OP-ED: THOSE LEFT BEHIND

Covered in filth and mange, a multitude of dogs and cats that survived Hurricane Katrina were crammed into military vans. Some had maggot-filled sores, broken limbs and infected eyes that burned like a red hot poker. The vans were filled to capacity and it was impossible to tell one animal from the other. 

Those once long-haired canines with soft billowy fur now resembled stone creatures encased in a shell of thick crust.  Scrawny, flea-ridden cats no longer purred contentedly but howled in fear and pain. The muscular pit bulls were reduced to skeletons, the outlines of rib cages and hip bones clearly visible in emaciated bodies. On and on it went, each animal a mere shell of its former self. 

The catastrophic hurricane had ravaged New Orleans, Louisiana three weeks earlier. The relentless rain caused the levees to burst, resulting in extensive flooding. Home-owners lost everything, all their possessions destroyed. Many scrambled to the roofs of their houses in a desperate attempt to save themselves while others tried swimming to safety. Those lucky enough to own a rowboat floated on the flood waters, dragging people into their boats along the way. 

The president declared a state of emergency and the military arrived .. some say too little too late … but they worked their asses off to bring a sense of order to New Orleans. Non-commissioned officers worked side by side with police lieutenants and fire chiefs. Doctors, paramedics and volunteers all worked hand in hand. The levees were rebuilt and people were relocated. 

However the animals … too many to count …  were forgotten or deliberately left behind in the frenzy. When the waters subsided weeks later, they were found chained to fences and porch railings. Others had climbed up trees or hidden themselves away in the attics of abandoned houses. All were starving, sick, in pain and scared. Others struggled valiantly to survive but failed. 

That’s what the military and animal rescue workers found. Helpless, hopeless animals in need of immediate medical care. Who knows what those poor creatures were thinking as they were being loaded into the vans. Could they sense these people were trying to help them? Were they frozen in fear, traumatized by the events of the past few weeks? 

All the dogs and cats were brought to animal hospitals and makeshift triage centers throughout the state. With the patience of Job, veterinarians … many from out of state … treated thousands of animals, gently cutting off matted crusty fur, administering antibiotics and vaccines, providing food, water and shelter, bringing those nearly dead back to life. If necessary, infected eyes were removed and useless limbs amputated but sadly, in the end, more animals were lost than were saved. 

Is human life more important than animal life? As a reporter, I ask: “If you saw an injured animal lying in a ditch, would you help?” If we choose to believe that a Higher Power created all living creatures in His or Her image, the answer is  easy. 

NAR © 2018

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