The fawn-colored little dog dancing on the end of its leash moved with warp speed, his body fueled by a good meal and a pair of kind hands. They named him Hurricane, an apt name for this energetic whirlwind, who, several days ago, sat listless in a crate in a shelter in Tylertown, Miss. Then, his coat was cloudy with dirt, his energy sapped and his future in doubt after being rescued from the streets of New Orleans when Katrina left him homeless.
But, serendipity played a role in this dog’s future, as it has in so many others. Ten-month-old Hurricane’s new life began when he was plucked out of his shelter by Samantha Swarr of Damascus. Swarr, an experienced animal handler and other volunteers drove to Louisiana to find and rescue pets for temporary foster care in Maryland. Hurricane caught their eye and joined 14 other dogs and four cats for the long trek north to a new life.
THE DRIVERS are volunteers for PetConnect, a local organization that fosters unwanted cats and dogs until they find a permanent home. After three years together, friends Liz Chanock of Potomac, Jan Sapp of Silver Spring and Anna Strates of Olney have succeeded in turning their passion for animal welfare into a non-profit organization. Although they operate without a shelter and mostly with their own funds, they are not without a great deal of zeal. So, when Katrina struck, they looked beyond their borders and reached out to the gulf area pets.
In the hurricane’s aftermath, examples of how small groups like PetConnect can bring about very large changes have taken place in dozens of cities across the country. According to Belinda Mager of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), numerous independent groups, along with more than 200 shelters nationwide, participated in the rescue, foster and adoption effort. They brought relief to many of the approximately 50,000 pets affected by this disaster. HSUS itself rescued more than 8,000 animals from the New Orleans area’s deserted homes and reunited more than 800 with their owners as of this week.
Last week, when Hurricane and his travel-mates arrived at Chanock’s home on Glen Road, the 30-plus welcoming committee outnumbered the pets. The resulting melee became the eye of PetConnect’s hurricane, but with vastly different results. Waiting for the animals were two veterinarians, a makeshift clinic, clean crates, donated piles of dog food, toys, treats and an army of neighbors and anxious families ready to greet and foster them. “If they made it through such odds, then they deserve to have everything done for them now,” said Strates.
Chanock’s garage turned into a gigantic shelter, with wall-to-wall crates and a guest room serving as a veterinary clinic.
THE ANIMALS were taken first to a wash station where neighbors gave them a bath, checked for fleas and put on a new collar. Old blankets from the trip were put into garbage bags and the crates were cleaned and disinfected. When the pets were ready for the clinic, vets read their paperwork and administered to any problems. Most animals rescued in New Orleans had the histories of their ordeal recorded by rescuers, such as: where they were found, what injuries, illnesses, addresses, shots, and temperament issues. Most of PetConnect’s rescue animals were in reasonably good health, but several were heartworm positive and had to be hospitalized. Healthy ones were put into clean crates. “The operation ran smoothly,” said Chanock. “There was just this positive energy coming out of here.”
As the day wound down, the excitement revved up when foster families began the process of bonding with their new charges. “We picked those who were experienced with animals because these pets have been traumatized,” said Chanock. They did not allocate any pets until the foster families had seen all the animals. “They got to choose,” said Chanock.
A volunteer who wanted an older dog for an aging mother was disappointed when she saw the dog she had asked for. The little Lhasa Apso mix, with fur so matted she could barely move, was despondent and unresponsive. Disappointed, the woman didn’t want her. Not to be deterred, Chanock and her friends shaved off all its fur. “Out came this amazing dog, excited and full of life,” she said. “It was wonderful to see.” The volunteer took the dog home and the dog and her mother became inseparable.
ACCORDING TO Jan Sapp, most of the dogs brought to Potomac were strays, found on the streets. But, before the dogs are adopted, their pictures and other information will be posted on PetFinders and other Web sites. If owners are looking for them; they will be returned. The act of fostering pets like these helps ease the pressure on gulf area shelters. Many are still receiving from 50 to 200 pets a day, some taken off the streets and others still being found alive in moldy homes, often without food and water after more than a month.
But, for these Potomac pets, life will just get better. “Now, the interesting part of fostering is taking place,” said Chanock. “At first they were so excited to be out of the crates, they were very affectionate. But then they became withdrawn.”
The stories now are about the rehabilitation of these dogs, how they interacted with family pets, how long they hid timidly in corners, how soon they began to bond. “These are the exciting times,” she said.