Return to New Orleans-7

This morning I checked out of my hotel in the French Quarter and picked up a rental car. I drove to Barnes and Noble in Metairie first, which had been recommended to me by the woman at the French Market. They have nice displays of dog books and regional interest books. I obtained the business card for their community relations person and left her one of the Kate book postcards and my book business card.

 

Next I drove to Plaquemines Parish to meet Laura at PAWS, who I have been corresponding with since 2005.On my way in to Belle Chasse I passed the Sisters Restaurant where Lori of the Rescue Ranch had mentioned seeing the poster of a missing cattle dog in 2006. Laura was very gracious to meet me after church and showed me around PAWS. They have a small building presently, but plan to construct a new shelter in conjunction with the local animal control that will be city (government) funded. They had a room with puppies and small dogs, a room with cats and kittens, and larger runs in the back with larger dogs. They also had another large room with more cats that could be loose together. It was great to meet Laura in person after all this time!

Laura said that there was no excuse for leaving your dog behind, she would never leave her German Shepherd. She didn’t want to adopt pets out to people who had left their pets behind before, and now came in looking to replace them.

I was pleased to learn from Laura that they had received grants from both the HSUS and the ASPCA. She said that both organizations have been very good to them. The animals at PAWS seem well cared for, even though the resources are limited. People were walking dogs and cleaning cages as Laura and I spoke at the front desk. I felt fortunate to meet the wonderful people who care about the animals down here.

I left a Kate postcard with Laura. She didn’t seem real positive about me finding out where Kate came from. I guess she has seen so many dogs come and go…Laura told me that the place where the animals had been held temporarily after Katrina, formerly a senior citizen community center, had been torn down and rebuilt. I had wondered if it was the cement block building in the visual image that Kate had given to Mary Getten.

Laura and I were waiting for Lori of the Rescue Ranch horse rescue. I had corresponded with her when I was trying to find out where Kate came from, and she had been very helpful. Eventually she arrived in a large white pick-up truck and offered to show me the Rescue Ranch. I said goodbye to Laura, thinking that I was very impressed with Laura and PAWS and Lori and the Rescue Ranch. Lori and I drove further down Highway 23 and turned in at the ranch. She explained how they tried to keep it a natural setting, with horses roaming free inside the fence. She is adding an adjacent 20 acres to the farm soon and needs to come up with money for the fencing. As we drove in, a horse came over to greet her, then backed up a step when he saw my car following. He knew her, but wasn’t so sure about me at first.

Lori told me about her riding incentive program with local kids. After school, she helps them with their homework, then they come out to do horse chores. As long as they keep at least a “C” average in school, they also get to ride the horses. One girl, who had bonded and cared for one of the hurricane rescue horses, Rebel, was given him as a surprise birthday gift! I met Rebel and he followed us for a while as we walked around the grounds.

Lori told me that she broke her back 3 weeks before Katrina—her T5 vertebra had been x-rayed and was broken all the way through. She didn’t get it treated right away, but instead asked her pastor to lay hands on her for healing. After Katrina, she was doing all that rescue work with a broken back. Later her back was x-rayed again and the T5 vertebra looked fine—the doctor said she didn’t even see calcium deposits. Lori’s 5 year old daughter went to live with Lori’s sister in Mississippi for three months after Katrina. She missed her daughter a lot, but said she couldn’t have her here, not knowing when they would have food and what the conditions would be like from day-to-day.

Lori is a licensed animal investigator and had rescued some starving horses. She showed me photos and told me about the bust of the guy who had let the horses starve, even though he had been paid to feed them and take care of them. Some of those horses who looked awful in the photos were wandering around her ranch in front of us, a year later, well-fed and healthy. She had taken in a lot of hurricane horses, ponies and other animals too. Some were surrendered to her because their owners didn’t have the means to keep them or take care of them any more. She said that the guys from the naval base (nearby on Highway 23) had helped her a lot. They were coming out the next day for a work party, to help put in more fencing, I think. She was planning to have plenty of food on hand to keep them going.

As we stood and talked, a horse with one eye walked by and a goat came up to me. The whole time we stood and talked, he wanted me to scratch his head and around where his horns had been trimmed. When Lori and I went to walk around the grounds, he didn’t follow. I was a bit concerned that he might climb on my rental car, but he didn’t! Rescue Ranch received funding from the ASPCA for a tractor, fencing, her truck, (she had burned through two trucks hauling rescued animals up from down south), feed and gelding costs. People in the area have been turning their horses out because they can’t afford to feed them, and grazing is not providing enough food. So on top of caring for the hurricane horses that are still here, more are coming in. Thanks to Lori’s care, some people were able to retrieve their horses more than a year after Katrina. Lori kept them safe and well cared for until people could come back for them.

Lori of Rescue Ranch knew Lori and Ronnie M, who had lost the red heeler Reno that I had tried to locate. Lori M is the woman who contacted me in August 2006, after seeing my ad looking for Kate’s origin. She was also the person who had put up the poster in Sister’s Restaurant, looking for her cattle dog Reno. Lori of Rescue Ranch knew Lori and Ronnie through their therapeutic horseback riding program. Since losing their horses and one of their dogs to Katrina, they have moved back to Florida.

I suspect that Kate came from Plaquemines Parish, although I didn’t get to explore much past Belle Chasse. It seems like the kind of area where someone could have 1 or 2 acres at the edge of town as indicated when Mary Getten communicated with Kate, where a dog could live in one place for a long time and never be well socialized. And Kate was not accustomed to city noises. She seems to have come from a more remote area and could have been someone’s yard dog out in Plaquemines Parish.

