Sunday, September 25, 2005
Stacy Cannon's awareness of the tragedy in New Orleans began as she watched TV, just as the rest of the United States did. But unlike many, who were watching CNN, Cannon saw beyond the people being rescued. She looked past the waterlogged homes and the people walking waist deep in fetid water, and she saw animals in the background, clinging to rooftops without food, water or anyone to rescue them.
"After a while, I couldn't take it anymore," Cannon said. She asked her employers at Ski Haus for time off, and then she loaded her truck with dog food, medicine and IV bags donated by Steamboat Veterinary Hospital and Pet Kare Clinic.
With a full truck, she drove south.
Cannon stopped once for two hours to rest outside of Dallas before arriving at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzalez, La., 50 miles north of New Orleans. Before the Expo Center became a shelter for rescued dogs, it was a fairgrounds horse barn.
These days, it is a one of the largest shelters in the United States, housing more than 1,500 dogs. Each horse stall is home to eight dogs living in crates.
Cannon has an extensive background working with dogs, including time she worked as a handler for the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska. Although she's cleaned her share of dog kennels, Cannon was horrified when she saw the conditions at the Expo Center.
"It was like being in a war zone. I arrived at 5 p.m. and worked until 3 a.m.," she said. "That first night was chaotic. I filled out intake for 50 dogs. Most of them were very scared." Dogs arrived covered in mud and debris. "In the first 10 minutes I was there, someone handed me a dog and told me to carry it. It was too tired to walk to its crate."
The goal of the workers at the Expo Center is to get the animals fed, watered and cleaned. Injuries are treated, if possible. Ultimately, volunteers are trying to get the dogs to shelters across the country and into the homes of new owners.
"I saw owners come in to see their dog, but they couldn't take it with them," Cannon said. "They don't have any place to go themselves. I saw it happen three and five times a day."
The shelter is full of donated supplies, but it is struggling with a limited number of volunteers, Cannon said. "Most people can't handle the conditions there. Everyone is happy to walk a dog, but no one wants to clean out crates in the miserable heat while the dogs are being walked.
"I don't blame them. The conditions are horrible."
Cannon stayed at the shelter for five days and drove back to work the Ski Haus Super Sale. Haunted by what she'd seen there, she bought a plane ticket back to Louisiana. She left Friday and isn't sure when she'll return.
"Money is a factor," she said in a Thursday interview. "I can't afford to take too many weeks off work, but they need people down there. It will be hard to leave."
Cannon received several donations to cover her travel expenses, including the almost $600 she spent in gas and tolls to get to Louisiana and back.
The Routt County Humane Society has set up a fund to cover travel expenses for volunteers who go to assist the Hurricane Katrina dog rescue efforts. Donations can be sent to the Routt County Humane Society/Katrina Fund for volunteers, P.O. Box 772080, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.
-- To reach Autumn Phillips, call 871-4210
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