(I know that getting people out is the obvious priority, but this story really disturbed me.)
By MIKE STOBBE
Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA (AP) -- As Valerie Bennett was evacuated from a New Orleans hospital, rescuers told her there was no room in the boat for her dogs. She pleaded. "I offered him my wedding ring and my mom's wedding ring," the 34-year-old nurse recalled Saturday. They wouldn't budge. She and her husband could bring only one item, and they already had a plastic tub containing the medicines her husband, a liver transplant recipient, needed to survive.
Such emotional scenes were repeated perhaps thousands of times along the Gulf Coast last week as pet owners were forced to abandon their animals in the midst of evacuation. In one example reported last week by The Associated Press, a police officer took a dog from one little boy waiting to get on a bus in New Orleans. "Snowball! Snowball!" the boy cried until he vomited. The policeman told a reporter he didn't know what would happen to the dog.
At the hospital, a doctor euthanized some animals at the request of their owners, who feared they would be abandoned and starve to death. He set up a small gas chamber out of a plastic-wrapped dog kennel. "The bigger dogs were fighting it. Fighting the gas. It took them longer. When I saw that, I said 'I can't do it,'" said Bennett's husband, Lorne.
Valerie Bennett left her dogs with the anesthesiologist, who promised to care for about 30 staff members' pets on the roof of the hospital, Lindy Boggs Medical Center.
"He said he'd stay there as long as he possibly could," Valerie Bennett recalled, speaking from her husband's bedside at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital. On Saturday afternoon, she said she saw a posting on a Web site called petfinder.com that said the anesthesiologist was still caring for the animals.
Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, who was helping with relief efforts Saturday, said some evacuees refused to leave without their pets. "One woman told me 'I've lost my house, my job, my car and I am not turning my dog loose to starve,'" Kennedy said. Kennedy said he persuaded refugees to get on the bus by telling them he would have the animals taken to an exhibition center.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals picked up two cats and 15 dogs, including one Kennedy found tied up beneath the overpass next to an unopened can of dog food with a sign that read "Please take care of my dog, his name is Chucky."
The fate of pets is a huge but underappreciated cause of anguish for storm survivors, said Richard Garfield, professor of international clinical nursing at New York's Columbia University. "People in shelters are worried about 'Did Fluffy get out?'" he said. "It's very distressing for people, wondering if their pets are isolated or starving."
The Bennetts had four animals, including two beloved dogs. They moved to Slidell, La., in July when Valerie took a job at an organ transplant institute connected to Lindy Boggs. Lorne, a former paramedic, is disabled since undergoing a liver transplant in 2001. On Saturday, as Hurricane Katrina approached, both went to the hospital to help and took all four animals with them. They fed their guinea pig and left it in its cage in a patient room. They couldn't refill its empty water bottle because the hospital's plumbing failed Sunday, they said. They poured food on the floor for the cat, but again no water.
"I just hope that they forgive me," Valerie Bennett cried.