Local pet-lovers head to New Orleans

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Volunteers use their skills to collect animals, nurse them to health and transport some back to Canada.

Local pet lovers of all breeds began a push this week to help save thousands of stray animals said to be running wild in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.

On Tuesday, local animal behaviourist Rory O’Neill departed Canmore bound for Louisiana, where she will help to corral thousands of animals running loose on the streets of New Orleans.

O’Neill will be joined by Canmore veterinarian Dr. Pilar Gosselin, who is flying down on Saturday to volunteer her skills. Dog sledder Connie Arsenault and animal communicator Keri Davis will also leave Saturday, driving a Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours truck that will carry 75 animals back to Canada.

Animals abandoned during the Aug. 29 hurricane were left to fend for themselves on the streets of New Orleans where they battle scorching temperatures, lack of clean water and food shortages, which pose a risk to the pets’ health. Additional flooding by hurricane Rita also poses a threat to the animals’ safety.

“They’re afraid now. They’re scared. They’re searching for their home and their families and they can’t find anything or anybody. You have to know how to approach them,” said O’Neill, who will be working with the American Humane Society.

O’Neill’s volunteer organization Canmore Canine Rescues does similar work in the Bow Valley area by rescuing feral and partly feral dogs from the Morley area. She said those skills will be an asset in New Orleans, where abandoned animals have begun to return to their basic instincts and run in packs.

“If you go in confident that this animal is just a scared little thing, he just wants companionship, some love, security, that’s all they want, and some food, then you can easily approach them, touch them, pick them up,” she said.

Problems with abandoned dogs and cats roaming the New Orleans area, where up to 50,000 animals are said to be left, began when the army initiated a no-pets policy while evacuating victims of hurricane Katrina earlier this month. As a consequence, countless pets were left locked in houses or stranded on roofs and the longer they’re left to run loose, O’Neill points out, the bigger the problem is likely to get as breeding increases.
“They’ll be double in no time,” she said.

When Gosselin arrives in New Orleans on Saturday, she will spend eight days volunteering at a main staging area where animals are being taken once they are brought from the city.
She said there are thousands of animals at the staging area, which is currently full.

“They need to move dogs out of there to other facilities,” Gosselin said, adding that the team is looking for donations in order to cover flight costs, food and first aid supplies, leashes and collars and the expense of bringing animals back over the border.

Six of the 75 dogs being brought back will be adopted out in Canmore, with the rest going to Calgary and Vancouver, Gosselin said, stressing that the animals have been officially abandoned by owners who are no longer able to take care of them.

“These are dogs that are not being stolen out of the arms of people who are looking for them,” she said. “They are destined for euthanasia if they can’t be placed.”

Many are southern breeds like chihuahuas and catahoula leopard dogs, a blue-eyed hunting hound and also the state dog of Louisiana. Four cats will also be available for adoption, Gosselin said.

Arsenault and Davis’ mission is simply to drive to New Orleans and return with the animals on board. The team is also looking for anyone willing to volunteer the use of an air-conditioned van that would hold animals in case they are suffering from heat-related stresses, she said.

Donations to both the Canmore Canine Rescues program and to cover the expense of other individuals heading to New Orleans can be made at the Bow River Veterinary Clinic. Gosselin said that any old leashes or dog collars that are donated would be delivered for use in the New Orleans area.

Source:Canmore Leader

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