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Mission to Rescue Horses, Pets

Locals volunteer time and expertise in Gulf to rescue stranded and injured horses, dogs, cats and even lions.

For Allan Schwartz of Days End Farm Horse Rescue, helping horses in dire situations has become a lifetime vocation. In addition to local missions, he has assisted in large animal disaster relief for hurricane and emergency situations in many parts of the country.

So, when Schwartz received a call from the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that he worked with on previous rescues, to help the animals and their owners stranded after hurricane Katrina, he packed his trailer and headed to Mississippi.

Schwartz is just one of hundreds of local residents who responded to what many say is the most devastating disaster ever to hit this country. Both the experienced and inexperienced have volunteered to help, but Schwartz, with his specialized large animal rescue equipment, was able to provide a service that only a handful of operators around the country have the training to do.

On Friday, Schwartz returned from Mississippi after two weeks of traversing ravaged areas from Jackson, Miss., on down to Waveland to Bay St. Louis. He logged 5,000 miles on his truck. His rig, loaded with a 300-gallon water tank and a generator, took on legendary proportions for stranded residents as it worked its way to farms and towns.

“It was the worst destruction I have ever experienced,” he said. “There is not a house left standing on the coast at Waveland. I saw hundreds of dead dogs and cats, and human bodies were everywhere. It is unforgettable.”

“I know places where the storm surge reached 30 feet,” he said. He saw horses swimming in the floodwaters until they receded. “They floated around until the water came down,” he said.

In one particular barn, the water rose and trapped seven horses in their stalls, but one managed to escape over the door. It remained in the barn, swimming for two-and-a-half hours. During that time a tree fell through the roof and injured its back, but the horse survived. When Schwartz arrived he was able to load it on his trailer and take it to Mississippi State University where it needed ongoing intensive care. The owner could not pay for the animal’s treatment. Schwartz donated his expense money and, along with help from the Humane Society, the medical costs were covered. The horse will be returned to its owner when it has recovered.

It was very impressive to see how these different groups worked together with Schwartz, who has recently been made a member of VMAT (Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams), said Caroline Heller, a veterinarian who is also a member. She worked along with Schwartz to recover loose horses in the Pass Christian area. Most of the horses were backyard horses that had to be caught and traced to their owners.

Another mission took him to Collins Roadside Zoo where he found three lions, two tigers, four cougars and a cobra that were still in their cages, hungry and in desperate need of water. The zoo owner, herself displaced, was frantic, he said. Schwartz contacted another zoo that had the ability to donate 150 pounds of carnivore meat that he delivered to the zoo, along with gasoline to run her own generator. “One hundred fifty pounds of meat doesn’t go far with these animals,” said Schwartz. Eventually, neighborly kindness paid off. He worked with a local farmer, who had lost 90,000 chickens in the flooding who he donated what he could to her animals. A local grocery store in town that lacked electricity heard of her plight and delivered its freezer meat for the big cats.

“The hospitality of the people who lost everything was so impressive,” said Schwartz. “Often, people that could use two or three bags of dog food, took just one, only what they needed.”

Working from 6 a.m. until midnight, Schwartz delivered grain and water to more than 500 horses during his two-week mission. He rescued more than 25 horses from dangerous and life-threatening situations, as well as countless dogs, cattle and other farm animals and their owners. Many of the dogs and some horses were micro chipped in an attempt to return them to their owners as soon as possible, he said.

Back in 1989, disaster was not in Schwartz’s mind when he and his wife Kathy established their small horse rescue operation using their own finances and making a passion a reality. Their odyssey began when they rescued a neglected horse named Toby. They had watched the horse decline in health and decided to take action. Eventually they moved Toby to their farm and after a year and a half of care, he began to flourish. Their commitment to Toby and its resulting satisfaction turned into a life-long commitment to caring for abused and neglected horses and providing them with a new and productive life. Today their 16-acre farm is home to more than 40 horses and ponies, all rescued and on their way to rehabilitation.

Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Md., began as a non-profit humane organization and today, with over 500 adults and children and 10,000 supporters worldwide, it has a budget of $60,000 annually, primarily from donations. “This is what keeps us going,” he said. “Supporters who donate to our Katrina rescue efforts are also supporting us for the rest of the year and this keeps our organization strong and ready to face another challenge.”

POTOMAC VET RETURNS FROM LOUISIANA

Veterinarian Rose Walter Oppenheim of River Falls returned from volunteering as a relief veterinarian at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., where animals found in houses or wandering the streets are taken in. The center is also housing animals dropped off by owners who had been evacuated and could not take their pets.

Because her husband agreed to work at home and mind the children, she felt free to respond and joined a Veterinary Medical Assistance Team in Gonzales. VMAT are groups of veterinarians and other animal-care experts deployed by FEMA to respond to the Katrina disaster.

“I HAVE always been in shelter medicine and I had the ability to go,” she said. “There is no reason not to.”

The Lamar-Dixon-based shelter is housing close to 3,000 animals, Oppenheim estimates, in crates and cages in 960 horse box stalls. Rescue trucks leave in the morning and return at night with 100 to 200 more dogs and cats. “The sheer numbers are overwhelming and the heat is horrendous,” she said.

Oppenheim, who slept in her car at night, assisted with vaccinations, de-worming and flea treatment on the incoming dogs. “Most of the animals are being micro chipped before they leave the shelter for other areas for foster care,” she said. “Hopefully that will help locate them later.”

But, there is a dire need for funds and volunteers to keep these shelters operating.

Funds are essential to keep help coming and to begin to rebuild local animal shelters that have been destroyed. Volunteers, especially those with animal handling experience, are desperately needed in both Louisiana and Mississippi, where the shelter in Gulfport is in critical condition.

“This is not going to end in a few weeks,” said Oppenheim.

See sidebar for information on organizations that need help immediately.