Monday, November 20, 2006
Into the Bayou – Denkai Animal Sanctuary, Louisiana Trip 11/11/2006
A shelter cries out for help in Louisiana and nobody hears it. Not even during the hurricanes a year ago. Why? Though this shelter is a dropping point for six cities in Louisiana, it has no funding or resources for its animals. I have to admit, driving to Louisiana I had no idea what to expect or who to expect for that matter. The following is the story of the trip and why our Sanctuary has become involved.
Having managed to raise $1000.00 to rescue more Louisiana animals, we then contemplated the best way to go about getting them to Colorado. Flying was too expensive and would not stretch donor dollars far enough or save enough animals, getting a volunteer to drive had fallen through, so, as the Director and wanting to maximize numbers saved along with getting to know the staff of this Hammond Shelter, I decided to go. Contemplating carefully who should come with me, I went through several options and finally decided on asking Katy, our 17 year old volunteer to go. Thinking her parents would definitely object, I was figuring out a back up plan, when Joan, her mother phoned me saying absolutely! I thought, and they agreed, that this would be a great trip for her, she is home schooled and it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn why these animals and many others in shelters need our help.
Prior to leaving, I searched for foster homes and areas to place the dogs we were to bring back. Not having the kennel set up and being full at the Sanctuary, other locations were needed.
We rented a minivan and left on Tuesday. Arriving in Hammond on Wednesday night, Katy and I went directly to the shelter as we had been told that they were still having to euthanize animals even as we were on our way to help them. Not quite knowing what or who to expect, I have to admit, my guard was up. The first person we met at the shelter was Becca. Now Becca is the very tall, silent type, not a lot of hello out of her right away, I figured she was the one to watch out for, hmmmmm. Next, I met Kathy, yep, she was much friendlier and was so excited to see us. Finally, we had the pleasure of meeting Betsy, better known as Mamma. Betsy is amazing, she leads this group of workers silently and thoughtfully with strong mind and heart. I honestly think that she holds them together. I know she made us feel right at home.
Thursday, we met Maryann and Tracy. Thinking of Maryann still makes me laugh. She followed me warily around, very protective of the animals at this shelter, making sure that I was on the up and up. She is so sensitive and observant to those animals, it is amazing. Well, it didn’t take long for her to open up to us either and from that point on, she was all help and even toured Katy and me through their facility. Tracy, what a sweet heart. Tracy was born and raised in Louisiana, never has left the state. She gave us a ride to dinner the night before we left and then had to make a quick stop at the store to send home some down home Louisiana spicy food with us!
We started our day on Thursday helping to clean kennels and rotate dogs in and out, through yards and then helping to feed. I wanted to get a feel for the people working this shelter and find out what they are all about. And of course, I end up working with Becca, who I am sure is going to give me a good what for. Well, she didn’t, she is amazing, so quiet, yet works so hard and she has a huge heart! What I observed in these people and their interaction with the animals in this shelter was amazing. The animals are comfortable, they are happy and it is incredibly obvious that they feel completely safe even though they are in kennels as at any other shelter. They don’t bark constantly or slam against the kennel gates at you, they are observant. This is amazing, they are obviously worked with, cared for and they get outdoor time with real grassy yards.
Kathy met me in the walkway of the kennel on Thursday, she contemplates quitting, it is so hard to have to euthanize the animals that they can not find placements for, Betsy says she feels like a traitor, they care so well for these animals and then end up having to euthanize them because homes can not be found. Puppies under 4 months old are euthanized on the spot. 700 dogs per month are put to sleep by this team of three, very hard working women. As tears well up in her eyes, Betsy says “I would rather clean Kennels and be here all night than have to euthanize any of these wonderful animals.”
Now you know the character of these women and how hard they work. While we were in Hammond, Betsy asked us to Please visit an animal Sanctuary located near Hammond, she described conditions that only a germ could love, a bit skeptical, but curious, we went. Karen, our first contact with this shelter and an amazingly strong, giving and dedicated person, along with Katy and Myself arrived at this sanctuary Thursday night. Well, the first thing that caught our attention as we were searching for this Sanctuary was the stench. Plugging our noses and looking around, we spotted rows upon rows of dog kennels, well, this must be the place.
Upon stepping out of the car, trying not to gag because of the aroma filling the air, we were greeted by the person running this Sanctuary. He toured us through it as we had asked to see the dogs he had available. What we found is heartbreaking.
