– by Charlotte Bass-Lilly
There is so much said about how many are still left on the street…is it five, ten, twenty or forty thousand animals? Cats always outnumber the dogs, and the feline species has proven the better survivor having an innate ability to attune their metabolic rate with what the environment has to offer in the way of food and drink. Make no mistake, nature takes a cruel toll as only the strongest will survive unless rescued.
The streets of the greater New Orleans area are no place for kids to play, or kittens to romp… but the dogs seem like the victims that suffer intolerably before either succumbing to illnesses as simple as parasites or being gratefully rescued. Rescue work immediately after Katrina was frequently difficult mostly due to the terrain to be traversed… newly created inky waterways blocked by downed cables, gnarled electrical lines, massive tree branches, and the invisible graves of drowned autos just a few feet below the surface. Today rescue is ‘easier’ in the respect that the land is dry, but the animals have mastered much in almost two years in the wild. No longer is it a simple matter of trapping, but tracking must be initially incorporated to find their nests and discover their habits. Nighttime is not a period to sleep, but to come out and play, chase and consume rats or whatever other prey might exist as a fresh meat morsel.
The streets in the neighborhood these dogs call home are notably deserted these days. There are very few residents who have come back, fewer rebuilding, and scores of deserted light industrial businesses…it is not an affluent section of town and will be one of the last sections of the city to ‘come back.’ The dogs pictured here have grown up on these empty streets and are feral…they are officially wild dogs. Their roaming area is five to six miles in radius. They are now just at the teenage stage of their life and are very circumspect of humans…but there are exceptions. ARNO volunteer Lise McComiskey has tracked this pack of pups for many moons, with photos documenting the entire experience. She gains their confidence by becoming part of their environment, logging in 63 hours of lunch with them, leaving them food and just getting them used to seeing her and hearing the sound of her voice, as well as the sound of her vehicle. Lise succeeded in the last two weeks in retrieving two of the group pictured here, and if I know Lise she will not stop until she has them all. Sounds so simple…but it doesn’t bring to mind the picture of Lise late at night, in the middle of a torrential downpour, horrendous lightning crackling all around. She crouches near the pups as they cower… afraid in the dark with the thunderous sounds all around them…sounds they have only heard a few times in their life. This time the lightning caught them outside and herded them against a fence defenseless…unprotected except for Lise. She was there safekeeping them, calming them, and gently leading out one that night to safety. Her heart was breaking because she was leaving the others behind. She wanted so bad to communicate that she would be back for them all.
A week passes and there are two of Lise’s street urchins now residing at the ARNO shelter, Clover and Ariel. The rest should arrive within the next two weeks with good hunting, aided by a special large trap built by ARNO resident builder, Tom Brown for Lise to use with this particular pack. The process of releasing them to their kennel is a foreign one to them, it is the first time they will be purposely and definitively touched by a human. They buck and scream like little wild horses, but then they calm down. Ariel and Clover find themselves enclosed in a kennel…a new and not so welcome experience. But they quickly realize that food and water is placed in their kennel regularly, and new humans talk them in kind and soothing voices. They soon are taken out for their first ‘walk’ which is almost a ‘pull’ to start with…the double leads attached to a collar as well as a choke chain make sure there will be no slipping out and getting away. They are led to a walking park area across the street and their attendants sit down with them under a tree in the breeze. The walkers talk to the dogs, while the dogs do not at first make eye contact, except for a quick dart at the human to see what exactly is really up. The ARNO volunteers are very careful when walking any of the residents, and they are walked at least three times a day. Jackie, Robin or Melinda, and their original rescuer only walk the new guys, especially the feral ones. It is paramount to a feral’s progress that the original voice that they became familiar with continues to talk to them, reassuring them that they are safe. There is much work to socializing feral dogs, particularly those that have never known the love of humans. Yet Clover and Ariel reward Robin after a week with a lick of her fingers through their kennel.
Lise is embarking on a new curriculum for ARNO designed strictly for ferals. Yes, these dogs will take much time to bring around to the ‘pet’ stage. Their contact with humans has been so limited that they do not appear to know that aggression could be used against humans…they have never had to use that tool. Lise plans a feral program based on her research and the very little knowledge available on feral canines, added to the experience ARNO has gained over the past twenty or so months re-socializing canines. Tom, ARNO volunteer from Illinois, is constructing a small concrete pool (with a shallow and a deeper end) in an enclosed area next to the outdoor kennels for ‘private’ baths and play/exercise off-leash. This enclosed area will allow the dogs, including ferals, to have a feeling of freedom without the likelihood of escape. Dogs are walked so often in our shelter that there is never a canine with kennel craze, which often occurs when dogs are penned up for long periods in shelters. Cage crazies are particularly common in the larger, more active breeds and/or mixes. Ahhh, how we long for the strip of land connected to our property lush with green grass to use as a giant X-pen… but it will have to wait until there are more funds. It will come…no one at ARNO ever loses hope, the work is way too important.
