In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, charity groups made a beeline to the Gulf Coast to help victims - four-legged as well as two-legged. I was reporting from Biloxi, MS as part of an emergency crew assembled to provide relief for our Knight Ridder sister newspaper, The Sun Herald. During my week there I witnessed incredible acts of human generosity, from a tiny gospel mission church in Illinois, which traveled down in a beat up RV towing a trailer with the largest soup pot I'd ever seen, to the international charities like Ox-Fam which mobilized their first disaster relief mission on U.S. soil.
On my last day, I drove over to the not-yet-completed Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport where animal welfare and rescue groups from around the country were busy dispensing donated pet food, providing vet services and taking in animals from those who could no longer care for them. One heartbroken man arrived with a Rubbermaid container of mixed-breed puppies. He told me how he had used a baby pool to keep alive a walrus who beached in his yard after the Gulfport aquarium was destroyed. But, now, he said there were 12 displaced family members and 18 pets living in his house and he couldn't handle any more.
The Humane Society director told me she was thrilled to have a dry, if still unfinished, building to serve as "pet central" after the storm. But she and other shelter staff were grieving because they had just lost some 40 animals who drowned when the old shelter flooded. She told me she privately hoped that the storm would give overwhelmed shelters a chance to start fresh with aggressive spay/neuter programs to help stem the tide of unwanted animals.
Almost four years later, the shelter does indeed have an active low-cost spay neuter program. Still the problem of pet overpopulation continues (in fact there is a front page story in today's Sun Herald about the rescue of a puppy tied in a trash bag and tossed in a garbage can), but so too does the work of several Pennsylvania groups dedicated to helping provide a better life for animals on the Gulf Coast.
The Bucks/Mont Katrina Relief Project is one of them. Organized by business and civic leaders, the project sweeping and long-sighted view of rebuilding the devastated community of Waveland, MS, which was virtually wiped out by the storm surge. Among the projects successes, building the first public building, a day care center, after the storm. They are now in the throes of a fundraising campaign for a new animal shelter. As a "downpayment" on the work ahead, project volunteers, along with Animal Lifeline of Doylestown and Delaware Valley Community College students transported to Maine 31 animals, including 22 puppies, who likely would have been put down at the overcrowded shelter.
Here is their magical story told in pictures.