Remembering Goldie and His Dad
On the eve of the eleven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I have been thinking about a Katrina survivor and his family, who forever changed my view of animal rescue. It is an especially important story to remember, given that many parts of Louisiana are currently under water from another epic flood. Goldie is the golden-colored Chihuahua/Pomeranian mix pictured above. He came to live with us as the result of a surprisingly large rescue effort I was leading in the wake of that disastrous storm, which left much of New Orleans, and many surrounding areas, under water.
During Katrina evacuations, many residents were forced, sometimes at gun-point, to leave their pets behind. That would turn out to be a key part of Goldie's story, which demonstrates the power of the love people have for their pets. Goldie's story would change our lives forever in ways we could not have anticipated.
At the time, I was the Executive Director for an animal shelter in Minnesota, which was a 2,400 mile round trip to a Hurricane Katrina pet rescue center set up in Tylertown, Mississippi, where Goldie ended up. That was also the rescue center where my staff and volunteers made twice per week trips for a six month period in order to bring supplies and volunteers. And back to Minnesota we brought pets that had been devastated by the storm.
When our team first arrived in Tylertown we were overwhelmed by the scope of the problem and the number of animals needing care. I sent word out to our local network that we hoped everyone would take in some Katrina survivors, in hopes of reuniting them with their families. In spite of our already full house, my family committed to taking two fosters. Those fosters ended up being Goldie and Chico. Chico is still with us. We will probably never know his history. We did learn Goldie's after we connected with his family, and ultimately reunited them. It is a story that touches me deeply and that I think about on this anniversary each year.
Goldie's human dad was named David, who lived with 3 daughters and 3 dogs in one of the areas hardest hit when the levees failed. David, his girls and the dogs were home when the levee near them broke. Within minutes, their home was engulfed in water. To reach safety, David and the girls brought the dogs up the stairs and ultimately into the attic of the home, where they became trapped.
Eventually, they managed to break their way through the roof of the home to free themselves. After a day or two of being stranded on the roof, a small row boat came by saying they were bringing people to the levee wall, where a larger boat was going to rescue them. David, the girls and the dogs all got in the boat and made it to the levee wall. But, when the rescue boat arrived, the dogs were not allowed.
With nothing left to do, David got into another small boat and took the dogs to a nearby apartment building, where the upper floor was partially dry. There, he stacked furniture and mattresses in the living room to make an island for the dogs. He left them there with food and water and then evacuated with his children.
When the water receded, David returned to get the dogs. But, they were gone, rescued, but lost in an over-worked, overwhelmed rescue system that could not possibly keep up and that was made up of organizations that refused to share information about the pets they rescued.
David's story was ultimately told to me by his mother who explained that he, after having lost his home, his job, his car and his dogs, and after trying for weeks to find the dogs, ultimately gave up and hanged himself from a tree in her front yard. She continued the search for the dogs and, ultimately, found all three, spread between Minnesota and California. We reunited Goldie with David's mom a couple of weeks later and every year about this time I think about them as a reminder of how deeply and profoundly we are linked to our pets, and how our policies and actions about pets have huge impacts on people.
Important update: Since Hurricane Katrina, the PETS Act became law, ensuring that people evacuating during emergencies will not be forced to leave their pets behind.