Believe me, I understand how hard it is to run and operate a Sanctuary along with dealing with outsider opinion, so wanted to give this person the best shot at explaining things as I could. We walked past a number of dogs tied out on cable runs and to porch posts. Yep, he tells us, I had a female dog tied to that one, came home one day and she had hung herself on that cable there, got rapped up in it or something” Ya think? A deep breath, and on to the next place. A barn, dark, dank and here comes the next “Ya think?” Two Female dogs with puppies on them, one each, the others had died. The pens never get cleaned and they are running in poop. Around the corner, in what used to be a horse stall with no window and only slats of wood that would allow light in, were more dogs. He stated that he doesn’t let them out, ever! He can’t catch them if he does, so they die in there whether it is of heartworm or lack of care or other factors. Around we go to the next barn. Four Catahoula puppies huddle in a corner together, immediately I can tell that they are sick and afraid of us. Taking pictures, Karen rambles on and on, distracting this person while Katy and I examine the pups. Gums are white, fleas everywhere and sorely underweight, yep they don’t have a chance.
Our little group follows this caretaker around the house, past several more dogs on chains, to the front porch. Two sets of female dogs with at least seven puppies each. Here it comes, “Yep, this one’s brother got her and that one two, so we have him over there in those pens” as he points towards the rows upon rows of barking dogs in kennels. All I can think is “Oh Boy”. Keeping my mouth shut, I silently point out what we are seeing to Katy, teaching her what we are looking at and why it is happening. Now we have the pleasure of walking towards the rows of dogs in kennels. The sky echoes with the sound of barking dogs.
The kennels measure approximately five feet wide and ten long, there are some that could have been ten by ten, sitting on poured concrete slabs. . There are three to five dogs per kennel and one dog house per kennel. It is obvious as we walk past the kennels that these dogs are highly under socialized, they are attacking each other as we walk past their kennels trying to get some attention from somebody, anybody! There is a beautiful black and white pit bull, sitting by himself in one of these kennels, highly aggressive through the fence, but it’s ok, the man says, that dog’s teeth are filed down, so he can’t actually hurt you if he bites you. This dog is a trained fighting dog. Continuing the tour, we see a kennel of three black lab mixes, all full of ringworm, no hair and severe conjunctivitis (eye infections). Since there is no solid barrier between kennels, this is spreading from one set of kennels to the next. It is obvious that no treatment is being given for this. In the center of the L shaped runs of kennels, sits a small, covered pen, divided in two for two small dogs with litters of puppies, some of the puppies old enough to reproduce and male. The dogs are breeding with each other through fencing because there is no solid barrier to separate them and they are not being spayed and neutered. Dogs that are new are thrown into a kennel with a group of others, there is a rescue in Canada that has one of these dogs, his leg was chewed off by the group already in the kennel. This one was lucky, he lived. Others have not. Cats run loose across the property, also reproducing at alarming rates, these cats are proclaimed rescues by this caretaker.
Having finished our tour and still wretching at the permeating stench coming from the property, we had the pleasure of meeting the “brains” behind this operation of 176 dogs that are cared for by one to two people on any given day. This woman looked at acted as though she had just walked out of that scene on the Never Ending Story with the old couple that just bickers with each other the whole time. She rambled on and on, yelling at her husband in between sentences, not paying attention to Karen’s faked asthma attack, which is what eventually saved us from this woman’s insanity. Karen had offered to help take some of the puppies off of their hands so that we could get them better. She was going to head out on Friday, after we had left with our transport. Strides are being taken to shut this place down.
Back to Hammond, we went and walked in to more pups having to be put down, no room left Betsy told us, tears welling up in her eyes. I looked at her, along with Kathy and everybody else and told them that what they are doing, with the limited to no resources they have and the care they are giving those animals was in itself, amazing. These animals feel safe and secure even though these ladies are having to put them down and that is huge. It is not the fault of these workers, there is no spay and neuter program in place for these animals. Educational programs need to be implemented, Tangapahoa Parish Animal Control needs help now!
