dobermans pulled from this shelter was a "struggle", and it dismayed me to find that the political climate between the various animal groups oftentimes outweighed considerations regarding the welfare of the individual animals. My breed is one which is very misunderstood by the public at large and one often targeted by legislative breed bans.  It was important to those of us who truly know and love this breed to get out Dobermans into safe and loving foster situations. For quite some time Doberman Pinschers were the only breed being pulled. Only after much daily, dogged and determined persistence, was Rottweiler Rescue eventually able to pull their Rotties.  The number of Rottweilers entering that facility was second only to the pit bulls.  It absolutely made no sense whatsoever to deny breed specific rescue groups the ability to foster the breeds that they know and love - especially when the prevalent view of the general public seems to be that they are "dangerous".

Breed specific rescue groups are known by and available to animal control officers 365 days a year.  Rescue is what they do.  Yet incredibly, when a disaster strikes and they offer genuine and caring assistance to these same animals, they get turned away by those in charge?  I am advised that many breed rescue groups went to Lamar-Dixon and tried to pull and assist the breeds that they know and love only to have the door slammed in their faces.

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