Editor's note: Three Greene Countians - Robin Quillen, Bob Johnson and Dale Johnson - recently returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast where they helped with animal rescue efforts. They left Sept. 19 and returned late on the 22nd. The three members of Feral Friends of Greene County made the journey in a camper pulling a trailer packed with crates, pens, shampoos, medicines and other medical supplies.

They said previously that they were able to do this "thanks to the generosity of a number of Greene County residents." Feral Friends is a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the proliferation of kittens and improve their health by spaying and neutering unowned cats.

Following is an account written by Bob Johnson.

What we found on our trip to the Gulf Coast was eye-opening. As the press has said, the pictures we see on TV and in other media don't begin to communicate the destruction and conditions in the hurricane-ravaged areas.

Our trip took us first to Mandeville, La., which is above Lake Pontchartrain and inland a few miles.

Three weeks after the hurricane, there were wires down in many locations, and it was obvious that there had been a lot of chain-saw activity to clear the roads.

The kennel, which was our destination, had been without power for 22 days with no signs of getting it restored in the foreseeable future.

We were not comfortable with the lack of organization and what seemed like plenty of materials to care for the animals at the facility we had arranged to assist, so we started driving east along the coast to try to locate shelters or veterinary facilities more in need of the supplies we were carrying.

Our hope to go to New Orleans and help with rescue efforts was thwarted since authorities had closed the city in anticipation of Hurricane Rita.

We also discovered that volunteers with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) who were from Charleston, S.C. were in Mandeville taking animals back to their Charleston shelter for housing until the animals were claimed by their owners.

Veterinarian Wiped Out

Our next stop was in Slidell, La. The lower part of Slidell was hit by the storm surge, which either washed away homes and businesses or flooded them.

Dr. Mike Edwards, a local veterinarian, was hit twice.

His home, along with all others lining a two-mile long street bordering Lake

Pontchartrain, was totally washed away. No evidence of even debris was left on that street.

In addition, Dr. Edwards' clinic was flooded, which destroyed all of his equipment and supplies, effectively putting him out of business.

His clinic was the premier clinic in town because it contained equipment not available in other clinics.

It is unclear whether he will even be able to collect on insurance.

Apparently, Dr. Edwards had some flood insurance, but it is limited in amount and will not begin to make him financially sound.

The happy note was that Dr. Edwards and a friend were able to remove all 39 of the animals in the clinic to safety in Picayune, Miss.

They told us it took them a day to cut their way out of the property after the storm.

They had posted a sign on the clinic door that the animals were safe and to call Dr. Edwards' cell phone.

All 39 animals were reunited with their owners.

We decided that we would keep some of the materials we were hauling so that they could help Dr. Edwards in about three months when he is in a better position to use them.

Another veterinarian who was flooded out was happy to get a number of items, including refrigerated drugs.

He was expecting to be back to seeing patients within a week, for limited procedures.

Positive Attitudes Noted

One thing that amazed us was the positive attitudes of those we met. Facing the total

loss of their homes and businesses, they were good-natured and positive.

Several were also quite negative regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) response to their situations.

However, it was amazing to see the number of churches and other organizations who were providing relief supplies.

Next to Dr. Edwards' flooded clinic, the Baptist church, itself flooded, was providing sleeping space and a parking lot crammed full of food, clothing, diapers, water and other necessities.

There were also several parking lots with piles of clothing for people to browse.

What was particularly sad were the number of tents pitched in various places, typically around parking lots where families were living.

We then went on up the Mississippi coast on Route 607, a nearly coastal highway.

The first town was Waveland, which was obliterated.

There were no businesses operating, and there were campers with volunteers and relief supplies in every available parking lot.

We were told that virtually everything in town was destroyed. The grassy area

beside the road was lined with cars and trucks that had been washed off the road.

Between Waveland and the next town, Bay St. Louis, was a field where the Humane

Society of the United States (HSUS) had set up tents and trailers to process rescued animals.

They were well-supplied with materials and people.

The vet we talked to had driven from Michigan to help. There was another mobile veterinary clinic and two veterinarians from New York who had just arrived.

The animals passing through this facility were then sent to a large HSUS shelter in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Again, the attitudes and demeanors of these people, both volunteers and storm victims, were eye-opening.

