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  • Category: Actions You Can Take > Animal Rescue > Abandoned and Homeless Animals

    Visiting St. Francis (Best Friends)

    A quick visit to the St. Francis sanctuary, from Michael Mountain.

    By 9 a.m. it's already sweltering at the St Francis sanctuary outside of New Orleans, where Best Friends has its rescue center. The rescue teams have already left for the city. And at the sanctuary, the day's work is well under way. I was there for just a short time today, and the work everyone is doing at St. Francis is inspiring and heroic. It’s real privilege to meet them all.

    Best of all, the animals are doing really well. Almost all of the dogs are in spacious compounds where they can run around and play together on the grass or lie in the shade. The cats are moving into open rooms so that they, too, are out of cages. Lots of the volunteers who have been to Best Friends in Utah say that it's a kind of "Best Friends East" here. And really, there's that same, unmistakable atmosphere. Truly, for animals coming out of the hellish situation in New Orleans, it's a place of peace and serenity – though for the people working there, it's hard work pretty much round the clock. They are doing an amazing job. Some of the things that stood out on this brief trip:

    * New arrivals settling in at what we call Ellis Island, a nice grassy area near the front of this extraordinary tent city. Last night's newcomers include an injured pet pig and an emu who's a little stressed (so best not to get too close.) Mike from Best Friends cats is in charge of the Ellis Island arrivals, where it's mostly dogs. ("Just a change of scene for a cat person," he says.)

    * Over at the emergency MASH center, extra fans are blowing to keep the dogs in special care cool. One of them, Molly, is pretty exhausted and can only walk a few steps before wanting to sit back down. Looks like she has heartworm along with everything else she's been through.

    * The cat folks are celebrating the new porch that's been built so that kitties can run and play together. It's almost like going into Benton's House back at Best Friends! Volunteers socialize the kittens (lots of kittens), and comfor the adult cats who look a little bewildered by what's happened to them. Some of the cats are still in large carriers, but plans are for them all to be out in open areas soon.

    * The veterinarians are preparing for the day's special treatments, emergency surgeries, etc. They're a great team – all volunteers working out of the goodness of their hearts, as are all of the 50 or more volunteers who are working alongside the Best Friends staff there. One of the vet teams comes from a Buddhist order in Sedona, Arizona. Pema Chaepel Mallu D.V.M. and Nydia Alexandre R.N. have been working night and day now for the last 10 days, Nydia acting as Dr. Pema's assistant and technician to provide emergency and critical care for the animals here.

    * New dog compounds are being put up – every day the numbers swell. And new storage areas for the huge supplies that have been coming in – everything from dog food to sunscreen.

    * Andrew, from Best Friends horses, is finishing off a set of shower stalls for people to use. "Another half hour and we're ready," he said with a look of triumph.

    * Much of the documentation of the animals is being done by Catherine Glover and "The Tampa Team,” who are all Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) trained. They have a lot of experience in emergency rescue work and have been a huge help in making sure we know who every animal is so we can help them reunite with their families wherever possible.

    * Despite the heat and the exhaustion, the energy level is high. Lots of smiles. Some of that is due to the fact that there were several reunions yesterday, and every reunion (26 so far) is greeted by a loud peal on the cowbell and cheers from all around. The folks here say that the reunions are one of the things that make everything worthwhile.

    * Tonight, the rescue teams will come back in – often it's not until 2 or 3 a.m. – and unload their trucks at Ellis Island again The people at the sanctuary will perhaps have been snoozing for a few hours before springing back to action, unloading the animals, rushing some of them into the emergency medical area, and getting the others settled. Then maybe a couple more hours of naptime. And then it's already tomorrow.

    Speaking of rescues, time is running out for animals still in the city. But we still look forward to more and more rescues – especially since many more people have now been finding their way into the city on their own, and simply putting out food and water until more help arrives. That, in its self, is a major blessing for animals who have been struggling to survive for three weeks now.

    I'm writing this aboard a plane, on my way to Washington DC to meet on Tuesday morning with a group of Congress people who make up the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Animals. They're asking some of the main rescue organizations to let them know about the rescue effort overall, particularly in terms of interactions with the federal government and how things could work better in any future emergencies.

    One other thing. If you missed the piece on NBC's Dateline on Sunday evening, it's up on our website. I may be biased, but I'd say it's the best thing that's been on TV for the animals in the past three weeks. Rob Stafford, the correspondent, and Olive Talley, the producer, went way beyond the call of duty in putting this piece together.

    To me, it captures the whole atmosphere of the animal rescue operation. Many thanks to them and all the Dateline crew who worked on this story. I met Rob on Sunday evening when I arrived. He was carrying around a beagle-mix puppy who he's taking home to Chicago as a foster. Of course, we want as many as possible of these lost dogs to be reunited with their families. But this little girl looked as though she'd truly found hers!

    As always, many thanks to all of you who are making all of this possible through your support and generosity. There's more news every day on the website at Thank you for being part of it all.

    Michael Mountain
    Best Friends Animal Society

    Contact Person: Best Friends
    This page was last modified on 09/21/2005.

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