Noah’s Wish, an organization dedicated to the rescue of pets after disasters, is saving the pets of Slidell, Louisiana.

My wife and I returned from our Hurricane Katrina enforced evacuation expecting to find a pile of rubble where our house used to be. The television said that Slidell was one of the hardest-hit areas, and the eye of the storm did incredible damage to the city. Though the television was right, our house survived. Our damage was even relatively minor. But since so many other people lost everything, we were soon struck with a case of survivor’s guilt. We had to find something to do to help.

We couldn’t help financially, since my wife’s workplace was completely destroyed and we are due for some hard times ourselves. But we could donate time – or more specifically, my wife could, since I was lucky enough to still have a job. So she decided to spend half of her days hauling debris out of our yard and pool, and the other half volunteering with Noah’s Wish, a pet rescue organization who has set up operations in Slidell.

The number of pets left behind by their owners is staggering. The concept of leaving a pet behind is foreign to me; I have six cats and they are loved members of my family. Judging from the number of rescued animals, though, many people didn’t feel the same as I do.

Noah’s Wish is an organization started in 2002 with only one mission: to keep animals alive during disasters. Hurricane Katrina proved that people who could help themselves didn’t – this only reinforces the necessity of an organization to help those animals who can’t help themselves.

What’s worse, some owners even hampered their pet’s ability to take care of themselves. I’ll never forget the posting I saw on an online bulletin board where a cat’s owner was asking for someone to go open their garage and feed their cat. That particular neighborhood was destroyed by a ten foot storm surge.

The Noah’s Wish volunteers, who spent a week at a time in miserable conditions caring for the animals, are ordinary people who are performing miracles under extraordinary circumstances.

Since August 31, two days after Katrina devastated Slidell, Noah’s Wish has been providing food, housing and veterinary assistance to well over 1,500 rescued animals: dogs, cats, birds, chickens, geese, ducks, an emu, a scorpion, a tarantula, a ferret, rabbits, snakes, horses and lizards.

Caring for these animals were people like Robin, a veterinary technician from Texas. Andy, a teacher from Boston. Gail, a vocational rehabilitation counselor from Canada. And a few people like my wife Julie, who found she needed a way to help, and this is the way she wanted to do it.

Noah’s Wish has trained volunteers on site (over 750 at various times since the start of Katrina efforts), but still welcomes untrained volunteers. Julie gave the cats love and attention, walked the dogs, picked up the poop, and filled out the paperwork. A CNN news crew, unable to leave because of road conditions, spent several hours one afternoon walking dogs.

The trained volunteers worked hard to provide medical care and reunite the lost pets with their owners. Almost 400 pets have been claimed, but there are many more waiting for their former or new home.

In the early weeks of the effort, conditions at the temporary shelter were extremely difficult. The shelter is located in a metal warehouse at the City Barn in Olde Towne Slidell. Although large fans are running, there is no air conditioning to combat the brutal heat of September in Louisiana. Generators provided the only power. There were no phones (including cell phone access), no safe drinking water, no place to go for supplies, and limited places to stop and rest. Volunteers came from all over the United States and Canada for a week at a time to help out. Ask any of them what they wanted most and the answer was almost always “a hot shower.”

As the days went on, more and more animals were rescued. Some were found wandering the streets, some locked in cages. One chihuahua was found cowering in a kitchen sink where it had been washed up by the floodwaters. A beagle was found on the roof of a shed with no way to get back down. Anytime an animal was taken from a home, a note was left telling the owner that their pet was safe and how to retrieve it.

As the animals came in, volunteers got to work processing them. Each animal was assigned a tracking number and veterinary care was provided. Then the work began, moving from cage to cage, refilling water bowls and food dishes, scooping litter and walking dogs. The cacophony was deafening from the dogs excitedly barking, all anxious for their time outside. Rarely did you find a foul-tempered dog; some were frightened, but most were desperate for human attention.

Behind the warehouse were tents over the dog runs housing the larger animals. Separated by tarps from the dogs were the geese, ducks, chickens and other farm animals. Further out was a well-worn trail for the dog’s three-times-daily excursions.

Stacked next to the warehouse were pallets of food and supplies. Many items were donated by individuals, but the bulk of the supplies were either donated in bulk by manufacturers and corporations or purchased using donated cash. Nestle Purina donated three semi-truckloads worth of food. The National Guard dropped off several tents while I was there one day, and there was a steady stream of smaller donations. One family from Miami, Florida hired a driver to deliver a truckload of large tents, over 100 dog crates, chain link fencing and pre-fabricated dog runs.

Due to the magnitude of the disaster and the sheer number of animals, it is inevitable that many pets will never be returned to their owners. Many people have left the area and do not plan to return – there may be nothing left to return to. Although many animals have been reunited with their families, others will be adopted out. Noah’s Wish has a policy where lost animals are kept at the shelter for a minimum of 30 days, then fostered out for an additional 30 days. This means that families who are looking for a lost pet have at least 60 days to reclaim (or at least identify) their pet. Noah’s Wish is also arranging for long-term fostering for the pets of people who have lost their homes and cannot reclaim their pets for some time. No animal will go uncared for.

Not only has Noah’s Wish led the rescue of Slidell’s pets during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they have committed to a more permanent type of assistance: they are planning on building a new facility for Slidell’s Animal Control Division, whose offices suffered catastrophic damage in the storm. They expect the new facility to cost somewhere around one million dollars, and have volunteers all across the country raising money.

While Hurricane Katrina exacted a horrible toll on the citizens of Slidell, we cannot ignore and abandon our pets and animals. By adopting them into our families, we have entered into an unwritten contract – we are now responsible for their well-being and safety. Unfortunately, times have come where we can no longer always live up to our obligations, and that’s where Noah’s Wish has stepped in to help. The volunteers who have donated time out of their own normal lives to help both our citizens and our animals have my utmost respect and admiration.

How you can help

The Noah’s Wish website ( has many different ways that you can help: monetary donations, supplies, or donated time. While all donations are welcome, the gift of cash is the most useful, as it allows them to buy what they need when they need it. Store gift certificates are welcomed, as well.

They also have an ongoing need for many basic supplies, such as batteries, duct tape, hand sanitizer, etc. A more complete list is on the Noah’s Wish website. They do ask, however, that you please contact them before sending any supplies. They have eight regional storage facilities, and will direct your donation to where it is most needed.

Another welcomed donation is airline vouchers, tickets or mileage. A very large expense during disasters is getting key members of the disaster response team to the site quickly.



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