After Bay St. Louis, the route was blocked. It was a bridge passing to the next piece of land, and there was no deck left on the bridge.

The houses and businesses, several of which were right on the water, were even more severely damaged, in some cases pushed completely off their foundations and twisted.

Back To I-10

We backtracked to Interstate 10 and went to a little Mississippi town called Kiln. This town is several miles inland, but the damage was no less severe.

We were told by deputies about a relocated animal shelter.

We tried to find it down a long narrow dirt road ending in a field with some grazing horses.

After maneuvering a turn-around, we returned to the main road where huge trucks were dumping piles of pine debris into open fields.

It seemed like a never-ending job, since there was pine debris everywhere, even 150 miles north of the shore.

Next, we went to Gulfport where the damage was stunning.

Where houses still had roofs, there were blue tarps covering them.

There were large areas without power and few open businesses.

Huge shopping center parking lots had again been commandeered for relief volunteers. Campers and tents were everywhere.

From there, we went north to Hattiesburg to locate veterinarians and animal shelters in need and to locate the HSUS facility.

Checking the telephone book and talking with a lady in a Wal-Mart store who used to know a nearby veterinarian, we went to offer help.

He had been fortunate enough to locate a mobile trailer in which he had set up his clinic for limited procedures, but his clinic was destroyed.

Not only was the roof blown off entirely, but the trusses that are part of the roof structure broke.

And, of course, the rain flooded all of his supplies and equipment. And this happened more than 75 miles from the coast.

The good news for him (and sad for many of the storm victims), is that since the wind blew the roof off first, his insurance would cover his losses. This veterinarian was quite happy to take some of what we had to offer, and to point us to the HSUS shelter just up the road.

To The Shelter

HSUS was fortunate to find that Hattiesburg had a "multi-purpose facility" that had several large covered roof-barn type structures in the back. They had taken over all of these shelters and a huge field behind which was a virtual sea of campers.

The National Guard was there to help, and HSUS was issuing badges to volunteers.

We were told there were over 400 animals in this shelter. It appeared to be extremely well-organized and equipped.

They were able to use the remaining medicines we were carrying but had no need for cages, crates or other supplies.

One overall observation was that the larger groups, at least for the animals, had received the outpouring of support from the American people and were relatively well-stocked.

The veterinarian providing our tour of the facility had driven down from Boise, Idaho.

Of course, the need will continue for a long time, particularly as many of the Gulf Coast's animals shelters were flooded out, and local veterinarians work to recover.

The animal shelter in Hattiesburg was a receiving point for animals from the Mississippi coast.

They were keeping the animals for 30 days from when they were received, then making the animals available to rescue organizations around the country.

All recovered animals were being listed on the PetFinder.com Web site, and they were printing pictures and distributing them because many of the storm victims had no home, let alone electricity and computers.

Fortunately, the adoption contracts include a clause that if the original owner shows up, the animal must be returned. Thirty days doesn't seem like much considering the condition of the coast - it was already more than 20 days when we were there.

Visiting Meridian

From Hattiesburg, we went north to Meridian, Miss.

Dr. Paige Moon, who worked with Dr. Bob Thorpe until recently, lives in Meridian.

She told us that Meridian was without power for two weeks after the storm and that at her home, all of her fences and many of the trees had been blown down, as well as a shed containing furniture temporarily stored during house renovations.

Meridian is more than 150 miles inland.

Back Home

Returning home, we have not forgotten what we saw.

The needs in some areas of the Gulf Coast are huge - especially for those who lost most everything and are without benefit of insurance.

The massiveness of the project means that full recovery will take a long time and some, like Dr. Edwards, will never be able to return to their former condition.

We intend to "adopt" Dr. Edwards and either send or take materials to him when he is better able to utilize them.

We would appreciate any donations of veterinary supplies or money to purchase supplies for Dr. Edwards and the other veterinarians impacted by the storm.

The sponsoring organization for this trip is Feral Friends of Greene County, a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the proliferation of kittens and improve their health by spaying and neutering unowned cats.

All checks may be made out to Feral Friends of Greene County and mailed to 1600 Red Hill Road, Greeneville, 37743.

Feral Friends may be reached by calling Robin Quillen at 639-7353 or Bob or Dale Johnson at 639-5140.

Recommended for you