I said goodbye to Lori and continued on my way.

Next I drove to Algiers for Gatsby’s 2nd Line Parade to benefit the LA-SPCA. It was getting close to 3:30, when the registration would begin. The parade was in honor of the founder’s dog, Gatsby, and other dogs who have passed on. My Garmin directions system wouldn’t take Algiers as input, so I had to ask for directions at the gas station in Belle Chasse. The directions were great, although they took me through a couple of neighborhoods that I wasn’t so sure about. I got to the Algiers Ferry Landing area at about 4 o’clock and handed out postcards advertising Kate’s book. Over 100 people came for the parade, which was awesome. People and dogs came in costumes and followed a fantastic brass band along the levy. As we boogied along, I took photos of the parade and the scenery along the river. I had never been to that side of the river (the “West Bank”). It was very beautiful to look out at New Orleans from across the river. The parade was very moving. It felt nice to be among all the dogs and the animal lovers. The parade ended at a local tavern, which had the street blocked off for the band and for dancing. I handed out a lot of cards for Kate’s book and Kim’s movie. One person there introduced me to the woman who runs the local library, which is named after her mother. She gave me her card and may be interested in setting up a book signing/reading. It was getting late and I was getting dehydrated and sunburned, so I walked back down the levy to pick up my car. I decided to take more photos of the New Orleans skyline from that side of the river. As I walked farther out along the levy, I encountered a film crew that I had noticed out there earlier. I decided to give them a couple of postcards and they told me that they were trying to film something for the weather channel, but they’d been having a difficult day. I noticed a petite brunette sitting on the ground who may have been the TV reporter.

Soon I was back in the car and heading back across the river on my way to Gonzales. I was hoping to get there in time to take a shower and find the “C” family home before dark.

Driving west on I-10, I began to realize the extent of the water, the bayous extending south and west of Lake Pontchartrain. I had not driven that stretch of I-10 before, the stretch that the animal rescuers who came to Gonzales drove every day. It seemed like the highway was mostly “on stilts” between NOLA and Gonzales. As I approached Gonzales, I also noticed a lot of tall trees lining the interstate. Were they there in 2005? I didn’t remember them, but perhaps all the leaves and greenery had been stripped off after Katrina. At the Gonzales exit, there was a new Cabela’s store and the Tanger Outlet Mall on the northwest side of the intersection had been expanded and developed. My hotel was at the same exit as the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center. I decided to turn left and swing by L-D first. The front gates were open, so I drove around clockwise to the barns that had housed the rescued animals in September 2005. The place was deserted, although a horse event had taken place there over the weekend. When I saw all those empty barns, I burst into tears, remembering all those dogs and how helpless we’d felt to do right by them. The stalls were now set up for horses, not dog crates, but I photographed the barn, including the stall where I had first found Kate. A wave of sadness came over me, remembering how it was there in September 2005 and wondering where all those dogs had ended up. It felt so strange to see the place completely empty now. I sought solace at the old oak tree behind Barn 5, just as I had in 2005. The bench was gone from under the tree, and its branches were splayed even further in every direction. The tree looked like it could topple in any of four or more directions and the cables that held it together seemed to be stretched even farther than before. I didn’t go under the tree, but read the plaque nearby that was dedicated to the Lamar-Dixon family. Somehow, that tree made me feel better, just as it had in the past.

The sun was sinking lower and I wanted to visit the “C” family yet that evening. So I left Lamar-Dixon and headed for my hotel. When I called, Cliff reminded me which exit to take and to look for the pond on the left just before their driveway. I reached their house, about 12 miles up the interstate from Lamar-Dixon, just as darkness was descending. The whole family was there, Cliff and Cindy, who came out to greet me first, and Shelby, Addison, and Patrick, plus Loren, a friend who I had also met in 2005. The dogs Cassie, Cody, and Bailey were all there too.

They’d had a crawfish boil for their church there the day before. One of the crawfish had “escaped” and they had found him hiding in the pipe that was set in their driveway to hold a basketball pole. He had poked his head up, then hid back down in the pipe when they spotted him. They put him in a bucket of water and saved him to show me. He was about ½ the size of a lobster, he was so big. He was a freshwater crawfish, so the kids took him down to the pond to set him free—another survivor!

I enjoyed getting caught up with the C family and updating them on my life in the past three years. I told them how grateful I was for their hospitality, which I had really appreciated in 2005 and appreciated even more after I heard the stories of people who had to sleep in the FEMA tent and try to get a shower at Lamar-Dixon. Cliff thanked me for not turning out to be an axe murderer and was trying to remember how we had first come into contact. I reminded him about how I had seen his post on craigslist, had replied with questions about what was needed at Lamar-Dixon, and had asked him whether there was gas and water available. We started corresponding, one thing led to another, and Cliff’s family had invited me to stay at their home. We reminisced about the chance we all felt we were taking at the time and how a true friendship had grown between us. They asked me about the book and told me that they’re interested in getting signed copies for each of the children, whose photo is in the book. I told them how my dream is to sell enough books to provide significant funding for animal rescue organizations. We’ll see…

As Cliff left to drive Loren home, Cindy and I stood out on the driveway and said our goodbyes. A big fat full moon illuminated the yard, a full moon at the end of a very full day.

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