AAHA Members Help Animals Displaced by Hurricane Katrina

The day after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Melissa Young, DVM, sent an email to the Rural Area Veterinary Services, offering her help. Soon thereafter Lori Renda-Francis, MA, BBA, LVT, responded to an email from Louisiana State University (LSU) seeking help from technicians. The two AAHA members share some of their experiences in Mississippi and Louisiana shelters, and recall long days in sweltering heat, cages filled to capacity, and intermittent rays of hope provided by reunions between pets and owners.

“Overall this is one of the most amazing times in my career as a veterinary technician,” Renda-Francis said. “I saw some of the saddest things I have ever encountered in veterinary medicine but at the same time I was able to participate in helping pets and the owners.” During her stay at LSU, Renda-Francis estimates that there were 1,094 animals at the Parker Coliseum but the number swelled to more than 1,200. “My heart broke for those animals,” she said, “because they did not know where they were or why they were there.”

Nearby in Hattiesburg, MS, Young arrived on Sept. 15, 2005, with Christi Standard, a veterinary assistant. Using vacation time and paying for supplies, the women worked 18 hour days in 100-degree heat alongside hundreds of volunteers from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Although they tried to prepare themselves, both women were struck by the number of needy animals housed in 4-H barns in Hattiesburg. “The air was charged with hope but also at any given time a volunteer or a veterinarian may be found weeping for the animals,” Young said. “The sheer numbers of animals without homes was heart-wrenching. It was truly an emotional roller coaster.”

It was Young’s third experience with RAVS, a group affiliated with HSUS that responds to animal crises around the world. “I fell in love with the people of RAVS after my first trip to the Appalachians in 2002,” Young said. “RAVS volunteers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, to sleep on the ground or on the floor, and they are all passionate about the cause.”

For more stories about how AAHA members responded to the Katrina disaster, please visit the AAHA website.