Only ARNO could give this poor creature a chance at a new life…
Aubrey’s story starts in January 2007 while Kim Wiley was feeding strays by the levee on the Orleans/Jefferson Parish line near the water treatment plant near an area some call Carrollton and the old people call Pigeontown. Kim saw a dog with what appeared to be a bloody wound on the top of his head, covered in a thick crust with very little hair. Over the last few months she tracked Aubrey and attempted approach, setting traps in an abandoned house where evidence indicated he could be sleeping. Finally on April 29 Kim was successful. She caught him offguard, put a slip lead around his neck from behind…a little bit of a struggle occurred, but not much…in fact, Aubrey was rather docile and did not try to bite or struggle when Kim loaded him in her car.
First thing for Aubrey was a bath… a two-hour medicated bath with Kim and Robin gently peeling the thick crust carefully away from his body. They are assisted by ARNO volunteer Melinda Olsen. Swollen and infected eyes had to be treated immediately, and ears had to be thoroughly cleaned and medicated. Aubrey was a bit frightened, more than a bit uncomfortable, but behaved in a gentle manner and only groaned during the long process of ‘decrusting’ him. He never objected once to being handled. We believe Aubrey has been roaming since Katrina, and his owners will be searched for once he is recognizable. Aubrey will undergo a long-term recovery, as his ailments are many. He is heartworm positive, but treatment is a long way off for Aubrey…first his demodex and sarcoptic mange must be treated and cured, while his eyes, ears and body heals under the aid of antibiotics, vitamins, supplements and daily medicated baths. Robin and Kim have gotten over their case of scabies that Aubrey kindly gave them during the bath process (humans don’t make good hosts for canine parasites), and they would gladly have them again to help any animal in this grave shape.
In his few weeks at the shelter his whole demeanor has changed… he walks proudly, and actually LOVES to go for his walks…almost prancing. We can’t decide if he is a hound or lab mix… it will be exciting to see Aubrey get better and turn into what he once was…a majestic, wonderful, loving companion.
An apology and a plea…
I hesitated and thought seriously that Aubrey was just too much for you to see. Some of our past donors have told me that they do not wish to see pictures like Aubrey, that they give to us hoping we don’t show them these graphic images. [Chance brought that kind of reaction from some people, though some thought it was just a whippet we were picturing… having no idea until they read the story or saw the updated photo that Chance was a small, beautiful white pit bull.] Some people actually gasped when they saw the pictures of Aubrey…but I decided to take the chance and show you our reality.
I apologize if your reaction to Aubrey is like the donor who doesn’t want to see these things. But I think it important for you to know why we are still here on the street, feeding, trapping, tracking and rescuing…that we are searching out not just the Aubreys and the Chances, but all the homeless who need our help. Aubrey is just one of many who because of his extreme condition becomes a priority.
They all need our help, and we need yours. From March 2006 through December 2006 we treated over 2000 animals… all were spayed/neutered, most dogs heartworm treated, some reunited with their owners and others rehomed in loving laps of people all over this continent. In just the first four months of this year close to 1000 animals have been assisted, including countless residents who could not afford food or medical care for their pets. Part of the recovery of our area depends on all the residents recovering, and our four-legged friends are as important to us as the human residents… and true recovery comes from us all working together. Please consider a donation today, or a monthly gift of any size, so we can continue this important rescue work.
Come visit us, enjoy the part of our city that was untouched by the greatest natural disaster to ever occur in the United States… and while you are here volunteer to help us with animal care at our shelter, or on the street with trappers/feeders. You can also help as a remote volunteer from your city. Write to email@example.com and find out how you can help from afar.
ARNO is only as good as those we help, only as strong as those who volunteer, and only survives as long as those who care enough continue to give.
Donations can be made through PayPal (credit cards) or checks by mail made payable to ARNO, sent to 1219 Coliseum Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. (Gift cards accepted from WalMart, PetsMart, PETCO and Home Depot.)
About the author
Charlotte Bass-Lilly serves in the volunteer position of ARNO Executive Director. Charlotte has long been committed to stray and sick companion animals, and involved in local and regional humane issues since 1979. Her service includes ten years as member/officer of the LA/SPCA Board of Directors, member of the Mayor’s Animal Task Force for the City of New Orleans under Marc Morial, an active partner in independent rescue under the auspices of VetAdoptions, and a current officer and member of the board of directors of the Mystic Krewe of Barkus, as well as the Krewe of Orpheus. Charlotte has served in numerous pro bono development efforts for nonprofit organizations, including the Medical Center of Louisiana Foundation and the Louisiana Passenger Safety Task Force, both tied to the Charity Hospital Level I Trauma Program in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Charlotte served under the LA/SPCA at Lamar-Dixon in both water and land rescue response. She was joined at Lamar by her friend of 20 years, Robin Beaulieu, whom she asked to serve as ARNO Shelter Director and Rescue Coordinator in early 2006. Charlotte and her attorney husband, Edward Lilly, are committed to the recovery of our region’s four- and two-legged citizens. They reside in Orleans Parish with their pack of dogs and a small herd of cats.