Back to the drive, Friday Katy and I bathed and loaded dogs, we were able to fit approximately 40 dogs into our minivan, to do this, we left behind some items such as our cooler and some other minor items. Becca looked at me like are you crazy? Leaving the cooler? I told her the dogs were more important. She laughed. We left to generous hugs and unforgettable smiles from Becca and the rest of the staff,
Off we went, back to Colorado, 1,400 miles to go. Off and on, we would stop, unload the car and walk, water and feed along with clean crates, then load the dogs up and off we went again. We stopped Saturday morning outside of Vernon, TX at 2 am. Let’s just say that the hotel had seen better days. I found the bones of a deceased animal in the bathroom, blood on the comforter covers, somebody else’s smelly sock and stained pillows. The room reeked of stale cigarette smoke and to top it all off, there was no heat. Katy and I were both exhausted, so we looked at each other, went out to walk, water and feed dogs, then rooted around for a clean spot on our beds and tried to sleep. At 5 am, freezing our rear ends off, we loaded back into the van and drove a ways down the road to offload the dogs, do the routine and off we went towards Oklahoma. Our next stopping point, besides the one I had to take a nap at, was at a small picnic area in Oklahoma. When we pulled in, there was nobody there, well we started our normal routing of crate cleaning, offloading dogs and puppies, etc. Here come five semi trucks zooming past us. I’m thinking oh great, here we go. Yep, sure enough, here comes mister truck driver and his wife, who by the way was toting the most well-fed daschund I have ever seen. “Hey, what you got in there?” Whoa, look at all those puppies! Give me one will ya?” He says, my reply? “Uh no.” “Well why not? You have so many?” So I go on to explain that this is a rescue transport and these pups have to be vetted, spayed, neutered, etc. and then they can find homes. He still doesn’t get it. His wife gets it though. That’s all that mattered, she gets it, she’ll make him get it.
We arrived in Aurora, Colorado at the DIA (Dog Gone Incredible Adventure) Dog Club at about 6 pm on Saturday night. Sandy, the owner and Mike, her caretaker met us at the door with warm food and a cozy kennel for the dogs. She asked if we would like to eat first. Well, anybody that knows me, knows the answer to that. Nope, let’s unload the dogs and then we’ll eat. So, one by one, we unloaded dogs, washed and dried and set in kennels. Sandy’s groomer had also shown up to help. I am so amazed with these people. They have taken on 20 of our dogs to this wonderful, warm, clean and caring environment, have asked for nothing in return and are doing all of the work, feeding, cleaning, walking and caring for the dogs. 15 eight week old puppies went to their foster homes in other parts of Denver and four puppies and two older small dogs are in the Loveland/Fort Collins Area.
We focused on bringing back the dogs that had no chance in Louisiana, the ones that would definitely be put to sleep. The puppies, arriving daily as we were there, under four months old, the bull terrier with her broken leg that had no access to an orthopedic surgeon, the momma shepherd who so faithfully has nursed her six puppies, born in this shelter, the small dogs that are pregnant, one has an ulcer on her eye, the Llhasa Apso who was used as a football as a young puppy and is now very upset if his head, legs or tail is messed with, the miniature pincher found on the side of the road, as we were leaving town, we saw his buddy, dead on the side of that same road, the lab puppies that were most certainly going to end up in a fighting dog training ring, the list goes on and on. The dogs in Hammond have no way out there, they have no chance unless we continue to help this place along with others in resource-starved parts of the United States. We have the resources and the people to help here. While shelters all over the US are forced to euthanize their animals and are in need of help, the Louisiana area is still devastated by the hurricanes, FEMA is now pulling their trailer homes out of that area, creating more homeless people and dogs that are being dumped in this shelter. There are no resources available to the animals in this shelter. We want to help provide them with good dog and cat food, flea medications, wormer, vaccinations, and donations to help the animals that are in need.
An enormous thank you goes out to everybody involved in making this trip happen. To Bree and Darrin for holding down the fort while I was gone, to Kris of The Mutt Hutt in Windsor, for taking on Bucky, our pancreas dog, to Bridget, for your help in continuing our mobile Adoptions and taking care of Stevie Wonder, our blind Boston Terrier, expecting nothing in return, for working with our 1 year old Boston Terrier’s new family to ensure that his training needs are met and the new owners are educated, To Kristen with the Four Paws Pet Center of Colorado, Konnie of the Homeward Bound Foundation and all of her supporters, may your recovery from surgery go well, Sandy and Mike at the DIA Dog Club, Jane and Ariel for opening their home to the two sick puppies and donations of supplies for this trip and the crackers that helped us to get through it! To Major King of Channel 7 News, we hope that you will still consider running our story, thank you for keeping in close contact with us! This would not have been possible without your caring commitment and dedication to these animals. You are all truly amazing and wonderful people.
These dogs will all be up for adoption and looking forward to new homes in the next two weeks. Please visit our website at www.denkaisanctuary.org in the midweek for updates on the dogs, their surgeries and links to pictures and descriptions at petfinder.com and muttshack.com.