(August 20, 2008) By Lise N. McComiskey
People often wonder aloud when they see the words “Animal Rescue” written in gold across the navy blue teeshirts of many of our volunteers who still work in the field, i.e. the streets, nearly three years after Katrina ravaged New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. Many wonder how animal rescue is still underway or even needed and we often are asked just what our role is in a city that is in recovery in so many ways and yet stagnates in so many others. This story answers what to us is the obvious…whether there is a need for animal rescue. The ‘answers’ in this story are called Destiny and Miracle. On Monday, May 12, 2008, along with several other messages left on the Animal Rescue New Orleans voice-mail was a plea for help from a woman named Diana. It was not clear from the message just who Diana was or how she fit into this but she was calling because she was hearing from her second floor a disturbing sound… the sound of a kitten in distress. So how many people does it take to help a kitten in distress? Well, when the kitten is sealed up in the wall of an empty house, a house left vacant by owners relocated to Houston following Katrina, it just might take a few caring hearts to save this kitten.
After reviewing the messages early Tuesday, May 13, 2008, ARNO’s Executive Director immediately went into action, regardless of the fact that she would be departing New Orleans within hours to attend an animal sheltering conference out of state. ARNO’s director contacted some of her volunteers to assess the situation only and provided Diana’s phone number with instructions to work to obtain permission of the property owner to take further actions. Additionally, Charlotte immediately contacted the LA/SPCA, a humane organization charged with the responsibility of animal control in New Orleans and one which ARNO has worked under the auspices of since its first post-Katrina rescues in October 2005. Within a very short period of time, the Louisiana SPCA had arrived at the property and posted a notice that they could not hear or find the mewing kitten as reported. This cleared the way for ARNO to take the next step, measures we hoped would possibly save a life. Diana had reported hearing the kitten night after night, so as far as we were concerned there was a live animal trapped within the premises.
The telephone lines were hot that day, almost as hot as the rising temperatures in New Orleans and Chris Malkove, the volunteer feeder/trapper dispatched by ARNO, knew she had to work quickly. After climbing through a window to gain entrance, and eventually into the attic, Chris could hear the tiny meow but no sight of the kitten. Charlotte was on the phone with Chris most of the time… after all Chris was alone in the house. Finally upon further searching the meows were strongest in back of a closet but with no access. Chris was frustrated to find no easy way in and as the tiny cries continued, the frustration mounted and so the dialing took on a new sense of urgency. As it would turn out, Diana, the lady who began this tail of rescue, was actually a neighbor living near the recently renovated vacant house and she and her husband had heard the cries but did not know where to turn. By the time this was all over, Graci Real Estate had been drawn into the rescue in order to gain permission from Susan, the property owner residing in Houston. Susan, like so many others, had lost so much in Katrina and the thought of her newly rebuilt house being torn apart was almost too much to bear… almost… she told Chris to do what she needed to do to get that kitten out and that she was calling her brother, a Slidell police officer, to come and assist with opening the wall for ARNO to gain access.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, 2008, ARNO volunteer Chris Malkove stood by as Officer Maiorana knocked one hole in the wall next to the closet and then she immediately reached in and pulled out a wailing ball of multi-colored fur. Mission accomplished… or was it?
Within seconds, another tiny cry could be heard, but this time coming from another location in the house and this crying was much weaker. As Chris tended to the tiny tortoise-shelled kitten, Officer Maiorana headed off to the back of the house to find the source of the weak cries and moments later he appeared with what was the frailest, tiniest and most fragile creature obviously just barely alive. Sadly, along with this second and much weaker kitten, the officer also pulled out two littermates who had succumbed to starvation behind the sheetrocked wall. They died where they were trapped, right alongside their littermate who had surely drawn some of what would have been his final breaths to wail as loud as he could so that somebody would find him. We can only speculate at how this litter, estimated to be about 4 weeks old, came to be entombed behind the sheetrock and without their mother. We try to forget the fact that kittens don’t die from starvation overnight, making a clearer picture of just how long these kittens, especially the one found barely alive, were behind those walls without their mother’s nourishment.
The walls of this vacant house, a house which sits on the market in the Lakeview section of New Orleans, an area that fell into a direct path of destruction. The house sits literally a mile from the 17th Street Canal breach, which forever changed Lakeview and much of New Orleans. This house had nearly become the grave for an entire litter of kittens, most probably born in this empty house. But what started out as something hopeless, with the help of a caring community has become yet another Miracle along the way for Animal Rescue New Orleans. Miracle, the tiny little kitten with legs like toothpicks, was aptly named by ARNO volunteers Laura Richard and Natalie Flood, two volunteers working as techs at the shelter when the two kittens arrived, one still wailing and the other ice cold and near death by this point. On that day, much like any other day at ARNO’s no-kill shelter in Harahan, Laura and Natalie worked feverishly to save the tiny lives and save them they did. Destiny, the very vocal little girl who was nearly twice the size of her brother, had surely fulfilled her destiny as the lone crier. She was the one who would get help and her brother could be no other than Miracle, because that’s exactly what he was, having cheated death by only hours, of that we are certain.
Katrina forever changed the landscape of New Orleans and its surrounding areas. The water is gone, and the overwhelming mission to take thousands of free-roaming animals so clearly in need of rescue off the streets may be over. But the change of the landscape has forever changed the immediate needs of animals in distress in this city and that landscape change has been the exact reason why those field volunteers proudly wear those yellow words “Animal Rescue” as they continue their life-saving work in this region. Please consider Destiny and Miracle and their seemingly hopeless story of survival and their amazing rescue, and then think about this… Animal Rescue New Orleans is an organization founded because rescue was not over for thousands still in need. ARNO’s mission to “rescue and aid abandoned and homeless animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina…” is still as applicable now as on October 15, 2005. Not for one moment has ARNO veered off course, and we are STILL rescuing animals affected by Katrina. Rescue today includes tiny wailing kittens sealed behind walls of a house destroyed by and rebuilt because of Katrina. It involves houses that have owners, agents, neighbors, or missing occupants all scattered across state lines by a disaster. These are the kind of circumstances demanding action from ARNO the most, because we will continue no matter the size of the miracle… no matter where destiny takes us… always for the animals.